How To Use a Smith Machine

Bodybuilding is a proven way to look and feel your best. Seasoned bodybuilders know that injuries can cause serious setbacks in training; that's why so many of them have training partners. There is a way to train alone and still get in a challenging workout without finding yourself caught under a 200-lb barbell during your last set of chest presses. 

  1. Basic Concept.  A Smith machine is great to have when your training partner leaves for his month-long vacation or when you just want to train by yourself. Training alone doesn't have to mean settling for a less challenging workout. A Smith machine may be bought either as a stand-alone or as part of a home gym. It's basically a barbell that slides along a vertical plane. It's the two safety components, the safety spotter arms and barbell hooks, which give this machine its edge.
  2. Safety Components.  Some Smith machines only have a barbell with a fixed up-and-down movement. Others offer an added choice of forgoing this fixed vertical movement for one that mimics free weights by removing attachments that keep the barbell strictly vertical. The wow-factors for this machine are that you can easily hook the barbell onto pegs or holes along its vertical frame and it has a safety spotter arm on each side. It's a nice benefit (to say the least) when you're alone bench pressing and realize you're going to fall short of your desired number of repetitions -- while you're in the up position of your last rep.
  3. Popular Smith Machine Exercises
    • The bench press is a common Smith machine exercise. This pectoral-building move can be done in the incline, decline, or flat bench position. Some bodybuilders even claim that the fixed up-and-down motion of a Smith machine barbell helps to ward off rotator cuff injuries. 
    • Squats are another exercise that can be done on a Smith machine. Doing squats with a barbell that only moves vertically may feel awkward at first. Maintaining good form will help combat this. If pain is felt during this exercise and your form is good, then the Smith machine squat may not be for you. Everyone is built a little differently and needs to do what is right for individual body mechanics. Also keep in mind that your body's core -- the muscles around your midsection -- isn't getting much of a workout when you use a Smith machine for squatting. It's a good idea to alternate between Smith machine squats and free standing squats to strengthen those important stabilizing muscles. 
    • Pull-ups on a Smith machine are great for when you can't lift your entire bodyweight. Partial pull-ups, or inverted rows, are done with the barbell a few inches above your hip height. With the front of your body facing the ceiling, grab on to the barbell. (You can do this from a sitting position.) Hands should be roughly shoulder width apart. Position yourself so that as you pull up, your chest is level with the barbell. Keep your body straight and heels on the floor as you do what looks like an upside down push-up. 

Add variety and safety by incorporating the Smith machine in your workouts. Experiment with other exercises -- like deadlifts, lunges, and push-ups -- on the Smith machine. You just might bring 'new life' to an old exercise and find renewed energy for your weight training program.


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