What is a Smith Machine

If you have ever been to a gym and seen equipment with a built in barbell connected so that it can slide up and down along a track, it is most likely a Smith machine. 

Smith machines are commonly seen in commercial gyms used by beginners and advanced gym-goers alike.

We researched the designs of some of the most popular smith machines, and checked out the results of some fitness studies to give you a better idea about what Smith machines are and how they may be a good fit for certain workouts.

In this article, we will cover what the Smith machine is, how it works, its benefits, its downsides, and how to get started using one. We will also be covering the pricing and different exercises you can do with the Smith machine. 

What is a Smith Machine Featured Photo

What is a Smith Machine?

Marcy Smith Cage Workout Machine

So, what is a Smith machine?

A Smith machine is a weight equipment used in strength training. Like the other gym equipment, Smith machines can help build muscle and strengthen your body.

There are several safety hooks along the steel rails that can be used to safely secure the barbell at any point in your exercise. The bar path of a Smith machine is fixed in a vertical movement. But, some high-end Smith machine is inclined to let users feel a more natural movement when lifting weights.

A commercial Smith machine can be more likely to have a slope or incline than a residential Smith Machine.

If you have a preferred starting point height when doing squats, you can easily adjust the barbell on a Smith machine. All you need to do is rotate the bar counter-clockwise to unlock the safety hook and adjust the bar. To lock the bar in place, just rotate the bar back.

Having an attached barbell on a fixed path provides you with a controlled strength training environment.

This feature makes it easy to exercise without having the need of a spotter.

Why is it called a Smith Machine?

The Smith Machine was first invented in the 1950’s by a man named Jack LaLanne, an influential person in the fitness industry. He wanted a fitness machine that is safe to use without needing a spotter as an alternative to free weight exercises.

So why would you want to try using a Smith Machine?

As someone who is into working out, you always want to find the equipment best for your fitness journey.

The Smith machine does not only offer safe usage but you can also try different kinds of exercise with it.

Smith machines are fairly safe for beginners and can help you with your form and posture before trying out free weight exercises on your own. For example, you could start with a Smith machine squat before moving on to try regular squats in your gym’s power rack.

Let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages of using a Smith Machine.

What strength level should you start with a Smith Machine?

What strength level should you start with a Smith Machine

You might be wondering how much weight you can lift on a Smith Machine.

A Smith Machine can hold up to 600 lbs – 1000 lbs in weight.

This article recommends different weight capacities according to your fitness level, bodyweight, age, etc. 

For a beginner, they recommend starting with a 105 lbs weight capacity. For the more advanced, they recommend lifting 200 lbs up to 400lbs.

Smith machines also have different starting bar weight. See if you can know the starting bar weight of the smith machines in your local gym, and from there you can add your weight discs according to your fitness needs.

A smith machine bar has a starting weight 6 lbs up to 20 lbs, depending on the manufacturer. Some bars have a starting weight of 33 lbs.

At the end of the day, you have to listen to your body and choose the weight accordingly to avoid injuries.

Benefits and disadvantages of using a Smith Machine

It is always a topic of conversation amongst the fitness community whether the use of a Smith Machine is beneficial.

There are fitness enthusiasts who see the benefits of using a Smith Machine and see positive results in their fitness journey. But there are others who think that a Smith Machine should not be used at all.

Let’s talk about the pros and cons about using a Smith Machine.

Benefits of using a Smith Machine

Beginner friendly

The Smith Machine is good for a variety of exercises and can be used for a total body workout session.

If you are a beginner and are afraid of trying free weight exercises, starting with a Smith Machine might be a good choice.

You can safely practice lifting weights with the safety hooks in place and it can be your foundation and introduction to weight training.

It might also help your confidence in weight lifting. After all, it’s still you who is lifting the bar and bearing the weight, not the Smith machine.

Safety and Stability

With the barbell attached and safety hooks along the rails, the Smith Machine offers stability and control when you use it.

You can rack the weight safely on the hooks if you are starting to struggle. You won’t have to worry about the barbell dropping on you or someone else.

This video gives a brief and concise explanation on how to use a Smith Machine. 

Disadvantages of using a Smith Machine

While Smith Machines can be very good at targeting specific movements, they do not activate all your muscles.

The biggest downside of using machines is that they only allow you to move in one direction: up and down.

With this limit, you are relying heavily on the machine to control the weight and your stabilizer muscles do not work as needed.

Your stabilizer muscles are the ones that keep you from shaking when doing demanding activities, such as weight lifting.

While the Smith Machine can help improve form and posture, it can also do the opposite. Relying on the Smith Machine when fatigued or injured will not allow you to maintain good form. This will affect your consistency when you transition into free weight exercise.

Lifting on a fixed path might not be good for everyone as each of us have different fitness needs. In reality, we don’t do exercises only with vertical movements.

It is recommended that isolated training is needed to target other muscle groups as well.

Exercises you can do on a Smith Machine

Exercises you can do on a Smith Machine

There are a lot of exercises you can do on a Smith Machine.

Here are some of the Smith machine exercises especially good for people who are new at using a Smith Machine.

  • Overhead Press
  • Modified Squat
  • Hip Thrusts
  • Weighted Calf Raises
  • Bench Press
  • Shoulder presses

These exercises can target different muscle groups, so if you are looking to activate and build your muscles, smith machines can be a fitness equipment you can include in your training regimen.

This video has a couple more exercises for the Smith Machine.

It is important to set your fitness goals so you can determine which of the exercises you can add on to your training regimen.

Smith Machines vs Free Weights

Smith Machines vs Free Weights

You might have heard the discussion among the fitness community about smith machines vs free weights.

Some people don’t like smith machines and prefer to do exercises on free weights. Most people in the fitness community think that a Smith machine is not effective in weight training.

A Smith machine offers control and stability which makes a lot of people think that you are not using your own strength. 

Bench pressing on a Smith machine is definitely different from a free weight bench press. With free weights, you will need to use your own strength to do a regular bench press. A Smith machine will help you stabilize the bar but it does not mean you are not controlling the weight on your own. You still need to be strong enough to be able to do a bench press on Smith machines.  

The fitness equipment you use is just an additional accessory for your full body workout.  


If you are a new gym-goer, you will want to find out the cost of having to go to the gym or having your very own home gym.

Most gym centers have Smith Machines which their clients use as part of their membership plan. Different gym centers offer different membership fees. It is best to call your nearest gym center to see if there is a good fit for you.

But here’s an idea of how gym membership costs:

Some gym centers offer a free one-day pass exclusive for new members. So you might want to grab that opportunity to try on their gym equipment (and see if they have a Smith Machine!).

For monthly membership fees, most gym centers offer $10 – $100. The most expensive plan gives you more access to gym equipment and premium partner discounts and rewards. But, if you want to skip on the membership fees but want to use a Smith Machine, there are different equipment in the market that you can buy for your home gym.

Be ready to break the bank because Smith Machines can be expensive.

A Smith Machine can cost you $1000 up to $3000 depending on the model/brand. You might also need to buy extra accessories like weight discs and benches.

Final Thoughts

Now you have an idea of what a Smith Machine is, its benefits and drawbacks, exercises you can do, and an idea of how much an equipment can cost you.

Your use of equipment should depend on your fitness goals. You want to find a gym that can help you achieve the most results with as little to no injury as possible.

It might also be helpful to set-up your own home gym if you want the convenience of working out at home.

Whether you are new at strength training or are a seasoned gym-goer, a Smith Machine can give you a good workout session.

We hope this article helped answer your questions about the Smith Machine.