Just Say No to the Smith Machine

Yeah you see it over there, that fancy looking thing with the bar and the pulleys and the weights on the side. You see an old dude get off it after squatting an insane amount of weight, and you’re thinking “damn, this dudes on like his fifth knee and third hip, if he can do that shit, imagine what I can do?” You glance back at the regular squat rack, then to the Smith machine, back at the rack, then to the Smith machine, and then walk over. Fuck it.

You throw some weights on, do a set. Damn this easy. Throw some more weight on. Fuck man, I’m a beast. Add some more. Regular squats aint got shit on Smith squats. Before you know it, you’re Smithin’ plates you never thought you could throw down. You’re looking around at people, knowing they’re ‘mirin. And just like that, you’re hooked. I’ve seen a thousand times, kid.

Out of all the dumbass machines and various Crossfit-meets-Frankenstein-the-personal-trainer lifts out there, I honestly cannot think of a thing you can do in the gym that combines potential bodily harm and the illusion of success as well as the Smith Machine.

I wish this post wasn’t necessary, but unfortunately it is. Take a look around the gym if you don’t believe me. Too many dudes are on the Smith and don’t even realize the damage (or potential damage) they are doing to themselves and their swoleness goals. For those of you Smith addicts ready to object, let’s consider the pros and cons of the Smith machine.


  • It’s “safe” because you don’t need a spotter
  • It has pulleys so you can look like you’re doing a shit load of weight


Where to start…

  • When you Smith, you are forcing your body to perform an unnatural straight up and down range of motion. No lifting motion is this exact, not even bench press. It puts undue strain on your flexors, tendons, ligaments, etc because they bear the brunt of the unnatural angles of the movement and you’re damn right you can injure yourself using Smith. So despite the fact that it is a “safe” machine because you don’t need a spotter, in reality there is nothing safe about it.
  • Smithing trains a movement, not your body, creating bigtime muscle imbalances. You will not develop the stabilizers and core strength needed to translate your Smithing gains to other stuff. You may look bigger and stronger, but by not having the core strength to back it up you risk injury not only in free weight exercises but also potential injury doing not as strenuous things like lifting a package or playing backyard football.
  • Related to the above, when you Smith big ticket items like squats and bench, the only thing you are getting better at are… Smith squats and Smith bench. Not only is your core getting underworked, but so are most secondary and tertiary muscles that need to be getting in on the action to develop whole body strength. Just ask my co-worker who fell on his ass the first time he got off the Smith and tried a real squat.

If you’re on the Smith, I strongly urge you to reconsider. There is nothing for you in that lifestyle.

If you want to put it all behind you and start a fresh life with broad horizons ahead, it’ll take some work to get where you think you should be. In fact, you may need to start from the bottom and work your way up again, especially if your core is shot through repeated Smith usage. For inspiration, I recommend Getting Started for, well, getting started on your journey to recovery.

The bottomline is that you need to start doing the big boy stuff- Squats, Deadlifts, Bench, and so on- with barbells and gravity and all that fun stuff if you want to get swole- injury and imbalance free (with proper form). You will probably have to dial back the weight at first until your core can catch up, but it’s a backwards step that has to be taken before you can move forward and nobody at the gym will give a shit anyway.

You can do this, I believe in you. We believe in you.

Swole Life.

(photo credit: Bronan the Barbarian. He took my DARE/Smith idea and ran with it)

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About The Author

They call me Fly, Fresh, and Young. Gym rat by day, lecherous drunkass by night. Follow me on Twitter @nate_moneyh.


  1. unventrolique October 2, 2012 at 9:25 am

    No shrugs on a smith either, bro?

    • flyfreshandyoung October 2, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      Shrugs still need use of stabilizers and secondary/tertiary muscles, and even though it is a “simple” movement it still isn’t a straight up-and-down movement. Anything you can do Smithing you can do better not-Smithing.

  2. Peter Phoenix October 2, 2012 at 9:58 am


    I used to go to a Jetts 24hr gym where they didn’t have staff half the time, so they weren’t allowed a rack in-case someone fucked themselves up. God I hated smith press squats.

  3. Gamnicus October 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Can you do a post on deadlifts? Maybe link to a good video on proper form or offer tips?

  4. Virgle Kent October 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm


    the only time I use the smith machine is at the end of my leg workout to do pistol squats. I’ve never done them before till two weeks ago and they’re hard as fuck even on the smith, I can only do 10 lbs each side, no lie.

    Maybe i should switch and attempt to do em with Kettle bells? What do you think

    • flyfreshandyoung October 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      Yeah I’d definitely try doing it with kettles or dumbbells.

      A good deal of the benefits of pistol squats include balancing and stabilizer muscle development, and the movement stresses all the little muscles in your legs and shit. Using a Smith machine is going to negate a lot of those benefits.

  5. herbie31 October 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    The Smith machine can be useful when doing some isolating, but regular squats are generally superior for developing strength and mass. I do like using the Smith for upright rows and shrugs(if the regular racks are taken).

  6. cjb October 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Proper name for the Smith Machine – Coat Rack

  7. Neil skywalker October 3, 2012 at 5:08 am

    I never looked at the smith machine as a final station. I used it to build up some strength before doing real squats. Although having strong calves and never slacking on leg exercises my legs aren’t as strong as I want them to be. Doing regular squats I can do a lousy 60 kilos/132 pounds once while i see guys with skinnier legs doing 10 which pisses me of.
    Well, keeping on keeping on I guess

  8. betatopua October 3, 2012 at 8:03 am

    I’ve just started using the Smith machine for my bench presses. I don’t like it. The reason for it is I can no longer do dumb bells for medical reasons (can’t put too much direct pressure on my coccyx, which happens when throw my body backwards to go from sitting with the bells on my knees to the start position), and I don’t like relying on random guys to spot me… no matter what I tell them they always seem to help me out before I reach complete failure. Can’t see anyway around it but the smith machine. I may end up biting the bullet and getting a spot with the barbell. I hate how the smith machine feels.

    • flyfreshandyoung October 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Yeah man definitely just a spotter, and let him no ahead of time what you want him to do.

  9. moose October 4, 2012 at 12:13 am

    I actually DO prefer a smith machine, for very specific reasons.
    1.) I need to develop strength more than stability, as I need to do high-weight short repeat motions commonly in daily life.
    2.) I’m tested on machine setups for PT that resembles a smith press.
    3.) I lift alone and often in a near empty gym.

    For what it is, it’s a generally good contraption. But for 99% of people’s needs its not a replacement for a squat or bench.

  10. turner October 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I have always found that one a bit intimidating…that and all the old man ball sweat around it. I guess I am just a free weight kind of guy. But thanks for making me feel better for my old sweaty ball aversion.


  11. thecaptainpower October 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Agreed. But nothing on this earth is more gay than cross fit…..

  12. choichoi October 5, 2012 at 12:13 am

    always wondered about that darn thing at the university health center gym. Not anymore-I ain’t bout that ish, hahaha

  13. lurker October 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I use the Smith machine for two reasons:

    1. Inverted rows – it’s easy to set the bar at a certain height and then hang from it.

    2. Lateral lunges under the bar as a warmup for real squats.

    Notice both are bodyweight exercises with a full range of motion. I wouldn’t squat in that thing if you paid me.

  14. Bodybuilder October 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Anyone who has inclination to use a smith machine should use a power rack instead. The power rack has the benefit of not requiring a spotter and does not limit your range of motion. My worry about this article is that readers won’t get that power racks are different than smith machines.

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