The Smith Machine bench press is one of the most controversial exercises in the bench press world. In this article, I will lay to rest the old myths about this exercise and go over the best way to use the Smith Machine bench press in your training.
Note: For those that do not know, the Smith Machine is the machine that has a barbell locked in on a guided path and can only move vertically.
However, before we get into actual exercises, I want to address the controversy surrounding the Smith Machine. There are three camps all with difference opinions about this exercise:
– Strong, hardcore lifters who insist that free weights are the only way to go and believe that smith machine pressing is easier than free benching.
– Legitimate bodybuilders who have built impressive amounts of muscle and prefer this exercise for safety and a better quality of muscle contraction.
– Clueless newbies who use the Smith Machine bench press since it allows them to bench more weight than a free bench press.
So who is right? Well, everyone to an extent is right, except for the clueless newbies, of course!
It is true that lifters will be able to load a lot more weight on the Smith Machine bench press than they will on a traditional bench press. The bar on most Smith Machines is lighter than an Olympic barbell and due to the guided path, less shoulder stability is required.
Due to the lack of stability required to perform the Smith Machine bench press and the fact that the bar is outright lighter, lifters are able to handle more weight. Additionally, the shoulders, chest, and triceps are trained whereas many supporting and stabilizing muscles activated on a free bench press remain dormant.
With that said, if the goal is to build muscle, who cares about stabilizing muscles? For that reason, bodybuilders have a legitimate reason to defend the Smith Machine bench press.
However, many lifters make the mistake of performing the Smith Machine bench press on a flat bench. The real issue with the Smith is not how “easy” it is but that the bar is on a fixed path.
The ideal flat bench bar path should involve the bar hitting low on the chest and then moving towards the eyes as the lifter locks out the lift. In other words, the bar needs to be able to move horizontally and vertically, while the Smith Machine bench press only allows the bar to move vertically. The path of a proper flat bench is often referred to as the “J” shape.
The end result of flat benching on a Smith Machine is significant shoulder stress and ultimately shoulder pain. Bench pressing alone is stressful enough on the shoulder, you do not need to make it worse by adding in an extra stressor by using the fixed path of the Smith Machine.
For this reason, I recommend only using the Smith Machine for an incline bench press. The incline bench press requires very little horizontal movement and as a result, the incline Smith Machine bench press is very gentle on the shoulders. The stability of the Smith Machine helps improve the contraction of the chest and as a result this exercise is a great upper chest builder.
While the Smith Machine bench press allows the lifter to use more weight when lifting, it has its purposes for bodybuilding. For best results, I recommend sticking to incline variations as the flat bench Smith Machine press places large and potentially harmful loads on the shoulder complex.
Trainees only interested in increasing their max bench press should stick to free weights.