Have you seen a rack-like thing in a commercial gym that has a barbell attached to it? The barbell just goes up and down and can be hooked at whatever position you want. That's a smith machine.
They are quite popular in commercial gyms because they eliminate the need for a spotter. Most people assume they are meant for beginners who aren’t confident enough or trained enough to lift weight safely.
Jack LaLanne, “The Godfather Of Modern Fitness” invented the first smith machine in the 1950s when he felt the need for an equipment that can help him train safely without having someone to rescue him during failed reps.
Although his motive was to build something that ensures the safety of fitness enthusiasts (and he did so), what he created, actually turned out to be something that restricts people from using their full potential. Various studies have shown that smith machines for home gyms or commercial establishments decrease muscle usage by 43% or more as compared to using free weights.
This means, smith machines, although being much safer than using free weights, aren’t actually going to provide you as good results as the free weights will do.
There are a number of other reasons why we do not recommend smith machines for home gyms. We will be discussing all of them in this article. Plus, we will also tell you why you can still go ahead and buy one if you think it is suitable for you. We have also picked up the top three best smith machines for home gyms just in case you need some reliable recommendations.
Let’s first understand what exactly a smith machine is and how it works.
What is a smith machine
The above video will give you an idea of what it is and how it works.
As obvious, the barbell is attached to the rails, so no matter how hard you are training or how poor you are in terms of training with weights, the loaded barbell is not going to crush you down in case you fail to balance it.
Sounds great, isn’t it?
A lot of us are working out from home these days without having a spotter to rescue us during unfortunate incidents. A smith machine is designed to spot for yourself. It has closely spaced pegs so you can lock the bar at any spot when you feel discomfort or start losing your balance.
The spotting function is the USP of a smith machine. But, please note that the direction of movement of the barbell is fixed. You can just move it up and down but not forward and backward. And that's where the problem lies.
5 Reasons Why we (and most fitness experts) do not recommend smith machines for home gyms
1. Smith machines restrict the natural movement of your body
When you squat with free weights, your body leans a bit forward, maybe by just a few degrees but it doesn’t really move straight. This slight lean in the movement makes a lot of difference in the way your joints and muscles work.
Smith machines, however, travel vertically. The path is fixed and there is no way you can tilt forward. Its fixed path restricts you from following your body’s natural movement. This altered motion then places load on your joints, especially the knees and lower back.
To be honest, no study has yet confirmed if smith machines are bad for the lower back but those who have used them agree with us. Numerous fitness experts have stated that this unnatural movement of the body along with a loaded barbell can exert extreme force on our spinal discs and increase the chances of disc injuries.
2. Smith machines restrict the use of your body’s stabilizing muscles
They basically control the bar. So, your body doesn’t have to actually balance the barbell. It just has to lift it. By not using your balancing and stabilizing muscles, you will eventually make them weaker.
Squats are considered to be a full body workout. They target all major and minor muscles of the body. When you use a smith machine, you just let the major muscles work, eliminating the minor ones. But, that shouldn’t happen because the minor muscles play a major role in controlling our mobility, stability, balance, posture, etc.
Don’t let a machine control your workout. Do it yourself, even if it means training with lesser weight or doing fewer reps. Your target shouldn’t be to train heavy; rather you should focus on training right.
3. Once you start using smith machines for home gym, it will be extremely difficult for you to lift without them
As we mentioned above, if you want to use it, you will have to alter your form. Once you get used to it, you will never be able to lift free weight safely because your body will get used to the unnatural movement. If you try to lift a free barbell using the unnatural motion that you got used to while using a smith machine, you may lose your balance and risk an injury.
That’s because your body’s stabilizing muscles and other smaller muscle groups that help balance your body would have become weak.
4. You get better results by using a free barbell vs a smith machine
That’s pretty obvious. You let the machine do the balancing work for you, thereby significantly reducing the work that your muscles have to do. So how do you expect to achieve better results!
Further, some of the best Smith machines for home gyms have counterbalanced barbells that help you bring it back up. No wonder why people using smith machines claim to be able to lift more weight than they could if they have to lift free weights. That’s because the machine is helping them cheat!
We hope by now you have understood why we are against the use of smith machines for home gyms. The good old free weight lifting is better.
5. They are ridiculously expensive!
Even the cheapest one costs about $1000 or maybe more.
If you have that high budget, why not buy a fully equipped power rack such as the Valor Fitness BD-7 Power Rack. It comes with a 3-in-1 workout station that includes pullup bar, low pulley, and high-pulley station with LAT attachment. There are full-size spotter arms that can catch the barbell in case you miss a rep, making it safer to exercise without a spotter.
All these will help you add a lot of versatility to your workouts whereas a smith machine can mostly be used for squats.
Who can use smith machines?
We have legitimate reasons to ask you not to use smith machines for home gyms.
But, you don’t have to necessarily agree with us.
If you are a beginner at weight training, smith machines can actually help you train safely in your home gym. Smith squats may not be as effective as traditional squats but they are still better than nothing at all.
Smith machines are also good for people who have poor balance and ankle flexibility. Unless your ankle is flexible enough, you won’t be able to go deep down, which defies the purpose of squatting. The best smith machines for home gyms will balance the heavily loaded barbell for you, so you can slowly and gradually squat deeper and better.
Want to know how you can regain your deep squat mobility and balance?
The most common reason why people prefer smith machines is that they start to lose their balance when they squat deep. That’s because they don’t have enough ankle flexibility. And, it’s a pretty common issue.
Here are some important stretches and exercises that you can do to regain your deep squat mobility so you don’t have to rely on a smith machine or fear losing your balance.
Be aware of squat wedges
A lot of manufacturers claim that these products help you squat better and deeper even when you don’t have enough ankle flexibility. But, that’s not true. We tried Iron Bull Strength Squat Wedges and realized that they are not at all necessary. Stretching and regaining your ankle flexibility is better. You can use the Vive Foot Rocker Calf Stretcher instead.
What are the best smith machines for home gyms that we recommend?
Valor Fitness BE-11 Smith Machine– the most affordable option
It is a very basic smith machine for home gyms with no bells and whistles features, which is quite expected at the price it is sold at. Yet, 89% of the buyers on Amazon have stated that it is a very sturdy and smooth machine and it works as expected. With 500lbs weight capacity, it is the best smith machine for home gyms for people who want to train hard yet stay safe.
Features of Valor Fitness BE 11 smith machine
- Dimension: 53”x85”x80”
- Frame is made of 4” x 2”, 12-gauge steel
- Weight capacity: 500lbs
- Comes with a solid steel barbell that has latch supports to hook it up to the frame.
- Barbell weighs 36lbs and doesn’t have central knurl
- Has four olympic plates weight storage pegs
- Counterbalance kit is sold separately but it isn’t really needed unless you are an absolute beginner
- Warranty: standard warranty offered by Valor Fitness is 3 years on the frame and 1-year on parts
Has stainless steel coils for shock absorbtion
This is an additional safety feature.
Basically, smith machines have quick access hooks/pins where you can quickly and instantly rack your barbell when done or when you are losing your control. The Valor Fitness BE-11 smith machine for home gyms has 14 such pins.
What if you are unable to lock the barbell to the hooks?
Well, the barbell will start falling down but it won’t crush you because it is fixed to the frame.
Valor Fitness has, however, added special steel springs so even if you don’t lock or rack the barbell, the springs will stop it from falling any further as well as absorb the shock. These springs are especially helpful during benchwork because they will not let the barbell down by even just a few centimeters.
Watch the video below to see how these springs function.
Linear bearings offer smooth operations
Like most smith machines, the Valor Fitness BE-11 too uses a linear bearing system that ensures smooth operation of the barbell. Hundreds of buyers have unanimously agreed that the movement of the barbell is exceptionally smooth, something that definitely deserves to be praised, especially considering that this is a low-cost smith machine for home gyms and light-commercial use.
You will have to lubricate it occasionally, which is a standard thing with all machines.
Assembly instructions could have been better
That’s where most buyers got stuck.
Valor Fitness has received a lot of criticism because it has failed to provide detailed assembly instructions. It should have included an assembly video because, after all, it is a $1000 machine!
Thankfully, assembly is pretty straightforward but, if you don’t have much assembly knowledge, you might have to brainstorm. Most people were able to assemble it by themselves. However, do not hesitate to get some help.
Our Rating: 4.7/5
FORCE USA G3 ALL-IN-ONE TRAINER– The most affordable multifunctional trainer
Force USA manufactures 5 different types of all-in-one trainers but we have chosen G3 (also known as Monster G3) because it is the least expensive one, making it the best smith machine for home gyms. The other models of smith machines are G6, G9, G12, and G20. All of them are significantly expensive and are meant for bodybuilders, athletes, sportspersons, and for heavy commercial use.
As obvious from its name, it is not just a smith machine; it is an all-in-one trainer. It is a combination of a power rack, a smith machine, and a functional trainer. Plus, it also has a chinup station and a core trainer with landmine attachment. All these 5 workout stations are built to cater to intermediate and advanced trainers. You get all these in just $2000, which is ridiculously affordable.
Watch the video below to see how it works.
Features of Force USA G3 smith machine/multifunctional trainer
- Dimension: 80″ (W) x 55″ (D) x 87″ (H)
- Weight capacity- power cage has a weight capacity of 1000lbs, smith machine and chinup bar are rated for 770lbs, pulley system is rated for 2000lbs
- Manufacturer hasn’t provided any information on the quality of steel used or the size of the frame but we can safely assume that the steel should be 11 gauge and the frame should be 2” X 2”.
- Attachments included are: A multi-grip chin up bar, j-hooks, safety spotters, a cambered bar, landmine attachment, lat pulldown bar, ankle strap, band pegs, barbell storage peg, 6 weight peg holders, etc.
- Please note: it doesn’t come with a free barbell that you can use with the power rack. The only barbell included is the one that is attached to the smith machine.
- You can buy a bunch of additional attachments such as vertical leg press, stability bar, straight chinup bar, and LAT pull down seat.
- Covered by Force USA’s standard warranty which is lifetime on frame, 2 years on cable pulley, and 90 days on parts and accessories.
We will not be reviewing the entire trainer here but we will give you a brief overview of each of the workout stations. We will, however, provide you with all relevant details about the smith machine part.
That’s located at the front part of the machine. As mentioned above, you will have to buy a barbell separately for the power rack. If you don’t already have one, here are some of the Best Affordable Olympic Barbells, Best Mid Range $200-500 Olympic Barbells, and Best High-End ($500+) Olympic Barbells that we recommend.
The power rack features the westside hole pattern. It has a weight capacity of 1000lbs, which is more than enough for a home lifter. Spotter arms and j-hooks are included so you don’t have to buy them separately.
This is basically the cable machine. It consists of two adjustable pulley stations, each having its own weight plate resistance. As mentioned above, the cables are tested for 2000lbs, so even advanced trainers and sports persons can use it to improve their performance.
An important thing that you must know about this functional trainer station is that it utilizes a 2:1 resistance ratio, which means you will get half the resistance of the weight you put on it. If you load 50lbs of weight, you will feel like you are lifting 25lbs. The other all-in-one trainers from Force USA have 1:1 resistance.
This is almost the same as the Valor Fitness BE11 smith machine. It can handle up to 770 lbs of weight. The barbell is compatible with only Olympic plates. You can add a vertical leg press machine to it, so you can do leg presses safely and smoothly.
Force USA G3 smith machine uses standard ball bearing system
The linear ball bearing system is slightly smoother and better than the standard ones. You can expect a bit of drag but not enough to cause inconvenience or distraction. The standard ball bearing system isn’t a deal breaker but if you don’t want any compromises you can go with the higher models such as the G6, G9, G12, and the G20.
But, our personal opinion is that G3 is the best smith machine for home gyms if you want an all in one trainer.
Our Rating: 4.6/5
If the G3 smith machine by Force USA is beyond your budget, you can go with this Marcy PRO SM 4903 smith machine for home gyms. It offers a functional trainer, smith machine, and a power cage. Plus, it also comes with an adjustable, removable bench.
Please note that being an affordable smith machine for home gyms, it has a low weight-bearing capacity. If you are an advanced trainer or an athlete, it won’t be enough for you. We recommend it only for beginners and intermediates and for home lifters who have no intentions of training like Hulk.
A few buyers have stated that due to its design, the power cage part has very limited holes that may not be enough for tall users for squatting with a free barbell.
Features of Marcy PRO SM 4903 smith machine for home gyms
- Dimensions: 86″L x 73″W X 85″ height
- Weight-bearing capacity- 300lbs for the smith machine and 2000lbs for the cables
- Manufacturer hasn’t provided any details on the steel gauge and tubing size but we guess it is made of 12 or 14 gauge steel using 2”X2” tubing
- As mentioned above, it comes with a cable pulley system, adjustable bench, multigrip pullup bar, and dip station
- Warranty: covered by Marcy’s standard lifetime warranty on frame, 2 years on parts.
Cable pulley system
It has two pulley systems, a high one and a low one. Both of them are rated for 300lbs. You can use both standard and Olympic plates because it comes with an Olympic plate adapter.
Just like the G3 smith machine for home gyms by Force USA, this one also has pulley that offers 2:1 resistance. This means you will feel half the load of what you use. But, this also means that even though you can load 300lbs of weight on the pulleys, you will actually be training with 150lbs.
LAT bar is not included
You will have to buy one separately. DYNASQUARE LAT Pulldown Bar should be good to go buy feel free to check out some other options.
The power cage of this machine is quite redundant. There is nothing much to talk about, so we have skipped it.
The smith machine part is, however, fantastic and works as expected. The manufacturer hasn’t cut any corners to keep its price low. It uses a linear ball bearing system which provides a smooth gliding movement to the barbell.
The smith machine comes with two catch bars, two safety j-hooks, and two safety spotters. There are 12 adjustment positions where you can quickly load the barbell when you are done or about to lose balance.
The barbell of the smith machine is rated for 300lbs.
The bench is a thoughtful addition to this smith machine for home gym. Its backrest can be adjusted to 6 different positions and the seat can be adjusted to 4 positions.
Thankfully, the bench is not attached to the cage. You can take it out when not needed. The bench is rated for 600lbs.
Our Rating: 4.6/5
The three products listed above are the best smith machines for home gyms. They are reasonably priced and suitable for most home lifters. They require a dedicated space and provide absolutely safety for every member of your family.
But, as we mentioned at the beginning of the article, we would rather suggest you use your body’s natural reflexes and stabilizing muscles instead of being dependent on a machine. At the end of the day, it is not about lifting the maximum possible weight; it is about lifting enough weight to challenge your body’s natural abilities.