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Using My Body Solid Smith Machine to Safely Lift to Failure with a Wide Range of Smith Machine Exercises to Get a Full Body Workout

  Jul 12th, 2011
Smith Machine Bench Press WeightsMy personality is not usually of the introverted type, but when I am weight training, I prefer to be alone with my thoughts; and maybe some music from Disciple, Decyfer Down or Bullet for My Valentine blasting in my ear drums. I find that I am able to focus a greater level of attention to my training without a partner around to distract me from my lifting.

For a serious bodybuilder like myself, training alone can be problematic when it comes to safely training to full muscle failure without a spotter to bail me out if I get trapped under a heavy load.

It took a pretty large internal struggle for me to part with using free weights almost exlusively while weight training, but I felt like I was cheating my muscles out of maximimum overload while performing certain lifts without a spotter. For instance, while bench pressing I would always have to stop after pressing my final full repetition, instead of digging deep and trying to push out that all-important final rep – or at least continuing to press the bar as far away from my chest for as many partial reps as possible.

Even though my stabilizer muscles would miss out on a certain amount of stimulation, I decided to start using a smith machine for my barbell pressing lifts to allow me to perform every set to full muscle failure without the need for a spotter. I honestly did not like the feeling of using a smith machine for the first few training sessions as it felt too much like I was using a machine since I didn’t have to really control the weight other than pressing it upward.

Nevertheless, I continued using a smith machine while training, and eventually began to enjoy it. What I really liked was the focus I could place on the particular muscle group I was training. Without the need to stabalize the bar laterally, I could hone in on garnering all of my pressing power from my chest and maximizing the contraction of my chest muscles throughout the entire range of the lift. In fact, I enjoyed the ability to isolate my chest muscles while bench pressing with a smith machine so much that I began using other lifts with the smith machine, such as squats, lunges, leg presses, shoulder presses and lying triceps presses.

The ability to perform all of these lifts to failure did result in slightly faster muscle gains, but the amount of weight that I could lift continued to increase, and at a much faster pace than when using free weights. While it is natural to be able to lift greater weights with a smith machine because of the normal force applied from the supporting cables and/or rods, I noticed that months after switching to using a smith machine that I was still continually gaining strength in every lift that I was doing with a smith machine.

I attribute this gain in strength to the fact that I was fully overloading my muscles during each workout by training to failure, while being able to isolate the particular muscles I was training, leading to a faster adaptation response than when I was engaging a wider range of muscle groups to complete the lifting movements. The fact remains that muscle growth requires lifting heavier weights, performing more reps, or both, and using the smith machine allowed me to continually add plates of weight to every lift – ultimately leading to faster muscle gains.

Three years ago I would have smacked myself for telling others to use a smith machine over free weights. The truth is that I would still say that compound free weight barbell movements are the ideal way to train, but if you do not have a spotter, training with free weights can prevent you from training with maximum intensity by performing your greatest number of reps while using the most weight possible. My experience has been that training to failure with a smith machine is the lesser of two evils, which is why I use my Body Solid Smith Machine for any lifts that would normally require a spotter to perform to failure.

Choosing a Smith Machine

If you are looking for a single piece of equipment to start your home gym setup, a smith machine will be the first piece you will want to purchase because of the wide range of exercises you can perform with little or no accessories required. In fact, you can literally train every major muscle group with nothing more than a smith machine and an adjustable bench. That being said, smith machines can carry a wide range of price tags and it is important that you understand what you are looking for before you invest hundreds of dollars on this, or any other pieces of a home gym.

I have used several different smith machines and can tell you that there can be a large difference in quality from model to model. Actually, most commercial models that you will find in a corporate gym setting are very similar to one another from a quality standpoint. However, when comparing residential models of smith machines, the vast differences in quality quickly become evident.

Here are a few aspects that you want to keep in mind when purchasing a residential smith machine…

The Maximum Weight Capacity

You would think that a piece of home gym equipment as large and robust as a smith machine would be able to handle as much weight as you could ever push, but the truth is that some lower-end models will only facilitate a few hundred pounds. Even if that may be sufficient for your current level of strength, when purchasing a smith machine, you want to be thinking long term. If you feel that you may someday be squatting 400lbs, and that is the maximum load capacity of a smith machine, you are better off paying a little more and getting a smith machine that you can use for life.

Which brings me to my next point…

Lifetime Manufacturer’s Warranty

If you have ever owned any exercise equipment, you will be able to appreciate the shear amount of wear and tear that they must endure over the years. Smith machines are no different, and in fact, may be even worse because of the amount of weight that they are typically used to lift. When purchasing a home smith machine it is absolutely imperative that you buy a smith machine that comes with a lifetime warranty! If you ignore this piece of advice, you will have only yourself to blame when your machine breaks after a year or two and you are left without a means to workout and feeling ripped-off.

The lifetime manufacturer’s warranty was the biggest factor in my deciding to purchase my Body Solid Smith Machine, and it has already come in handy just in the first two years of owning it. A few months back I noticed that one of the supporting rods that the barbell slides up and down on was starting to bow. This bowing was actually my own doing because I had installed my smith machine on carpet, but nonetheless, Body Solid sent me a knew rod with no questions asked. Without the warranty that rod would have cost me almost $200!

Don’t make the mistake of buying a smith machine without a lifetime warranty. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

Smoothness of Operation

My first few years of using smith machines were spent lifting with commercial models that had an extremely smooth motion as the barbell moved up and down. When I started looking at residential models to place in my basement, the difference in smoothness of operation was truly eye-opening. One of the first smith machines I looked at was a cheaper Marcy Smith Machine and I could literally hear the supports scraping against the supporting rods and it felt like this additional friction was adding another ten or fifteen pounds of resistance.

Perhaps the rods needed some lubrication, but I had seen enough. From that point forward I was determined to make sure to pay attention to the smoothness of the bar movement on any smith machine model that I would consider purchasing. Actually, my Body Solid Smith Machine is slightly less smooth than the commercial models I was using at my local gym, but the difference is minimal and is more smooth than any other residential model that I tested.

Stability

Another difference that I quickly noticed when looking at smith machines was the lack of stability when pressing the bar upward. Some of the models that I tested literally shook as I was pressing the bar. When this happened, I needed no more convincing to know that it was time to move on to another model.

As you can probably guess, my Body Solid Smith Machine has a very sturdy and solid base. The frame is thick and robust as it is made from welded steel square tubing that is fairly thick. As I mentioned earlier, I even had mine sitting on carpet and it hardly moves when I am using it – even when squatting 375lbs.

The Best Smith Machine for Home Use

Body Solid Series 7 Smith Machine I have obviously not tested every smith machine on the market, but I have tested well over a dozen and can tell you that the Body Solid Series 7 Smith Machine was noticeably higher in quality than any other home smith machine that I tried – and it comes with a lifetime manufacterer’s warranty.

I have been extremely satisfied with my purchase of the Body Solid Series 7 Smith Machine and I always recommend it to anyone who asks me what my favorite piece of home gym equipment is.

Final Note on Smith Machines

If you are like me and like to workout alone, a smith machine will be your best friend for optimizing your gains in strength and size by allowing you to safely train to failure with maximum intensity without a spotter. I use my smith machine for bench pressing, military pressing, close grip bench presses, lying triceps presses, calf raises and squats.

If you are concerned that using a smith machine will hinder your muscle gains, don’t worry! I haven’t noticed any difference in muscle growth since switching to using a smith machine on lifts that I used to perform exclusively with free weights. In fact, if you are lifting with free weights without a spotter, you are likely selling yourself short. Using a smith machine to consistently (and safely) train to failure will give you the opportunity to build muscle and strength more quickly than using free weights and not training to failure.

Do you have a comment or story about using smith machines, or not using them, that you would like to share? I invite you to join the conversation by using the comment box below.

To learn more about training to failure and using other weight training muscle confusion techniques to build muscle faster, here is a link to my post on weight training with muscle confusion:

Using Weight Training Muscle Confusion Techniques for Faster Muscle Gains in Less Time

If you would like to learn more about training and eating for quickly building muscle mass, here is a link to a site that has helped teach me a lot about building muscle and burning fat, and I know it will do the same for you:

Renegade Strength and Conditioning’s Muscle Gaining Secrets

I also recommend clicking here to check out my complete guide for training and eating for maximum muscle growth.

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