Last week began with A Friendly Reminder That You’re Not Off Track, which I hope helped quell your concerns about Thanksgiving feasting. I touched on holiday eating again on Sunday, so today we’re back to talking about training, and I’d like to tell you to get off track.
What on earth am I talking about? That abomination of a barbell and squat rack, the Smith Machine! While Smith Machine Squats aren’t the best idea, I can’t completely hate the machine; it has some uses:
Bill is right, and maybe I am too close minded with the Smith Machine, but it just doesn’t compare to unguided movements. I consider using the Smith Machine similar to driving on the Tomorrowland Speedway. It’s great when you’re 6 years old, but the second you realize that you’re doing all that much, you realize it’s a bit silly.
Weeeeeeeee!!!!! Wait, what is that metal rail for? Why can’t I drive away from it?! Am I stuck here forever?!? NOOOOOO!!!!
Take deep breaths. Unlike the monotony of the Speedway, there might actually be some good uses of the Smith Machine. Every exercise that I’m about to recommend to you has one major element in common, as they treat the Smith Machine as a fixed piece of equipment, and not as barbell balancing contraption. I’m done hating on the Smith Machine; let’s get to some practical uses of this guy.
Thanks to an easily adjustable bar height, it takes mere seconds to adjust where the bar is racked, which makes the Smith Machine a great idea for push-up and inverted row progressions. For example, elevating the starting position and reducing the body angle reduces the load that you’re using; let’s call it Applied Trigonometry. If we were to determine the load (by percentage of body weight) being moved between that inverted row and the one below, there’s a huge difference in strength required, and it’s probably impossible to become too strong at inverted rows. Here’s a comparison of a more-vertical row as well as a foot-elevated version using the Smith Machine:
In addition to progressing and regressing inverted rows, I find the Smith Machine is a great tool for regressing push-ups to an angle that allows us to maintain a plank position throughout the set. For some, this may be with a traditional two handed push-up, while others may use it to practice their one-handed push-up skills:
Along with those horizontal pushing and pulling options, I find the Smith Machine to be a really good tool for challenging grip due to the variety of grip thickness options. You can use the barbell handle for more traditional exercises, but will likely have to ‘shorten’ yourself in one way or another. Here’s a chin-up in a slight tuck position, which I like because it challenges the abdominals, and because it doesn’t let you use your glutes or thoracolumbar fascia for a boost. Starting from a dead hang feels much harder in the tuck:
It’s also possible to use the Smith Machine for parallel grip pulling, depending on the design elements. If there are two bars at the top, you can go to town with parallel grip pull-ups:
If there is only one cross bar, you can always attach a suspension trainer and perform parallel grip rows with a hand on the barbell and one on your device:
If I had to ‘pick’ one upper body isolation exercise, I’d go with the body weight tricep extension. While you’re concerned with movement at the Elbow, you also have to minimize movement through your trunk. It’s a perfect excuse to do some extra planks!
I know it seems like the lower body is getting shafted here, and I’ll admit that it is. There aren’t many lower body exercises that you can use with the Smith Machine, although it makes a very good hurdle for step-overs and duck-unders, among other things. If you’re interested, please check out Eric Cressey’s 10 Uses for a Smith Machine. I’ll let you know that my favorite lower body exercise would be the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat:
When it comes to bang-for-your-buck training, the Smith Machine is not the place to look. However, if you’ve hit a plateau and need a new challenge, or you’re in a pinch and need an appropriate variation, the Smith Machine may just allow you to perform a new or different exercise that make that training session, and those in the future, conducive towards your goals.
Just make sure that, whatever you do, you don’t un-rack the bar.