The 7 Best Smith Machines
The History Of The Smith Machine
He performed the majority of his incredulous feats of strength and endurance at a time when the average man would be considered long past his prime.
This sketch became the blueprint for the modern day Smith machine.
The Smith Machine comes from the mind of one the fitness industries most influential men: Jack Lalanne. Those born after 1980 may only remember Lalanne as that guy selling juicers on late night TV, but he actually performed a number of herculean feats of strength in his heyday and is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the benefits of healthy eating and regular exercise to forefront of the American zeitgeist.
At the age of 54, Lalanne beat a 21-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger in an informal bodybuilding contest, yet this is by no means his most amazing feat. He performed the majority of his incredulous feats of strength and endurance at a time when the average man would be considered long past his prime. In 1959, when Jack was 45, he did 1,000 jumping jacks and 1,000 push-ups in just one hour and 22 minutes. At the age of 60, he swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman's Wharf with his hands and feet bound with cords, while pulling a 1,000lb. boat. In 1984, at the ripe old age of 70, he swam from the Queen's Way Bridge to the Queen Mary while handcuffed and towing 70 rowboats.
In the mid 1950s, when Lalanne's career was in full swing, he was on the hunt for a machine would allow him to safely squat with heavy weights, without the aid of a spotter. At the time, though, such a machine didn't exist. Jack met with his friend Rudy Smith, who happened to manage a men's bath house, to discuss the plans for such a device. During the meeting, Jack made a few sketches on a napkin of a configuration he believed would work. This sketch became the blueprint for the modern day Smith machine.
Surprisingly, it was Rudy who took the initiative to actually build the first machine, and not Jack, which is probably why the machine is known as the Smith machine and not the Lalanne machine. After have gained Jack's permission to use his sketch as a basis, Rudy meet with an equipment builder named Paul Martin and enlisted his services to build the first Smith machine.
The rapid rise in popularity of the Smith machine had a lot to do with Rudy's connections. He convinced a friend of his, Vic Tanny, who ran a number of gym franchises across the U.S., to test out the machine in a couple of his gyms. Seeing a lot of people using it, they decided to install one in every gym Tanny owned. By the time the 1970s rolled around, the Smith machine was a standard piece of equipment in most gyms.
Benefits Of Using A Smith Machine
A Smith machine consists of a barbell that is fixed between steel rails. It allows for vertical movement, while preventing any forward-backward or side-to-side movement. Most also have some form of hooks to lock the weight in place anywhere during the lift. This design offers a number of benefits over free-weight squats.
Users don't have to worry about steadying the load themselves, making it ideal for people new to strength training.
Since Smith machines only allow for vertical movement, they provide users with an unmatched level of stability, making the lift safer. Users don't have to worry about steadying the load themselves, making it ideal for people new to strength training. This can considerably cut down on the chances of injury for those unfamiliar with the specific exercise's motions. The stabilized nature of the Smith machine also allows for more focused muscle targeting and quicker strength gains.
Weightlifters can use Smith machines for a large variety of different exercises, not just squats. Common exercises performed on Smith machines include bench presses, military presses, behind the neck presses, bent rows, and more. This makes it a very useful piece of machinery and ideal for the home gym, where it may be unfeasible to buy multiple machines.
One of the most valuable benefits of a Smith machine, and the one Lalanne initially intended the equipment for, is the ability to lift heavy weights without the aid of a spotter. Let's face it, it's not always possible to have a workout buddy every time you want to perform high-weight exercises. A Smith machine allows you to safely bench or squat heavy weights to failure, without having to worry about not being able to complete the lift and dropping the weight on yourself. Constantly adding heavier weight is important to muscle hypertrophy.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Smith Machine
Many gym goers think a Smith machine is only suitable for squats and bench presses, but this is simply not true. In fact, a Smith machine allows for near limitless exercises, so if you belong to this group, you aren't using your equipment for all it's worth. A Smith machine is ideal for performing standing bicep curls. Doing your curls with a Smith machine minimizes the changes of compensating with your back, making your biceps work harder.
A Smith machine is ideal for performing standing bicep curls.
Sometimes you need to think outside of the box when figuring out what kind of exercises you can do on your Smith machine. It isn't all about adding weight to the bar. Smith machines are ideal for a range of body weight exercises, as well. Set the bar at roughly hip level and you can use it to perform triceps dips. If you keep the bar right around the same height, but position yourself in a prone position below it, you can use it to perform reverse rows.
If you don't have a pull-up bar in your home or gym, not to worry, Smith machines are perfect for these, as well. Simply hook the bar at or near the top of the machine's range of motion and voila, you have a pull-up bar. While you have the bar there, you can also use it to perform some hanging knee or leg raises.
This is just a small sampling or exercises you can perform on your Smith machine. It really is one of the most versatile pieces of gym equipment. After spending a bit of time playing around with one, you'll quickly find that you can use it to accomplish a total body workout.