Should you use a smith machine or free weights ?


What is a Smith Machine ? 

There are so many choices that you have when you step foot inside a gym that you may be confused concerning what you need to use. Should you use a smith machine or free weights ? In many cases, the equipment that is used will depend on the overall goals that you have. Here we will discuss the difference in using a smith machine or free weights.

For those of you that don’t know, a smith machine is an enclosed piece of equipment with the barbell going from one side to the other. You can do a number of exercises using this including: Squats, lunges,bench press, shoulder press, pulls, and other exercises as well.

Because when you are using a smith machine you are more stabilized, this would be ideal to use if you are by yourself and have no one to spot you. This is because there are prongs that stick out where you can turn the bar to go over them, locking the bar securely into place. Also, because the movement is limited when a smith machine is used, when compared to free weights, only isolated exercises can be done. This means that if you are training for a dynamic movement that this would probably be the last choice unless you were alone. Because of this, it is better suited for someone that is doing a general workout as opposed to a workout to improve ones’ athletic performance.


   Some Differences in smith machines and free weights

When using a smith machine movements are more isolated.  You aren’t able to use the stabilizer muscles as much such as the rotator cuffs and knee ligaments.  In this case, you would need to find a more specific exercise that may train these specific muscles. If the goal is strength and you are using the smith machine, you will have to calculate the equivalent weight used to using  free weights. Because of the difference you will probably be able to lift more on the machine since its in isolation.




One positive thing about using a smith machine is that it allows you to descend in a straight line. The  body upright this way. Although this is not a normal range of motion, you are able to isolate the legs more. Free weight squats are much more challenging concerning balance and weight distribution. Therefore free weight squats should be done if your looking to increase the leg strength in a normal movement pattern.

When using a smith machine, the neuromuscular pattern of movement is fixed. It will adapt only to that specific movement. When you switch to using free weights, you wont be able to do as much due to being unstable. This is why the smith machine is better for the beginner just starting out with weight training.

Pros and Cons

Here are some positives and negatives of each concerning free weights or a machine:


Pros: Very easy to use, allow for muscle isolation,you can lift heavier weight without assistance, and its good for older people to use.

Cons: Doesn’t follow functional movement patterns, no stabilizers are trained, could cause injury.

Free Weights

Pros: Trains functional movements, Can go full range of motion, works more on stabilizers, more variation in exercises, and they are lower in price.

Cons: There are very few negatives about free weights. These are: that they can take more time to learn proper technique, you have a greater risk of injury, and you would need a spotter if the using a heavy amount of weight.

There has also been actual research done concerning differences in the use of certain muscles when using a smith machine or free weights. Although this study did not use many subjects, results showed that using free weights the activity was almost forty five percent higher. This shows that when the training for strength, it is a much better choice to use free weights.

Even though most people think that there is only one smith machine that is made, there are actually two. One of these is more suited for the bench press because it has more of an angle to it. The other machine goes more straight up and down which is more ideal for squats. This is why you should pay attention to this aspect of the machine prior to using it



After going through the many differences between using a smith machine or free weights, in conclusion it is best that you use free weights.  You should use a machine only when you are alone and don’t have a spotter. It is suggested that machines be used more of when someone is totally new to using weights.   Overall it should be left up to someones trainer and the clients specific situation on using a smith machine or free weights. If you want to increase the overall strength while decreasing the changes of injury, free weights are more ideal.

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