Squatting in the Smith Machine; it’s an offense many trainers consider even worse than doing curls in the squat rack. Not only because it unnecessarily occupies a piece of equipment that you don’t need to complete the exercise, but more importantly, because it makes the exercise much less effective and could even lead to injury.
See also: The A to Z of Gym Etiquette
Kelvin Gary, a NASM certified personal trainer and owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City says that the Smith Machine will absolutely not make your squat better. In fact, he says he could rant on and on about how it can hinder performance in several different ways.
“Recently, as I was finishing a set of body rows on the smith machine and a young man came up to me and said, ‘Hey, that's not what this machine is for.’ ‘Well what is it for?’ I asked him. He said, ‘It's to make your squat and bench press better.’ As you can imagine my head almost exploded,” Gary said.
His extended response to this uninformed gym user included the following three reasons why you should never squat (or bench press) in the Smith Machine.
1.) It takes away the need to stabilize.
One of the best benefits of the squat is that in addition to engaging the large muscle groups of your lower body (quads, hamstrings, glutes), it also activates smaller stabilizing muscles like the transverse abdominals, abductors and adductors. When you squat in the Smith Machine the movement becomes much more rigid and lessens the need for help from those smaller muscle groups.
2.) It forces you on a path that may not be right for you.
Another great thing about squatting is that it’s an extremely functional exercise, meaning it translates to helping you perform every day movements like sitting down and standing up. Although, that movement is generally the same for everyone, it will also vary slightly from person to person based on different levels of flexibility and other small anatomical differences. As mentioned above, the Smith Machine makes exercises like the squat and bench press more rigid, taking away the ability to modify the exercise for personal needs and restricting the freedom to move your body naturally.
3.) It hides issues in your movement patterns that may need to be addressed.
Like we just said, the Smith Machine restricts the freedom for your body to move naturally. If you happen to have an issue (weak glutes, tight hamstrings, etc.) your natural movement pattern will expose the problem. If you only ever squat in the Smith Machine those problems might go unnoticed and when unaddressed can lead to injury.
“Next time you think about using the smith machine, realize you aren't doing yourself a favor by loading up the weight and doing a set of squats,” says Gary. “Use a regular rack, lower the weight if you have to, do it right, and build from there.”
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