The Smith Machine: Stop Hating and Start Growing

by Gareth Sapstead

5 Reasons to Use It

Stop hating on the Smith machine and start using it for serious muscle growth. Here’s why it’s a great tool.

Some people hate the Smith machine. But as a physique coach, I’ve seen what it can do for lifters looking to pack on muscle mass. Here’s why it’s awesome.

1. Variety

When most people think of the Smith machine, they have one or two exercises in mind, but it’s not that limited. Here are some of the best options for each body part:

  • Chest: Decline Press, Flat Press, Low-Incline Press, Incline Press, Guillotine Press, Reverse-Grip Press
  • Shoulders: Shoulder Press, Shoulder Press from Pins, Modified Upright Row, Z-Press
  • Back: Bentover Row, Row from Pins, Shrug, Rack Pull From Above The Knees
  • Legs: Squat, Hip Thrust, Romanian Deadlift, Split Squat, Reverse Lunge, Good Morning, Standing Calf Raise
  • Arms: Narrow Grip Press, Drag Curl, Isometric Bicep Curl

You could do an upper-body day, a leg day, or even a full-body workout in the Smith machine. You can prevent plateaus, stimulate muscle growth from different angles, and keep your workouts interesting.

2. Controlled Movement

Controlled movement makes the Smith machine a perfect growth tool for your larger muscle groups. It provides a guided movement pattern unlike free weights, which require stabilization and balance. The Smith machine confines the bar to a fixed plane of movement so you can focus more on target muscle groups without worrying about instability. Just compensate for the decreased use of stabilizers by using free-weight exercises, too. No one is saying to “only” use the Smith machine, so relax.

The Smith also reduces the risk of losing control. If you’re a beginner or just getting back to the gym after some time off, use it to push your limits without compromising form. The safety pins act as a fail-safe mechanism. This is especially important during fat-loss phases when energy is low.

3. Progressive Overload and Set-Extending Techniques

Just like with free-weight exercises, you can add weight and force muscle adaptation and growth. You can also do drop sets, accentuated eccentrics, isometrics, and partial reps with ease.

4. Mind-Muscle Connection

To build muscle, you need to create a strong mind-muscle connection, – the ability to consciously contract the target muscles. The Smith machine helps you do this through its controlled movement.

With the fixed bar path, you can concentrate on contracting and squeezing the muscle throughout the entire range of motion, enhancing muscle activation and tension. This heightened focus improves muscle quality and overall development.

Not feeling a muscle work? Do slow and controlled reps in the Smith machine. This deliberate approach emphasizes muscle tension and leads to greater muscle fiber recruitment and metabolic stress, key factors in promoting growth.

5. Time Efficiency and Convenience

The Smith machine offers a time-efficient way to do multiple exercises in the same place. Now, I’m not saying that you should park your butt on the gym’s only Smith machine for an hour. But, if there isn’t a line of people waiting for it, then you’re set.


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The smith machine always feels like this to me.




I have two rotten shoulders, one is completely replaced, the other osteoarthritis bad. I can not hold a barbell in a bench press or overhead press. The smith mach has enabled me to both bench and overhead press, although at a greatly reduced weight of what I could do before the shoulders went south since I do not have to balance the weight.


The smith machine is one of my favorite pieces of equipment for many of the reasons mentioned in the post.
Not sure why it gets a bad rap, it’s just another tool in the gym.


I agree… I don’t understand why some are so critical. I have used with great results

Just to clarify, I’m not jumping on the anti-smith machine train. It just feels artifical (not the best word, but the first one that jumps to mind.)

Fuck it, I’m going to try it for a couple weeks. Gareth is in the top tier of my favorite writers, and I’m a firm beliver of “if it looks stupid but works, it ain’t stupid.”

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I prefer smith machine squats, I know they don’t put as much emphasis on overall development as they do on the quads, but they also don’t wreck my back (I have a really long torso compared to my legs), also smith benching doesn’t aggravate my shoulders as bad.

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Here’s my experience

About 8 months ago I was really frustrated with my bench. I hit a plateau and I could not push past it. I tried a lot of different things but I had beeb stuck for quite some time. I was seeing gains in every other part of my upper body routine except the bench

Looking for ideas I found a video online where a guy was praising the the Smith machine. Saying it’s got a bad rap. He’s specifically illustrated how he liked to do incline bench press on it. It rang true to me. What he said made sense so I incorporated the Smiths machine in a 6-week cycle where I was doing both incline and normal bench on it. I was putting a lot more weight on there than I could on a regular bench, taking advantage of the stability it provides. I was able to see gains quickly. I was able to progressively overload quite quickly doing this. And then when I returned to the bench. I saw exactly what I’d hope to see. Gains

It’s now part of my routine and I will still do a cycle where I use it a lot more

To be fair, it took a lot of lifters time to learn to live the Smith machine. Some of the best coaches here said it was useless, twenty years ago. But I used it then, and use it now. (Smart people change their minds when required. This is not a knock on coaches, just the truth.)

I never disliked the Smith. I think it is among the best ways to do front squats, floor presses and overhead lifting. It is in continual use from women doing hip thrusts, so not even easy to use in a commercial gym. I find the pelvic machine better for those myself.

I also find it good for incline rows, high rows and Katzenjammers. That said, I don’t like using the Smith for vertical leg presses or some of the fancier stuff you sometimes see in articles. What the Smith is really good for, like the Gravitron, is adding volume once you’ve done the harder free lift.

Smith Machine Rows helped me make the transition to Bodybuilding from Powerlifting. I was looking for a good exercise to help grow the back and everyone I spoke to said rows were the go to. Had lower back issues from carrying a lot of weight, so was looking to isolate and make it easier to setup/posture myself as well.

They became a staple in helping me build both mass and width just by changing out width of my grip, how I drove the bar/bar path, etc. Live and die by these now, T-Bar and Pulldown/Pullovers.

Dammit. I know that I know what this exercise is, but am blanking right now.

I remember reading a story about someone who failed their last rep while doing some kind of bench, and because they couldn’t dump it. They died because it lined up with their throat.

I think it was a high schooler lifting in a home gym without a spotter, but it still freaks me out.

And then that mexican woman, but she was in a gym with people around her.

So it kind of freaks me out.

In Thibs first book, he quotes TC saying the best use of the Smith is for explosive work. Basically using a light weight (5-10%?), throwing it high with fast acceleration, and repeatedly catching it. I’ve never heard anyone else give this exercise a name. Katzenjammers?

Why that name was used is a mystery, but not one compelling enough to travel around the countryside in a van with your buddies looking for abandoned mines and pirate ghosts.

I’ve never had a problem doing these. But apparently some Smiths have a counterbalancing pulley that slows things down and prevents this exercise. I’ve never seen that.