Smith Machine Shake Up. What are the Real Differences?

What is a Smith Machine?

A smith machine is a piece of free weight exercise equipment in which a horizontal weight bar travels up and down on a set of vertical guide rods.  Smith machines are excellent for people who exercise by themselves. Smith machines are also good for people who are new to working out and do not have the proprioceptive muscle strength to stabilize themselves with traditional free weight movements done inside a power cage or on a free weight bench.  There are many different types, configurations, options, and quality levels with the various smith machines on the market.

Types of Smith Machines

Guide Rod Type – there are two types of guide rods that the bar will travel up and down.

  1. One is a bushing smith in which the bar travels up and down the guide rod via bushings.  This is the cheapest way to make a smith machine and you mainly find this type on home exercise equipment.  The drawbacks are that you have constantly lubricate this style to keep it sliding smoothly and if you press harder on one side of the bar over the other you can bind up the mechanism.
  2. The other is a linear ball bearing smith.  This is where the bar slides up and down the guide rod with tube of ball bearings that are fixed to the weight bar.  This allows for a smooth, fluid motion and it does not matter if you press harder with one side or the other.  This is a little more expensive than the bushing style, but it does not require as much maintenance as the bushing style and it’s going to be a lot more durable

2)      Angle of the guide rods – There are 3 angles in which the guide rods are situated

  1. Linear – This is where the guide rods are situated in which they are strait up and down without an angle.
  2. – This is where the angle of the guide rods is situated at 5o off the center line of the guide rods.
  3. – Just like the 5°, this is the amount of angle the guide rods are situated off of the midline.

Is one of these better than the other?  There has been arguments made that the angled smith mimics more of the body’s natural strength arc, but that statement defeats itself right there.  The body moves in arcs and not strait lines, so technically smith machines do not simulate a natural motion at all.  It all comes down to personal preference and what feels most comfortable to the end user.     

Full commercial smith machines that you see in the health club do not have other attachments that can be added to the unit.  Many light commercial and home units do have the ability to add a lat machine with a high and low pulley, pec dec for flies, or even a cable crossover, with or without adjustable pulleys, that can be added to the front of the unit.  It all comes down to where the unit is going and how much floor space is going to be required for the use of the unit.

Free Movement Smiths – These are a relatively new category of Smith Machine originally started by BodyCraft Fitness with the invention of the Jones Machine.  The Jones Machine takes the best of a traditional smith that travels up and down on a fixed set of vertical guide rods and adds a second set of horizontal guide rods so that the carriage can travel back and forth as well as up and down.  This unit truly mimics the body’s natural strength curve.  Just recently BodyCraft has developed an optional bar for their unit that also allows for the incorporation of the proprioceptive (stabilizing) muscles by adding a balance feature to it.  Other companies such as Star Trac with their Max Rack and Hoist Fitness with the Dual Action Smith has tried to copy this motion, but without success.  What separates the Jones Machine from these guys is that on the Jones when it is time to rack the weight bar the user just rotates their wrists to engage the hooks into the uprights like on a traditional smith machine.  With the Max Rack and the Dual Action Smith the user would have to push the bar all the way to the front or back of the cage to rack it.  If that is the case, it would be better to purchase a power cage and save $3,000.

In conclusion, there are many types, styles, and quality levels of smith machines.  Ultimately what makes one better over the other is the quality of components utilized in the construction of the fitness equipment and the end user’s personal preference into the types of features and motions that they are accustomed to.

For more information on the Benefits of Strength Training and Body Composition click here

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