The Smith machine is the most misunderstood piece of gym equipment. Admittedly, it can make for dangerous and unnatural squatting and pressing, but with just a few tweaks it can also be an excellent hypertrophy tool while providing a nice change of pace from the usual routine. For example, you can use Smith machine squats to focus on the quads by placing your feet out in front. This is great for people with overdeveloped glutes and hips. By doing so, you’re creating better muscle balance, not making it worse. If someone has a bad back and needs to stay more upright when they squat, the Smith machine can allow to still squat despite the back injury.
You need to understand how to use the Smith machine correctly to derive the maximum benefit. Beginners should focus on learning basic barbell and dumbbell movement patterns and developing a strong base. For those who can’t ”feel” a muscle working, the Smith machine is an excellent way to overcome that. The fixed plan of motion allows you to really focus on the intended muscle without having to worry about balance and others factors. The Smith machine is definitely safer than free weights. You don’t have the danger of pushing yourself too far and not being able to lift the weight back up and you will not need a spotter such as when bench pressing with the Smith machine because you have the treat of locking it out.
The negative side of Smith machine is that you’re not using your stabilising muscles, which yes, make it safer-but you won’t get everything out of each particular exercise which will cut into your building muscle. There isn’t a need to balance the bar with the Smith machine and that will lead to underdevelopment in your muscles or lack of development of stabilising muscles. If the bar needs to move horizontally and the Smith machine forces the bar only vertically and do not allow it to move horizontally, something must give. And it’s joints, tendons and ligaments.
One final thing to consider is you will not be able to build muscle and strength as fast as you would with free weights when compared to the Smith machine. It all leads back to your stabilising muscles and utilising these to help balance the weight and perform the exercise. With that said, if you’re looking to build muscle best, bet is to stay away from the Smith machine. However, it can be helpful for those returning from an injury who would prefer to ease slowly into an old workout routine.