One of the most hotly debated pieces of equipment in the fitness world is arguably the Smith machine. Trainers, coaches and seasoned athletes often abhor it as a free-weight impersonator, teaching poor form to beginners and cheating users of the full benefits of independent, compound movements.

But if the Smith machine is so bad, why can you still find one in almost every gym? Is there any real use for this machine other than as something for a less than enthusiastic gym-goer to use?

When used properly and as part of a well-rounded workout routine, the Smith machine can be a very useful tool in the bodybuilder’s arsenal. While it is absolutely a machine exercise that does lose many of the benefits its free-weight counterparts can offer, the Smith machine has its own unique list of benefits that anyone looking to build muscle and strength can benefit from.

Why Use a Smith Machine?

Free-weight exercises are the backbone of any good weight training program. Among these, the big, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press have the added bonus of being not only functional movements (movements used in everyday activities), but have also been seen to trigger a bigger testosterone response. Free-weight exercises also help to strengthen smaller but important stabilizer muscles, a function that machine exercises decidedly lack. The lack of natural, functional movement and neglect of secondary muscles are the principal reasons that people look down on the Smith machine.

It’s true that a Smith machine is not honored with the designation as a free-weight exercise – the bar is sturdily attached to a machine! This attachment also only allows for a specific plane of motion, restricting your movements during the exercise. However, when used properly, these flaws become desirable features. Like many machines, the Smith machine can be used to target specific muscles to make them stronger. The Smith machine can also be used to activate muscles on a different angle than the free-weight equivalent would.

The key to using the Smith machine is to remember that it should be used alongside free-weight exercises to create an awesome, muscle-shredding workout. Read on to learn more about how to incorporate the Smith machine into your routine.

Smith Machine Squat

The squat is often considered the king of exercises, and for good reason. It’s one of the best ways to activate and strengthen your entire lower body, with particular emphasis on your quads. As mentioned above, this compound exercise also helps elicit a bigger hormonal response during your workout.

To really strengthen your quads, use the Smith machine after you’ve already completed your round of regular barbell squats. Because the load is balanced for you, your stabilizer muscles aren’t activated, allowing you to add more weight and really fatigue your bigger muscles without worrying about losing the bar. By combining regular barbell squats with Smith machine squats, you make sure to strengthen your stabilizer muscles as you also build the strength in your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Combine this testo boosting exercise with a support supplement like HF Labs Delta Prime, and you’ll be well on your way to killer legs.

Smith Machine Deadlift

Due to the fixed motion of the Smith machine, this exercise will target mostly your hamstrings, with lesser emphasis on the glues, and very little on the back. However, it is still a great exercise to pair with a regular deadlift, or as a counter to barbell squats. Just like with a regular deadlift, good form is imperative to avoiding injury.

With the barbell set close to the floor, stand with your feet slightly under the bar, and lean forward to grasp the barbell with an overhand grip. Bend your knees until your legs are roughly parallel to the floor, keeping the natural curve in you back and looking forwards. Pull the bar up until you are close to a full standing position and return to the start. Stop the movement just before reaching full back extension to keep constant tension in the hamstrings for maximum burn.

Smith Machine Bench Press

Smith machines are an excellent choice for strengthening your fast-twitch muscles because of the predictable tracking and safety bars. With a flat bench set up beneath the barbell, set the safety bars just above your chest. Using roughly 50% of your 1 rep max on the bar, explosively perform a bench press rep, fully extending your arms and releasing the bar at the top of the movement. Catch the bar and bring it back to the starting position, and repeat.

When using a Smith machine for a bench press, be it a ballistic bench press like above or standard, it’s important to recognize the type of machine you’re using and position yourself accordingly. If the track moves straight up and down, you can position the bar over the lower, middle, or upper chest, depending on which area you want to target. If the machine tracks at an angle, however, make sure that the upward motion is towards your head and not away from it. While the track provides only a fixed plane, this angle more closely mimics how your joints move if you were to do the exercise with free weights.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press

Incorporating Smith machine shoulder presses with a free-weight shoulder press routine is the best way to gain strength. Free-weights are important because they help to strengthen your shoulder’s supporting rotator cuff muscles, which is important for preventing injury. However, if your secondary muscles are fatiguing before you get a chance to really work out your big target muscles, jump on the Smith machine to give your stabilizers a rest and continue working the big guys.

Positioning and form for this exercise will be very similar to the free-weight version. However, pay attention to the type of Smith machine you’re using to make sure the tracking angle is the most natural for your body.

While the Smith machine has a reputation as being a poor substitute for free-weight movements, smart bodybuilders know how to use this machine to further enhance these exercises for bigger, better gains. Try incorporating the Smith machine into your workout routine to help you achieve your muscle building goals.