Which One Should You Use – The Smith Machine or the Squat Rack?

Smith machine vs squat rack

One of the endless fitness debates is the – “squat rack vs. Smith machine.” Along with “wrist wraps or not,” and “squat belt or not”, those are the two topics of conversation bound to cause a serious battle of opinions between gym rats. 

As you might guess, diving into both of these topics will take a ton of time so we will spare you the wrist wraps debacle and squat belt conundrum, and just head on to discussing the squat rack vs. the smith machine. In this article, we will go over the two types of fitness equipment, what they are good for, and why you should consider using one or the other, depending on your training goals. 

So let’s not keep you waiting any longer and dive straight into the topic. 

What’s a Smith Machine? 

The Smith machine is a type of gym equipment used to perform barbell exercises in a safer way with a fixed bar path. Typically, it comes with a barbell attached to the rack itself, which makes it impossible to use for specific barbell exercises. Still, it’s also what makes it a safer option overall. 

What is a Squat Rack? 

The squat rack is a weightlifting piece of equipment used to hold a barbell. It typically consists of two columns and a rack between them, and it enables the lifter to elevate the pegs until they’re at the desired height for a particular exercise. Unlike other equipment, such as the barbell rack or cage, the squat rack has only two columns with pegs pointing outwards from each one. In comparison to the Smith machine, the squat rack doesn’t limit your range of motion and gives the lifer a lot more freedom in the movement. 

Benefits of the Smith Machine

Now that you have an idea of what the Smith machine is, let’s talk more about who it might be good for and what the benefits associated with it. The biggest and main benefit of using the Smith machine is the added safety mechanisms that leave little to no chance of you dropping the barbell on yourself or making any other kind of novice mistake that could potentially leave you injured. Along with that, the added stabilization of the Smith machine makes the total exertion rate lower for the lifter. It allows them to lift with more weight and for more reps – that happens mainly due to the fact that the smaller stabilizer muscle groups aren’t required in the movement. 

Benefits of the Squat Rack

The biggest benefit of the squat rack is the lifter’s freedom of movement. Here you have absolute freedom to do any exercise with any weight without having the limit of the range of motion or bar path that you get with the Smith machine. Along with that, the fact that the squat rack doesn’t stabilize the weight in any way means that the lifter has to do so – usually by activating the stabilizer muscle groups so that the primary mover muscles can work at full capacity. 

If you’re building a home gym, the squat rack has the benefit of being a lot cheaper and not taking up a lot of space  – both key factors when it comes to choosing equipment. 

Who’s the Squat Rack Suitable For? 

The main and biggest difference between the two pieces of equipment is that here, all of the safety depends on the exerciser. That’s why, typically, it’s recommended that a lifter using the squat rack has at least a basic understanding of safe weightlifting and knows what to do in order to avoid an injury. Because of the fact that it takes a learning curve in order to know how to use it properly, the squat rack is generally recommended for intermediate or advanced lifters – people who already have proper form, know how to perform the movements correctly, and are aware of what they have to do in order to keep themselves and others injury free.

And Who Should Opt for the Smith Machine? 

As we’ve already mentioned several times, the biggest benefits of the Smith machine are the stricter and safer bar path and the added safety mechanisms that keep lifters from getting injured. Those two factors make the Smith machine a much better option for novice lifters or people who’ve had injuries in the past and are afraid that they might get aggravated if they’re not performing exercises correctly or are putting too much stress on the body. 

Along with that, the Smith machine is a great alternative for those lifters who are not certain they know how to perform free barbell exercises safely and correctly and prefer to have the support and stability of the machine throughout the movement.

With that said, not only novice lifters can benefit from utilizing the Smith machine. Professional athletes can, too, especially if they’re looking for a high level of specificity within a certain range of motion, movement patterns, or bar path. 

Which One Should You Use for Squatting – the Smith Machine or the Squat Rack? 

Many novice lifters start to squat on the Smith machine and continue to do so, even when their strength increases and they already feel confident in the movement. However, that’s a mistake. Even though the Smith machine can be helpful for beginners as it gives them a safety cushion and clear movement path, that can turn into an issue as the weight increases. That’s because the Smith machine has a fixed path, and when you do heavy exercises such as the back squat, that kind of strict movement can cause deviation from proper form and lead to injury. 

Final Thoughts

If you were hoping to find a definition answer as to which one is better – the Smith machine or the squat rack, then we’re sorry to disappoint you. Both pieces of equipment have their place in a workout regime, and both can be useful for certain groups of people – it’s all about finding out whether you will benefit more from the squat rack or the Smith machine. Hopefully, our article helped you do just that and know you will go to the gym clearly knowing what you need to use. 

Read more: The Top 5 Best Leg Exercises

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