The Smith Machine: A time to use and a time not to use

In Part 1 I talked about the perks and drawbacks of using the Smith Machine. As mentioned, the Smith Machine can be used for beginners to learn the correct movement for bench pressing.

But there should come a time in one’s training to move beyond the Smith machine and into free weights.


Why move past the Smith Machine?

Once the novice has learned the proper movement with the Smith Machine and perhaps has built up a little confidence he or she should then start to use free weights in the training regimen.

The reason being the novice is ready to start to build their strength

Albeit, it can be done with a Smith Machine as there are many muscles that will not get worked (namely the stabilising muscles).

Because the Smith Machine is on a fixed plane, there are stabilising muscles that are not trained as much as if they would be if the training was done with free weights.

Free weight barbell

The free weight barbell bench press should be used as well as dumbbell bench press. Using the barbell will allow the trainee to train the bench press in three dimensions while using a heavier weight than the dumbbell bench press.

This is typically when the trainee will start to see his bench press numbers go up.

The body needs a stimulus to react.  The barbell bench press using a heavy weight, one that allows around five reps, will give that.

This may raise the question of safety.

Now that the novice has moved on, how does he stay focused on the weight and not on allowing the feeling that he will get crushed by the weight? The first thing to do is to get a spotter and practice with a very light weight, then slowly move up on the scale.

However, there is another option that offers the safety of a Smith machine, range of motion of free weights, and no need of a spotter: using a squat rack.

A squat rack can be used for bench pressing

Simply set the safety bars to a level that will allow you to get out from under the barbell should you get into difficulty.  This also does away with the need for a spotter.  However, the problem is that not all gyms have one, or they will typically be used by those doing squats.

A squat rack is great for those who want to workout at home.

Smith machine bench press_1Don’t forget the dumbbells

The other way to do bench presses is to use dumbbells.

Dumbbells offer even more range than the barbell, as each hand must control its own weight rather it being shared across both hands.

This does offer more stabilising muscles being trained but typically the total weight being used will not be the same as a barbell bench press.  For this reason most use it as an assistance exercise to the barbell bench press.

So again, the question isn’t: should I use the Smith Machine for training the bench press?

But rather: when should I train with the Smith Machine, barbell and dumbbell?

To which, the answer is: the Smith Machine bench press and dumbbell each have should have their place in the gym and one’s training regimen.

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