Work all muscle groups in your body without the help of a training partner and all on one Smith machine.
Unless you are Willy Wonka, you will not take an elevator that has no fixed path. You will be blocked on the same route on every trip. It’s the same with Smith’s machine exercises – and there are far more exercises like this than most bodybuilders understand.
In fact, this is quite enough so that you can hit all the muscle groups in your body using only the Smith Station, making sure that each rep is in the same plane up and down.
To squat safely without an assistant, fitness pioneer Jack LaLane came up with the idea of a barbell attached to a sliding frame device in the 1950s. His friend Rudy Smith improved the design, hired an equipment manufacturer, and sold the machines to gyms.
As manufacturers copied this concept, Smith machines grew in popularity. On some of these devices, the bar moves completely vertically. Others move up and down at a 7-degree angle. And in Jones’ car – a recent version of the station – you can move the bar both vertically and horizontally.
While their many safety latches are great for squats or single-handed presses, Smith machines can be used for any exercise that crosses a vertical plane.
Blocking the range of motion is a positive moment (allows you to focus only on driving resistance, which increases strength), and a disadvantage (inability to activate muscular action to balance).
Smith removes horizontal bar movement from arcuate exercises such as curls, effectively converting them into completely different movements (flexion becomes traction with elbows back).
The Smith machine also provides a height-adjustable bar for self-weight chin-ups. As the following list of exercises shows, you can effectively train each muscle group only with a Smith machine.
Bent over row, deadlift, Romanian, deadlift can all be Smith style, but depending on the machine you may need to stand on a pedestal or bench to get full range of motion.
You can also do inverted rows (horizontal pull-ups), vertical pull-ups with feet on the bench, and regular pull-ups by setting the bar at different heights and using your body weight (and additional weight if necessary) for better resistance.
You can bench press on a horizontal, incline bench, or a bench with a negative incline. For something else, try the barbell bench press (squeeze the bar just enough to shoot it up out of your hands on each rep, using a light weight) or alternate one-handed presses.
Because you can safely flip the bar on the latch and stop to keep yourself safe in the event of a muscle failure, Smith is great for the front and behind the head press.
For the medial delta, do side raises with a bent arm where the bar is just above the elbow. For the front delta, one-arm presses while sitting sideways to the hypha. And for the rear delta, the barbell pulls with a wide grip in the slope, or lying with your chest on an incline bench.
Upright movements, shrugs (front, back, one-handed barbells), narrow and wide grip broaches are excellent candidates for the Smith machine.
By pulling your elbows back as you pull the bar along your body, the Smith machine smooths out any hitch in bending your arms. It is equally effective for reverse grip horizontal rows (feet on the floor) and reverse grip pull-ups (legs hanging off the floor).
You can do triceps extensions – overhead while standing or lying down – pushing your elbows forward as you lower the bar. Another exercise is triceps push-ups, performed with an emphasis on the bar, where you keep your body straight and lower it below the bar only by bending your arms.
Three more options: bench press with a narrow grip, push-ups from a bar with a narrow stop, and reverse push-ups with an emphasis on the bar behind the back, feet on the floor or bench.
Even the abdominal muscles can be worked out on a Smith machine. To do crunches with additional weights, hold the bar as if you were doing a bench press in the upper position and begin to lift your upper body, tightening your abs.
Set the bar high and do hanging leg raises. Or stand sideways to the bar, grab it with one hand and do side bends on your obliques.
Smith Machine Training Tips
- Stops where the bar goes up or down one notch after each set allows for drop sets in bodyweight exercises.
- The Smith Machine is a handy tool for doing exercises with equal weight in a superset, such as overhead press + vertical pull (broach).
- In some “arcing” exercises, such as curls, you will need to bend your wrists towards you when lifting weights to prevent them from stretching.
Smith Machine Basics
- Bar movement is limited to a vertical or slightly slanted position.
- Multiple safety latches allow you to train to failure without a training partner.
- By removing any horizontal movement, many exercises will be changed.
- Smith works best when combined with free weight exercises.
Smith Machine Triceps Example
- Seated Overhead Extension – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Bench press with a narrow grip – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Back Dips Back Bar – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Triceps push-ups from the bar (flexion / extension of the arms) – 3 sets of 10-15 reps