Smith Machine vs Squat Rack: Is One Better Than The Other?

With so many machines you see in gyms, you might be left wondering which ones are best to use and why.

In this article, we compare smith machines versus squat racks – two machines commonly seen in gyms. These two pieces of equipment are also popular with home gym owners who want to have a private workout area in the comfort of their homes.

We have looked at several smith machines and squat racks to find out what their features are and to know how they differ from one another. 

Read on to find out the differences between a squat rack vs smith machine, and which machine will work best for your fitness goals.

What is a smith machine?

What is a smith machine

A smith machine is a piece of equipment used for strength training. It has a barbell fixed to two metal rail frames where the bar slides along the rail allowing for more controlled lifting.

The smith machine bar follows a fixed path of vertical movement, meaning it only goes up and down. Some smith machines have an incline where the bar goes up and down at an angle to let users feel the natural movement of lifting.

With a fixed bar path, you can safely lift weights with a heavier load. There is also a safety system where you can re-rack the bar and it will lock in place to prevent it from falling on you.

This safety system makes the smith machine a good spotter, especially if you are lifting alone. This is also good for beginners or those who are coming back from an injury as the machine will help in stabilizing the bar.

Since the machine helps control the bar, the stabilizer muscles are not being used as much as you’d like. The stabilizer muscles help stabilize the body, especially when doing high-intensity activities.

But, you can do a variety of exercises on a smith machine. Some smith machines have a cable or pulley system that you can use for arm exercises.

Pros and cons of a smith machine

Can be used without a spotterStabilizer muscles not used
Offers a controlled strength trainingBar only allows for a vertical path
Can be used by beginners

What is a squat rack?

What is a squat rack

Like the smith machine, a squat rack is also used for strength training.

A squat rack has two metal posts that support the barbell. This piece of strength equipment supports weight when performing squats. You can also add increments of weight as you progress into your squat training. 

There are different types of squat racks you can see in most commercial gyms. Let’s discuss two of them.

A squat stand is used for squatting and pressing. This equipment does not have safety straps that act as a spotter so you have to be extra careful when doing your sets.

A full rack or a power rack has 4 metal posts instead of two. It is shaped like a cage and has added features compared to a regular squat rack. Power racks are taller and it usually comes with a pull-up bar.

You can also buy additional attachments like J-hooks, safety pins, and safety straps. Weight plate pegs and other accessories can also be bought for added features to a power rack. 

Like the smith machine, there are various squat rack exercises you can do:

– bench press

– shoulder press

– squats

The hooks are adjustable so you can set the bar to your preferred height. With the squat rack, you will be able to recruit your stabilizer muscles since this is a piece of free-weight equipment.

Pros and cons of a squat rack

Stabilizer muscles are usedSome racks may feel unstable, especially with a heavier load
No movement restrictionsMay still need a spotter
Can perform various exercises

Differences between smith machine vs squat rack

Both the squat rack and smith machine help in strength training. But, there are differences between the two. It is good to know the difference between a squat rack and a smith machine especially if you have a home gym and is planning on buying either one.

Space requirement

Both pieces of equipment are big and bulky.

For both a smith machine and a squat rack, you have to have enough space for the equipment to fit in.

Some machines have extra storage for weight plates so that alone can add up to the space. You also need to take the length of the barbell into consideration. Olympic barbells are typically 7 feet long while standard barbells are 5 to 6 feet long.

Stability and Safety

If you are big on stability and safety, lifting on a smith machine might be a good option for you. The bar on a smith machine is fixed on two metal frames so you can be at ease and not worry about the bar dropping on you.

The smith machine acts like a spotter itself so you can easily rerack the bar if you struggle with your sets.

With a squat rack, you have to make sure that you have a really strong grip on the bar so you can stabilize it. While some squat racks have safety straps to act as a spotter, it is not as safe as the smith machine that has a fixed bar.

Fixed vs free movement

The main difference between a squat rack vs smith machine is in how it allows you to move.

The smith machine only offers a fixed vertical path that is often limiting to some users. With the fixed range of motion, it is not often the go-to exercise machine for most gym goers.

While the squat rack is a piece of equipment that allows for free movement. Since the squat rack only supports the bar, there is no restriction on your movements. You can also lift free weights on a squat rack than on a smith machine.

Muscle recruitment

If you are already a more experienced lifter, using a squat rack would be a good option. Since squat racks allow users to do free weight exercises, the stabilizer muscles are used more. 

If you are a beginner, it would be a good idea to try using a smith machine first. The bar is secured on the machine and you can practice with a smaller load to strengthen your muscles before moving on to the squat rack. The downside is your stabilizer muscles are not used much.


If we are talking about price, a squat rack is cheaper than a smith machine. But, the price will vary depending on the machine that you will buy.

There are attachments and accessories that can be added to both squat racks and smith machines. Those are bought separately so that can also add up to the cost of the machine.

Bottom Line

There are definitely pros and cons to both a squat rack and a smith machine. 

The machine you use should always depend on your fitness goals. If you want safer and more stable equipment, go for a smith machine. If you feel like a smith machine is taking too much of the load for you, you can definitely use a squat rack, as long as you are strong enough.

You can do barbell exercises on both machines. And, you can always use both if you think you need them to achieve your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is it okay to squat on a smith machine?

Yes, as long as your form is good, you can definitely do squats on a smith machine.

Why do smith machines get hate?

Smith machines get hated because of the notion that it makes lifting weights easier. Since the bar is fixed, the thought is that you are not really using your strength to lift, especially if it is more of a heavier load. But to lift the smith bar, you still need to have enough strength. The bar just helps stabilize your movement.

Is a squat rack better than a smith machine?

In terms of performing free weight exercises, a squat rack is a better option. You are not restricted in your movements and you will also be using your muscles to stabilize the bar.

But, a smith machine is better if you would like a more controlled lifting environment, especially if you are a beginner.