3 Quick and Easy Uses for the ‘Hated’ Smith Machine

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If you’re interested, be sure to check out the full deets at the end of this article.]


The smith machine is one of the most hated pieces of equipment in the gym.

And while it’s despised among elite coaches and trainers, the smith machine is a phenomenal tool and can certainly be used to build muscle, burn fat, and improve strength.

Like most things, the effectiveness comes down to how it’s applied. 

Below, I’m going to show you 3 exercises using the smith machine that’ll help you strengthen and define your glutes, chest, and back, while burning calories and fat along the way.

Quick confession…

When I first got into ‘serious’ lifting, I thought the smith machine was the stupidest piece of equipment ever made.

Boy was I narrow-minded and wrong.

You see, when I first started out, all I thought about was squatting, benching, and deadlifting–and only using a regular barbell for these exercises.

The thought of using the ‘coat rack’ smith machine was unheard of. Fast forward to now and my thoughts on the despised smith have changed.

For the better, too, I believe. Here’s why I’m a fan of using the smith machine:

-There are hundreds of exercises you can perform with it. From the traditional exercises like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, to things like assisted pullups, upright rows, lunge variations etc.

-It can be modified to suit the ability and experience level of the person using it. Let’s get one thing straight, the smith machine is not a wimpy piece of equipment. Sure, you could put the squat pad on the bar and do 1/4 rep squats, but if used properly the smith machine can deliver some serious results.

-You can find them everywhere–Some gyms won’t have a standard barbell so using the smith machine is a great option, especially while traveling

-It’s easy to load and adjust between exercises

-It’s great for targeting specific muscle groups–one of the biggest complaints about the smith machine is that because the bar is fixed the machine doesn’t challenge a person’s ability to stabilize and use their core effectively. This may be true, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t great for hammering away smooth reps to work specific muscles.

-It’s safe if used properly–there are safety catches on most smith machines that will prevent the bar from going all the way down if you’re performing bench presses or squats for example.

The fact is, the smith machine is one of the better ‘tools’ we have in the gym. While I’m not telling you to completely get rid of traditional barbell exercises, the smith machine can be very useful for hypertrophy work during fat loss and muscle building phases.

Below are 3 useful and effective exercises you can do with the smith machine.

Pushup

Let’s face it, the pushup is a staple in many training programs, yet it’s one of the most difficult to execute properly.

“Squeeze this, squeeze that, tuck your chin, tuck your elbows at this angle.” 

For the beginner, all of these cues can become very overwhelming and tough to think about. One of the first things I like for my clients to do is perform pushups from an elevated surface such as the smith machine.

This is a great variation because it allows the client to get good quality reps to build strength while feeling confident about the work being done. If the reps are sloppy from the ground, they can easily be cleaned up by elevating the hands.

Then, as you get stronger you can lower the height of the bar to make the exercise more difficult.

While most would see the elevated pushup as a beginner exercise, it can also be used by more advanced gym-goers. For an extra challenge, use this variation at the end of a push workout as part of a finisher. You could widen the hands out and lower yourself with a 5 count, or you do a burnout set of max rep pushups.

Here’s a video demo of the smith machine pushup:

A couple technique pointers regardless of ability level:

-set up with your hands underneath your shoulders (basically in line with your arm pit)

-keep legs straight and treat these just as normal pushups

-squeeze your abs and butt the entire time and ‘lead’ with your chest, not your hips. You don’t want to sag in the low back.

-use a full range of motion, aiming to touch your chest lightly to the bar on every rep

-allow your shoulder blades to come together as you lower, and pull back apart as you press yourself up

Inverted Row

One of my favorite variations is the inverted row. The neat thing about the inverted row is that it’s really easy to adjust the intensity of the exercise.

Too easy? Lower the bar and get your body closer to the ground.

Too hard? Raise the bar up and position yourself at a greater incline.

Rowing movements are a foundational component of any solid program. While there are tons of exercises you could do, the inverted row requires zero set-up and can be used to build strength and muscle while being easily modified.

Here’s a quick demo of proper technique:

Quick tips:

-I like to get my grip first and then walk my feet down into position instead of getting down on the ground and trying to find the right position

-set up is pretty similar to doing a reverse pushup.

-hands should be in line with shoulders and your body in a straight line (you can bend your knees if you need to make the exercise a little easier, or just want to only use your back to pull you up)

-initiate by squeezing your shoulder blades together and pulling through the elbows

-don’t necessarily worry about getting your chest all the way to the bar here, just aim to squeeze your shoulder blades together while staying neutral in your core and ribcage

 Hip Thrust

The regular barbell hip thrust is a great exercise, but not everyone has access to the equipment needed. Instead, you can get the same benefits by using the smith machine.

To be honest, I like the smith machine version better because it’s easier to set up and works wonders for the glutes.

If you want to target your hamstrings and glutes effective, definitely try your hip thrusts with the smith machine.

Be sure to use a bar pad to protect the hips while you’re doing these.

Here’s a video of me knocking out a few reps:

A few things to keep in mind while doing these:

-I found it easier to set up if the bar was close to the lockout position rather than the bottom.

-Push through your heels and flex your butt hard as you come up

-don’t use too much weight where you aren’t able to lock your hips out fully

-keep stomach tight and only use your butt and legs to lift the weight–not your lower body. You’ll know if you’re using your low back or not.

 Try them for yourself

Look, I know so and so says the smith machine is stupid, useless, and for wimps.

But in all actuality, it can be a very useful tool and can help uncover a lot of hidden progress.

Don’t fall into the narrow-minded trap of shunning the smith machine just people because some people don’t like it.

It can be a great tool for losing fat.

Try them for yourself and give the smith machine a fair shot.

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