Looking for a replacement for a Smith machine? There are a few great alternatives that are safe and effective. Let’s find out what they are.
The best Smith machine alternatives are A: 1.) Barbell and power cage 2.) Functional trainer 3.) Dumbbells. With those pieces of equipment you can perform the same exercises as with a Smith machine and more. With proper form and care these pieces of equipment are actually safer and more effective.
Below you can find out what a Smith machine does exactly, what the best alternatives are and why.
What does a Smith machine do?
To find out what the best Smith machine alternatives are we should take a look at what a smith machine actually does and why people use it to find the best alternatives.
A Smith machine is a barbell that slides up and down on two rails. That means it can go up and down but not backward or forwards. There are a few high-end models that actually allow some back and forth movement because the vertical guide rods themselves are mounded on horizontal slide rails. Those are rare though.
On most smith machines, there is a kind of safety catch system that allows you to hook the barbell onto by rotating it. So if you feel you can’t finish a lift you simply rotate the barbell and there always will be a safety catch within a few inches.
A Smith machine can be used for pretty much every exercise you can perform with a free barbell where the barbell moves straight up and down. Any exercise where the bar doesn’t follow a straight path can not be performed on a Smith machine.
However most barbell exercises that are commonly performed in the gym should have a pretty straight bar path and can therefore be performed on a Smith machine.
This includes exercises like:
- Bench press
- Shoulder press
So which equipment is a good alternative and common in a home gym? Keep reading to find out.
Best Smith Machine alternatives
Above you can read what a Smith machine does. The alternative should therefore provide a safe way to lift relatively heavy weights and have plenty of exercise options. Here are the best options.
Barbell and power rack
The best and most obvious alternative to a Smith machine is a barbell and power rack. It’s very similar and actually better in many ways. Obviously a free barbell can be used for all the same exercises as a Smith machine and actually many more.
The safety is something you might be concerned about and that’s reasonable. There are two things that will mitigate most of the risk of a free barbell compared to a Smith machine:
- Good form (coaching)
- Power cage
With a free barbell, having good exercise form is very important. Actually in a Smith machine it’s very important too but you can get away with more without falling over. A free barbell has to be handled correctly or you will tip over or lose control. Getting some coaching is advisable if you don’t have any experience lifting free weights.
On a Smith machine, the injury risk is actually not lower than with barbells. That’s because a Smith bar doesn’t move horizontally so as long as you hold onto the bar, you won’t fall over. However, that leads to people using bad form on the Smith machine and with bad form the injury risk shoots up.
The other part of the puzzle is a power rack. This is a big rack you can use the barbell inside of. The upright posts and safety pins can catch the barbell if something were to go wrong. The combination of good form and a power rack is actually quite safe. Of course you’ll have to use some common sense and be careful with your body but that’s the same with every type of exercise.
If the idea of working out with a normal barbell doesn’t appeal to you, the next best option is something quite different. A functional trainer allows you to lift weights with a good amount of freedom but also a large degree of safety.
A functional trainer has two weight stacks that move up and down on guide rods just like the barbell slides on on a Smith machine. You push/pull the weight stacks up through cables on a pulley system. Those pulleys are adjustable in height so you can adjust where the resistance is coming from. Then you can clip an array of attachments to the cable and you can perform a lot of different movements. You can perform pretty much any movement you can think of with a functional trainer.
With cable exercises you have more freedom of movement than with a Smith machine so you’re forced to perform exercises with better form and build more real world strength. It also allows you to perform exercises with a natural movement pattern making the risk of injury lower.
To get the barbell feel like you do with a Smith machine, there are cable attachments available that make it feel very similar. The barbell cable attachment is a short bar with an attachment point on both sides. So you can attach both ends to a cable and you’ll have a barbell.
And also, there are some functional trainers that have a built in Smith machine. That could be something worth checking out.
The last alternative is a set of dumbbells. The alternatives above all involve things you can grab with two hands. Dumbbells are separate from each other so your hands can move independently of each other. That has a few implications but, it’s still a reasonable alternative to a Smith machine.
Most home gyms will have a set of dumbbells so it’s an alternative that’s accessible to many people. You can do the same exercises as with a Smith machine and actually many more with dumbbells. However, you might have to perform them with lighter weights because dumbbells are harder to control than a Smith bar.
There are also benefits to this. The extra stabilization muscles that are being engaged to keep the dumbbells in the right place create a much stronger physique in the end.
Also, dumbbells are easy to drop if something were to go wrong. If you’re under a barbell, it can be difficult to get away from under it if something goes wrong and the weight is heavy. Dumbbells are easily dropped in most situations.