The Smith Machine: 5 Exercises you've never tried.

Originally posted 31/04/2014

The Smith Machine is the one piece of equipment that despite all the bad press it has had some people adhere to it even though it is clearly an inferior way to train.

I hate machines in a gym and personally see them as a complete waste of floor space. Too many gyms have a smith machine and no squat rack! Although I am very anti Smith Machine I believe it can be used for something other than something to hang your sweaty hoody on.

I will outline some exercises you may have never tried on the smith machine.

Mobility is one of the fundamentals of human movement. Shoulder mobility is talked about greatly by fitness professionals and quite commonly becomes a problem to lifters due to overuse. Hip mobility however does not have the hype attached to it that shoulder mobility does. Unlike the shoulder which is specifically designed for mobility at the expense of stability, the hip is a stable joint which is often deprived of mobility, especially in today’s sedentary society.

The shoulder, which responds well to stability oriented training is different to it’s partner ball and socket joint the hip, which requires a great deal of attention to maintain an adequate range of motion and soft tissue health. Although my knowledge on mobility isn’t great, here are some great exercises you can perform using a smith machine to get the hips loose and ready to exercise. These exercises should be performed prior to a lower body session and on off days.

1.       Anterior-Posterior Step Over’s: Really over exaggerate opening up the groin whilst maintaining a good posture throughout the movement. Keep the torso upright as you step over the bar. If you find yourself bending the leg sideways whilst stepping over the bar you have the bar to high. Lower the bar so you are working the hips, not the spine.

2.       Lateral Step Over’s: Again, keeping the torso upright, focus primarily on working the hips, exaggerate the movement, and keep the head up.

3.       Lateral Duck-Under’s: This exercise will work on improving flexibility for your squats and first pulls from the floor. Keep your head neutral looking straight ahead and maintain a neutral spine as you squat down and move under the bar. You can change the height of the bar for this exercise to specifically work towards movement patterns of different exercises. For example, a higher bar position for the squat as the body is more upright, or lower it to promote more forward lean which will focus more on the start position of the deadlift.

4.       Lateral Under-Over’s: This exercise is good as a change of direction drill for athletes whilst increasing mobility. The constant manipulation of foot placement performed at a fast pace will improve the athletes centre of gravity within the base of support.

5.       Band Stomps: this exercise is a great way for teaching initiation of the posterior chain and will enhance sprint speed. Attach a stretch/jump band over a bar, the higher you set the bar, the more tension you’ll have on the band but make sure it’s not at a height where you’re having to strain yourself to stomp on the band, the important thing is to feel your glutes and hamstrings fire as you rapidly extend the thigh.

 Place your foot on top of the band and stomp down. The band should graze the front of your hip at the end of the range of motion. Allow the band to assist you back to the starting position and then quickly stomp again. If teaching activation patterns then perform this exercise at a controlled pace if not then crack out as many reps as possible in a certain period of time. Regardless of how high the bar is set and your foot position height; there should be no hyper-extending at the lumbar spine. Hyper-extending at the lumbar spine is a compensatory movement due to weak glutes and tight hip flexors.

You may have noticed that all of these exercises can be done using a barbell and rack. The only difference being on the smith machine you can change the height of the bar at ease. To conclude I think the smith machine really isn’t a good tool for training as it doesn’t go through natural movement patterns and takes up a lot of floor space which can be put to better use!