Smith machines have always been the source of mixed reviews and conjecture, yet gym equipment manufacturers are still making them. There are obviously plenty of fans out there. I very well understand why some people might be discouraged from using the smith machine. Log on to any weight training forum or group and you will hear how terrible they are from sources that are qualified and those that are not.
I am sure you have seen videos where gymgoers would attempt to perform a quarter squat with a weight which is way too heavy for them and end up on the Trending YouTube video list. This is one reason for the hate. You can lift more weight with the terrible form if that is your goal.
Also, there are many biomechanical experts who sit for hours every day bashing their keyboard who will tell you how it puts your body into an unnatural position for certain movements and can cause catastrophic damage. Almost as bad as sitting in front of a computer for extended periods.
To prevent that from happening and protect your muscles, joints, and dignity we have invited Lee Priest to demonstrate the correct form. With the help of Lee, I will also try to clear up the stigma surrounding smith machine bench press.
What are the benefits of benching on a smith machine?
Safety – most smith machines come with safety bar stoppers. Which, if adjusted to the right height will not only save your life in case of a failed lift but will also give you that peace of mind whilst training.
Protect your shoulders and Stabilizers – smith machines are extremely popular between rehab centres, professional footy players and athletes in their second youth. It is because the smith machine fix movement pattern allows them to protect their shoulders and stabilizer muscles by preventing them from leaving the correct barbell path.
Better muscle isolation – Since the barbell is going to be moving in a fixed path, it is going to be way harder to active other muscle groups to aid you with the lift.
What about muscle imbalances?
The number one reason why people shy away from the smith machines, other than the social constructs is the fear of developing muscle imbalances.
Truth to be told you can get muscle imbalances virtually from anything, that is why variety is the best recipe to avoid muscle imbalances.
Muscle Groups targeted
The core muscle groups targeted in smith machine bench press are going to be your shoulders, chest, triceps and forearms.
How many reps should you perform?
I would not recommend going overly heavy with smith machine bench press and stick with a lighter weight where you could perform 6-8 repetitions. This rep range will be optimal for your muscle growth.
How to Bench Press with a Smith Machine:
Bench positioning is extremely important in a fixed barbell bench press. That is because if you want to be in the correct pressing position, you need to position yourself from the very beginning.
If your bench is too far back or too far forward, you will naturally lay down on the bench in the same position as you do in your free weight exercises and you will be putting too much unnecessary stress on your joints and muscles.
You also must check whether the bench is exactly in the middle of the barbell. This is easy enough to do, just line the bench up in the middle of the knurl markings. You will not need to take your slide rule and set square with you to the gym. Eyeball engineering will do the job here.
Positioning on the bench
Body – with the smith machine press the barbell controls you so you need to know how to position yourself. If you are too far back you will be pushing against the guide rails rather than upwards. You should bring the barbell down to around your nipple area. This way you will get the best stretch and will have the most stability in the movement.
Arms – your elbow should be directly underneath the barbell when pressing with medium and wide grips. Since the movement is locked in, going too far forward or too far back would put too much stress on your shoulder joint. For close grip variation, you can either flare your elbows out so that they would be in the same line as the bar or tuck them into the sides of your body.
Do you need to arch on smith machine bench press?
The answer is yes! Just because the bar is moving in a fixed pattern, does not mean that you can do your flat back press.
How to arch: pull your shoulders back and push them down while you raise your upper cage. This will give your rotator cuff muscles more room to move around reducing the likelihood of injury.
How wide should you grip?
Close Grip – Some people grip it thumb width apart, but I personally prefer to grip the bar shoulder-width apart and keep my elbows tucked in. For me, this variation put the most stress on my triceps. Try both styles with lightweight and work your way up to find out what works best for you.
Medium Grip – Grip at a width where your forearm and elbow would form a 90-degree angle when you are bringing the bar down. This variation would share the stress between your chest and your triceps – the most recommended version for general strength training.
Wide Grip – If your smith machine has knurl marking, you would grip outside of them. This variation would put the most stress on your chest. This is an advanced technique, this applies to traditional barbell bench press too, as it could potentially lead to a pec tear. An advanced trainer will know how much weight and depth they can use safely.
- Before you start training make sure that the safety stoppers are set up at a correct height.
- Squeeze the barbell before you unrack so that your shoulders would be ready to handle the weight.
- Breathe in and tense your core.
- Bring the barbell down to your chest.
- Don’t forget to push with your legs too as you are pressing the barbell up.
- Lock your elbows out.
- Breathe out and reset.