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