smith machine bench press by woman in gym

Smith Machine Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press

The smith machine bench press is a safe and secure way to progress your lifting capabilities. Bench presses are great exercise movements as they seriously work out your triceps, shoulders, and chest. It’s considered by some to be the most effective compound movement for a full upper-body workout. Depending on the variation and technique used, it can also activate your core, back, and legs for stabilization.

A lot of the appeal of a bench press is that the movements are simple. You just have to ease the bar down towards your chest and then press it back up. Although it’s a simple straight up and down movement, it produces excellent results. The decision for many people is whether they should do their bench press using a Smith machine or barbell.

There has been a long battle between whether a cable machine or free weights are better for bench presses. Each side greatly praises the benefits of each (and conveniently downplays the cons). For those who are unfamiliar, barbell bench presses involve Olympic flat benches and free weights, whereas the smith machine bench press used a bar that is attached to the machine.

The path of the bar is different for each bench press. With free weight barbell presses, you can move the weight in any direction – straight up and down, or side to side if need be. This means that move stabilization muscles are recruited to control the movement, however, it also allows for the possibility of injury if performed incorrectly.

man doing barbell bench press with no smith machine

For the Smith machine, the weight can only be moved up and down so there’s less scope for accidental misuse.  Users are also more able to fully isolate the target muscles (chest, anterior deltoid and triceps).

Safety

The safety of these two pieces of equipment is quite different due to the differing range of movement for each one. If you feel like you can’t complete an exercise on the Smith machine, you can just lock the bar into place by sliding the barbell into its hooks. When you’re struggling to complete a repetition with a free weight, you need a spotter there to help you.

Difference in Technique

For a regular bench press, your form goes in two directions. When the bar is lifted, your arms are straight and the bar should be directly over your shoulders. When you lower the bar, the bar is inched down your chest just a tad. It’s at this point in your movement that the bar should be touching the lower half of your chest. At the top of the movement, your arms are straight and the bar is directly over your shoulders. You repeat this movement for however many reps you see fit.

The Smith machine doesn’t allow you to move the bar backwards or forwards so you don’t have the motion of moving the bar to rest on your lower chest. While you can’t move the bar yourself, the bar still needs to land in that position so you have to move your body into the correct position so that the bar will touch your lower chest when it comes down. While you lose a little bit of power working on the machine’s fixed plane, you’re able to work your chest and shoulder muscles a little more. This machine also limits how much you can lose control with the movements as it is fixed. However the Olympic flat bench does not provide this stability, so you need extreme control when bench pressing with free weights to help minimize the risk of serious accident or injury.

Difference in Barbell Weight

The weight of a standard bench press barbell is 45 pounds. The bar used in a Smith machine bench press is often lighter. The machine has been made to glide the bar easily up and down, so is sometimes considered easier to move.

The Olympic Bench Press

If you’ve ever been to a gym or seen a movie with a workout scene, then you’ve seen an Olympic bench press. If you love to workout, you’ve probably even used one before. It’s the movement that comes to mind when most people think about working out.

When you use the Olympic flat bench for exercise, you focus on your lower and mid pectoral muscles, the triceps, and the anterior deltoid.

Pros

  •   Stability. Compared to lifting other weights such as kettlebells and dumbbells. When you use those types of weights, you risk imbalance as you can raise and lower the weights at different speeds.

In the same vein, other machines and weights remove the use of quite a few stabilizer muscles. You want to activate these stabilizers as often as you can to build strength.

  •   Great capacity to hold and bear weights. It’s the purpose of the Olympic bench press existence. You can start off small and as you get stronger, you can put more weights on.

Cons

  •   The biggest drawback of using the barbell bench is the safety risk. You want to see results when you work out. You don’t want to risk any injury. The safety issue can be taken care of if you have a trusted spotter with you.
  •   You have to keep your form perfect. If your form is off by even a little, you become prone to injuries to your chest and rotator cuff.

Smith Machine Bench Press

What is a smith machine bench press? Its name doesn’t immediately conjure up a mental image, but you probably have seen it before. The Smith bench press machine has the same movement as the Olympic variation, but it also has a few differences related to how it engages your body. This machine can also be found in most gyms and takes only a few moments to learn how to use. They’re designed to allow you to lift heavy weights safely.

Pros

  •   Safety. While a regular bench press has safety as it’s number one concern, the Smith machine bench press puts safety first. It allows you to stop the bar way before an injury is possible. You don’t have to worry about it falling on top of you. You don’t need a spotter with this machine and can therefore work out more intensely.
  •   Stability. The machine provides a good stability and you don’t have to worry about form as much as with other workout equipment.

Cons

  •   Stability. While you don’t have to worry so much about form with the Smith machine, you’re not activating the other muscles that you need to. Without the use of these muscles, you’re not getting the most out of your exercise.
  •   A big investment. For those who are looking to build a home gym, the Smith machine requires a bigger investment, especially when compared a simple Olympian flat bench. If you’re willing to make the investment or plan to workout hard without a spotter, you’ll enjoy the Smith machine.

Which Option Should You Go For?

This honestly depends on your needs. They’re both very good at producing the results, but it comes down to how intense you want your workouts to be. You can find both options pretty easily in gyms, but if you’re looking to buy one these bench presses then call a representative at Muscle D Fitness to purchase directly from the manufacturer.

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