Smith machines are big machines with big potential. They’re great for full body workouts and essential if you’re looking to set new personal squat records from the comfort of your own home.
But with so many machines to choose from, the buying process can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-time buyer.
In this review, we’ll help you find the best smith machine for your particular use case.
We cover the different types of smith machines, what you should consider before buying, and towards the end, we do a deep-dive into a few of our favorite pieces.
Let’s get into it!
What is a Smith Machine?
The smith machine was created to add more predictability and stability to your squat. It consists of a barbell, affixed to a track, that enables you to move smoothly and confidently through one plane of motion.
Smith machines are found in most commercial gyms and often the most integral part of a home gym.
Who are they made for?
Because they’re bulky machines and facilitate moving a lot of weight, they’re designed for the serious weight-lifter. If you’re a powerlifter looking to max out your squat and/or bench press and don’t have a spotter, smith machines are a great choice.
They also give you peace of mind if you’re using lightweight for repping out on squats or bench press (e.g. until failure). The built-in stoppers, as we’ll discuss in more detail below, offer additional safety and give you peace of mind when you’re pushing yourself to your limits.
If you’re new to exercise or don’t care to pack your workouts with weight volume or isolated movement, you don’t need a smith machine.
Why Buy a Smith Machine?
There are several reasons why smith machines are so beneficial. Depending on why you want a smith machine, you might find some things more beneficial than others. But here’s the gist:
Fixed plane of motion
Having the barbell fixed to a track can be viewed both as limiting and helpful. What this essentially does is isolate your legs and take some of the pressure off of your lower back and core.
In other words, stabilizers and secondary muscles aren’t challenged as much which may or may not be a good thing depending on what you’re going for.
Various squat positions
But what the fixed linear motion does allow you to do is switch up your footing to accommodate a variety of different squats.
When you do free weight squats, you’re generally working your quads, hamstrings, and glutes so you can’t necessarily target any one muscle specifically. But with the smith machine, you can!
Since the bar is fixed, you can lean into the bar and place your feet further forward. This movement allows you to target your glutes without losing your balance (which is something you can’t do with a free barbell).
Serious muscle gains
Another perk of taking balance out of the equation is increased hypertrophy (muscle growth). The barbell may be fixed, but your center of gravity is not. You can shift your body and center of gravity around to focus on a specific muscle.
This allows you to push your max, add more weight, and challenge yourself a bit more volume-wise.
Because of the hook system on smith machines, you have a built-in spotter. You can also set pins into the frame so that the bar can only fall a certain distance.
For example, if you’re wanting to push your bench press weight and you don’t have a buddy around, the smith machine allows you to set a pin at a stopping point. This ensures that you smash your goal (and not your face!).
Types of Smith Machines
There are several different types of smith machines you might come across as you narrow down your search. Here are some of the most popular styles to look out for:
Some smith machines are built with a track that is angled 5-7°. Why an angled track? Some users feel that the angle better accommodates their posture and their form, offering a more natural range of motion.
The angle also allows the lean that as mentioned above—targeting your glutes more. Check out this video to see how to implement squats on the angle smith machine.
Smith machine systems built for gyms are a lot sturdier. They hold more weight, handle more usage volume, and are sometimes bolted to the floor.
Usually, commercial smith machines are more simplistic. They are stand-alone squat bars with weight trees—no cables, bench, or other accessories.
The multifunctional smith machines are the systems you’ll find mostly in home gyms. This piece caters to a larger audience and gives you more options for your workout.
Most all-in-ones come with cables for handles or lat bars and a bench for chest pressing. Some even come with an accessory for leg extensions/curls.
Less common, the selectorized smith implements a different weight-bearing style. Instead of you loading the machine with plates, the barbell attaches to a weight stack.
Once you select the height of the bar, place a pin in the weight stack and begin!
8 Things To Consider Before Buying a Smith Machine
#1. Linear Bearing
The beauty of the smith machine is the barbell on tracks. This isn’t a beautiful thing if the ride is bumpy.
The unique design of this linear bearing system (for the hardware novice: a cylinder piece with rolling steel balls that travel up and down a pole) creates a smooth, snag-free glide through your movement.
#2. Workout Stations
Smith machines usually are referring only to the barbell mechanism, but they’ve evolved to adapt to home gyms. You gotta do more than squats—although squats are pretty freakin’ awesome.
Multifunctional workstations included a variety of things: cables, stacked weights, a bench, and accessories like lat-pull-down bars.
#3. Angle or no?
When shopping for a smith machine you’ll notice that there are different frame styles—straight & angled. This refers to the uprightness or tilt of the barbell’s travel on the track.
There is the completely upright frame, and there’s also a 5-7° frame. The angle is a preferential choice, but I do find that the leaning squats flow better with the angled frame.
#4. Stacks or Plates
Another detail of the smith machine is how it’s loaded—stacks or plates. You’ll see a lot of stacked weights and pins in the gym because they’re better suited for beginners. They are also a bit safer. Can’t drop those on your toes.
The plates offer a bit more versatility, but the overall draw to plates is their simplicity. Stacked weights and pins require more maintenance and have a tendency to malfunction. With plates, just slide ‘em on the barbell and go!
#5. Size & Storage
Smith machines are the biggest piece of fitness equipment you’ll find—period. These things can weigh upwards of 800 lbs and they take up a lot of space.
Make sure if you’re considering buying one for home that you take the proper measurements before opening your wallet. It’s important to think about how much room you’ll have around the machine for movement, storage, and clean up.
The last thing you want is a big machine stuck in your garage with zero wiggle room to walk beside or around it. If you don’t measure your space properly or don’t research the footprint (dimensions) of the product, not only will it be uncomfortable, it could be dangerous.
Not all smith machines are built the same which means you’ll have some fluctuation in pricing as you narrow your search. Consider what you’re willing to spend before you start comparing models.
On average, the lower-end smith machines with basic functionality (no accessories) will run you anywhere from $500-$700 with the top-of-the-line models reaching upwards of $1,000.
The good news is that since these machines tend to last forever (if properly maintained), you have more options for buying second hand. The best places to look would be eBay or Craigslist.
Smith machine warranties are pretty liberal given there’s no technology that can potentially malfunction. But they can still vary depending on the model you’re looking at.
You can expect to find 10-year to lifetime warranties on parts and frames, but make sure to read the fine print because sometimes warranties are “limited” and don’t cover everything.
Like with any fitness equipment, the quality of the warranty is pretty indicative of the quality of the product. If you (or your clients) are going to be using your smith machine quite regularly, it might be worth spending a little more for some extra peace of mind.
Although nothing out of the ordinary, smith machines do require some maintenance. Anytime you feel the “track” sticking during your squat or bench press, that’s a good sign that you need to add some lubricant.
Keep in mind that not all lubricants are the same. Some are cleaner and more effective than others. Ideally you want something you can “spray” so you’re not having to apply it manually with a third party tool.
For more on maintenance and lubricants, check out this thread on BodyBuilding.com.
Best Smith Machine Reviews & Recommendations
Best Smith Machine Overall — Inspire Fitness Ft2 Functional Trainer and Smith Station (Fully Loaded)
- Bearing System: Precision steel ball bearing system...
- Weight Stacks: Two 150lb. commercial weight stacks with...
- Dual Independent Weight Stacks: The dual weight stacks...
- Warranty: Residential: Limited Lifetime on frame and...
- Dimensions: 61" wide x 58" deep without bench; 61" wide...
The Inspire is a gym-quality smith machine for your home. This fully loaded option comes with a bench, pull up bar, leg extension attachment, and two 150 lb weight stacks. The dual pulley system offers 32 angles for movement.
The linear track implements an Olympic bar and weight stacks rather than plates. Unlike a lot of smith machines that don’t come with weights, the Inspire is fully stacked. The only downside is the 300-pound max for the stacked weights. It’s also a little pricey.
The Inspire is for the seasoned fitness enthusiast with willpower. If you have a machine like this with all the bells and whistles, you’ll want to get the most out of it. It packs a punch.
Best Smith Machine on a Budget — Marcy Smith Cage Machine Total Body Home Gym
- ALL-STEEL CONTRUSTION - This home gym system is made...
- MULTIFUNCTIONAL PRESS ARMS - This versatile weight...
- DUAL-ACTION LEG DEVELOPER- Featuring a dual-function...
- OLYMPIC FREE-WEIGHT RACK - Engage in intense...
- ALL-IN-ONE WORKOUT STATION-This complete training...
It won’t take long for you to see why this Marcy system is the best bang for your buck. Designed for home use, this smith machine offers various stations to work your entire body. It’s all-steel construction makes it one of the most sturdy home gyms around.
The Marcy comes with a pectoral fly station, preacher curl attachment, cable crossover, and various interchangeable attachments for the cables.
Don’t forget about the central feature—the smith station. The 7° bearing track is smooth and snag-free. Although it has a 600-pound barbell capacity, no weights are included with this machine.
This smith machine is great if you’re wanting to make the leap from gym membership to dedicated home gym-er. With all the specs and a reasonable price tag, the Marcy smith machine is a solid pick.
Best Smith Machine for Commercial Gyms — Body Solid Series 7 Smith Gym
- Linear ball bearing Smith system with 20 crossmember...
- Freeweight gunrack system with 14 lift-off and racking...
- Large diameter Smith Bar responds quickly, is easy to...
- Includes incredibly strong, adjustable safeties for...
- Assembled Dimensions: 84" x 78"L x 70"W (84" at bar)
The Body Solid is just that—solid. It comes with a lat and pec station (equipped with selectorized pin weights), but its best feature is the squat station. The barbell rides on smooth bearings, and it comes with safety bars to limit the range. No need for a spotter.
Probably the best part is that the Body Solid comes with 400 lbs of rubber plates. You can’t beat that. With that massive amount of weight plus the 200 lbs of stackable weight for extensions and flys, you’ll have all the weight you need.
Though it’s sturdy, it’s a little heavy and can make for a tricky install. Make sure you have a friend (or two) to help you when it comes time. The Body-Solid smith machine is great if you’re looking for extremely heavy lifts.
Best Smith Machine Honorable Mention — Valor Fitness BE-11 Smith Machine
- Knurled bar, solid steel bar latch support, bar...
- Super-smooth vertical movement up and down the carriage
- Safe guided motion to keep you from losing your balance...
- Case hardened rods and high quality bearings ensure...
- Four Olympic weight plate storage posts to safely...
With a straightforward design, the Valor offers quality over quantity. Unlike the Marcy System, this smith machine sticks with the basics. A textured barbell runs smoothly up and down the carriage with self-oiling bearings.
The solid steel frame can hold up to 1000 lbs in weight. For the price of this smith machine, this is a helluva workload. It’s the best smith machine for basic home workouts and offers basic smith capabilities.
This smith machine does its job really well, but it doesn’t offer any extra accessories. If you want a multi-functional smith machine, you’re better off going with one of the options above.
Best Smith Machine Honorable Mention — Caribou III Smith Machine
- Self-Oiling Bushings
- Chin-Up Bar
- Free Low Row Foot Plate and 47"" & 18"" Bars
- Integrated Dip Station Mount
- Olympic Adapters for Smith Bar included free
The Caribou III is another solid choice, but like the Valor, it’s bare bones. Though it comes with a pull-up bar, the cage is built mostly for squatting.
The Caribou has an integrated dip mount station, self-oiling bushings, and an Olympic adapter for the smith bar. It’s simplistic and sturdy. It also comes with a pull-up bar. Unfortunately, no weights are included.
Smith Machine FAQs
Q: What are stabilizer muscles and why do people say smith machines don’t work them?
A: Our body is made up of large muscle groups, but there are lot of small players that hold everything in place. These tiny muscles hold their contractions to support our trunk, protect joints as they’re in motion, and control balance.
Q: What’s another exercise I can do with the smith bar?
A: Another popular move with the smith machine is a chest press. Many machines come with a bench, so you can work on flat, decline, or incline pressing. If you want to press lightweight and you don’t have a bench, try a yoga ball!
Q: Does the smith system assist you during squats?
A: The smith machine doesn’t actually assist you. The bar is usually 20-25 pounds lighter than an Olympic barbell you’d use to squat in a cage, so it may feel like it’s assisting you because of this difference.
Q: Can I leave a smith machine outside?
A: Smith machines can rust if they’re left in the rain. It’s recommended that you use the machine indoors, but if you have to put it outside, make sure it’s covered.
Q: How does the smith machine spot you?
A: Along the track, there are peg holes like you’d see on a regular free weight squat cage. Smith machines are locked in place until you engage movement.
With a simple twist of the wrist (while holding the bar) the safety hook pops out & you’re free to glide into your motion. If you get stuck mid-set, simply release the slight torque, and the hook will land back in palce stopping the motion.
Q: Which way do you face a smith machine?
A: For squats, a lot depends on the angle. If the machine is completely straight, it doesn’t necessarily matter. Although, it’s helpful to have your wrists flex back to unhook the bar, so you’ll usually face outward.
With angled squats, again, you’ll generally face outward. This’ll have you leaning back into the bar as the machine angles away from you.
For chest pressing, your position is your preference. Different angles of chest pressing work different muscles, so do your thing.
Smith machines are a great (and safe) way to build muscle and push yourself to personal bests. Hopefully, this review has helped you find the best smith machine for your particular use case.
Again, our top pick is the Inspire Fitness FT2 Functional Trainer because it’s built extremely well and comes fully-loaded to accommodate a range of workouts. The Marcy Total Body Gym is a great budget-friendly pick.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have a smith machine at home? Which one is your favorite and why? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!