Smith Machine vs Squat Rack (Pros and Cons)

Smith Machine versus Squat Rack

Many beginners often wonder the differences between a smith machine vs squat rack. Both pieces of gym equipment target the legs and they look very similar. In this article we list the pros and cons for each – and tell you why you should be using both in your workout routine.

Smith Machine versus Squat Rack

Smith Machine Pros

  • Beginner friendly: The smith machine falls somewhere between free weights and machines. It will help the user learn range of motion, which is why it’s a great beginner friendly piece of equipment.
  • Guide rails: These rails help the user better control the weight, without losing balance. You can also push yourself harder and lift to failure, without having a spotter.
  • Muscle isolation: With the smith machine guide rails, you can better focus on isolating specific muscles groups. If you want to target your glutes for example, stand in a squat position with your feet exaggerated forward. You wouldn’t be able to set your feet in this position on a squat rack.
  • Safer: Smith machines are much safer than squat racks. You can lift heavier weight and do exercises without a spotter. When squatting or bench pressing, you don’t have to worry about the weight falling to one side – because of the safe guide rails.

Smith Machine Cons

  • Counterbalanced: The smith machine uses a counterbalanced system, which significantly reduces the weight. In other words, you can use less weight on the squat rack and exercises will be more challenging.
  • Less muscles engaged: When using a squat rack, more muscles will be engaged due to the added stress of balancing the weight. This doesn’t happen with a smith machine, because the weight is balanced for the lifter.
  • Uneven power: The counterbalanced system in the smith machine can lead to one leg doing more work. Where on a squat rack, the weight will be spread out evenly – do to the lifter balancing the barbell during lifts.
  • Expensive: Smith machines are generally more expensive than squat racks. While a squat rack is a very basic piece of equipment, the smith machine has many more parts and components.

Squat Rack Pros

  • Greater freedom: With the squat rack, you aren’t forced to stay in the same path, like you are on a smith machine. You have more freedom to move around and adjust your feet if needed.
  • Works other muscles: You will notice how many more muscles are being worked when moving from a smith machine to a squat rack. Building up these other muscle groups will only help you get stronger.
  • Lower price: Squat racks are the budget friendly option, if you’re looking to build a home gym. The average power rack costs as little as $300 – which is much lower than a smith machine.
  • More uses: A squat rack will always provide more uses. Most racks will have an upper bar for pull-ups and an attachment for bodyweight dips. A smith machine will prevent the user from doing these exercises due to the attached barbell.

Squat Rack Cons

  • Not as safe: The squat rack is simply not as safe as a smith machine. And while the safety rails can help you from dropping weight on the floor, you still have to focus on form and balance.
  • More advanced: Many beginners will be intimidated by the squat rack, because it requires more skill to master. You need to learn proper form, before attempting a barbell squat. A smith machine is tailored more for beginners, because of the guide rails and added support.
  • Takes up more room: Most squat racks are much taller than smith machines. This means they aren’t best for basements, or areas with low ceilings. Squat racks require more height than smith machines, because the user needs to have room for pull-ups.
  • Starts at 45 lbs: If you’re looking to squat in a rack, you need to use a standard Olympic size barbell. These barbells weigh 45 pounds, which can be too heavy for most beginners.

Why you should use both

Now that we’ve listed the main differences between the smith machine vs squat rack, it’s critical to know why you should use both pieces of equipment. It’s a good idea to use different pieces of equipment and not get stuck in the same workout routine.

New to weight training

If you’re a total beginner, it’s always best to start off on the smith machine. Learn the basics of the squat and bench press motions, without fearing dropping the weight. Once you get comfortable with these exercises, move on to the squat rack.

Start off with the barbell and really focus on form. When squatting, you will first notice how much different it feels, without the assistance of the guide rails. You will notice how much more challenging these movements are, even at a lower weight.

Engage your core

When squatting in the rack, more muscles are being engaged in your upper body – specifically with your oblique muscles. Once you have perfected the form of the squat, move on to heavier weight with the assistance of a spotter.

You will fail to engage these core muscles, when only using the smith machine. Using the squat rack can also help improve your balance – because you are forced to control the weight on your back.

Work specific muscle groups

If your goal is to work specific muscle groups, the smith machine is the better option. Many people consider the smith machine to be the best for glute exercises – because it’s so versatile.

As briefly mentioned above, you can do a feet forward squat that puts more tension on the glutes. You can also do wide-stance squats, a single lunge to leg raise, and inverted leg presses on the smith machine.

Conclusion – Smith Machine vs Squat Rack

Hopefully this article has helped you narrow down the differences between the smith machine vs squat rack. In the end, we believe that you should be utilizing both of these pieces of equipment in the gym. The smith machine is great for beginners who are just starting out and people who want to isolate specific muscle groups.

The squat rack on the other hand, is better for more advanced lifters, or people who want to engage more of their core. If you’re squatting in a rack, just make sure your form is perfect and you have a spotter to assist you. Most importantly, ignore anyone who says smith machines aren’t hardcore – everyone starts off at a different fitness level.

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