The Smith machine has become a hot topic for debate among gym-goers. Many wonder if the Smith machine good for bench press? Or is it better to use a bench and dumbbells?

It’s important to make the best choice for you, but both sides have many strong opinions. In this article I'm discussing how effective the bench press is using the Smith machine and if you should be doing it as part of your routine.

Plate Loaded Smith Machine

Yes, in my option the Smith machine is good for bench press movements.

Smith machines are bars that are attached to a large metal frame and it moves vertically along rails. They are a standard piece of kit in more gyms these days. 

The Smith machine also has pegs every few inches on its frame, which will enable you to lock the bar in place whenever you need to during your exercises.

The Smith machines is a highly versatile machine that can be used for squats, bench press, shoulder press, hip thrusts, deadlifts, rows, lunges, and calf raises.  

I believe the Smith machine is particularly good for bench press variations because it's much safer for those training alone, or it means you can do more weight than you would if you don't have a spotter. 

If you’re struggling to lift the weight, you can easily snap the barbell into place, which means you can lift weights without worrying about dropping the bar on yourself and causing an injury.  

The Smith machine can be as effective as a bench press with free weights, so it's a great choice. The downside is, it has a more limited range of motion, which means other muscles are not as heavily engaged as in other exercises, more on this next!

Why Should You Do Bench Press on a Smith Machine

There's plenty of reasons why the Smith Machine is a good choice when it comes to bench press.

If you're still wondering if you should be using the Smith Machine to do bench presses, I'm going to discuss why you should do bench press on a Smith Machine. 

No Spotter Required

The Smith Machine allows you to lift heavy weights, or do a high volume training day without the need for someone to spot you incase you need help bailing. The safety pins can be set at a level that is safe and will protect you from potential injury if you fail during your set. 

More weight can be lifted

The design of the Smith Machine is set on a 2-dimensional plane of motion, meaning when performing the bench press using this equipment your stabilizer muscles aren't needed as much to move the weight.

This doesn't mean your pecs aren't working as hard, a study has shown the bench press done on the Smith Machine and barbell provide similar pec activation [1].

Reduced risk of injury

Because the bar on the Smith Machine is fixed on a single plane of motion, the bar won't wobble around, crush your chest if you fail or risk slipping from your hands.

It makes it much safer for those who have existing injuries, those who are new or those working out alone.

Why You Shouldn't Do Bench Press On A Smith Machine

As you can see, bench pressing on the Smith Machine can be safer, no spotter is required and it provides as much activation of the pec muscles that the barbell does.

Here are my some of the drawbacks of bench press on the Smith Machine and why it might be better to stick to free weights, whether that's the barbell or dumbbells.

less muscle activation

I've already highlighted the fact that the pec muscles receive just as much pec activation as the barbell. However, the Smith Machine doesn't allow your delts and stabilizer muscles to work as hard when compared with the barbell. 

Neglects stabilizer muscles

Neglecting stabilizer muscles isn't ideal as working these important muscles around the rotator cuff is key for overall strength and injury prevention. 

If you rely too much on the Smith machine to bench press and then try to do similar weight using the barbell, you'd be more susceptible to injury due to weakness in key stabilizer muscles required for effective bench pressing.

Lacks freedom of movement

Because the bar slides up and down in one plane of motion, you can't make adjustments to angle if the positioning is causing any sort of strain on the joints. If your elbows, wrists or shoulders are particularly tight or you're suffering from injury, you won't be able to adjust like you can with free weights.


  • No spotter needed
  • Safer option
  • Exhausts the muscles effectively
  • Good for beginners


  • Less overall muscle activation
  • Doesn't activate stabilizer muscles
  • Less functional & lack of movement

5 Bench Press Options You Can Do On A Smith machine

If you'd like to add Smith machine bench press to your fitness routine, I have 5 variations for you to try.

1. Incline Bench Press

Another excellent exercise on the Smith machine is the incline bench press. It adds another level of security and safety when doing the incline bench, which can be pretty dangerous.

The incline bench press with the Smith machine is excellent for targeting your upper chest. Also, because it’s safer, you can use heavier weights and do more reps without the risk of hurting your wrists.

2. Decline Bench Press

On the other hand, it is also very suitable for the Smith machine decline bench press. This will target your lower chest. Because you’re lying at a 15 to 30-degree decline, it can be awkward to do this exercise on a standard bench.

However, thanks to its extra safety features, it’s a lot easier with the Smith machine.   

3. Flat Bench Press

The Smith machine flat bench press is also popular because it allows you to create progressive overload safely. This is a powerful way to develop your muscles over time without causing injury or strain. 

4. Close Grip Bench Press

Another bench press variation is the close grip Smith machine bench press. A Smith machine is an excellent option for improving your close grip bench form and progressing to higher weights [2]. The Smith machine provides more stability for this exercise than free weights. 

Further Reading - Bench Press Vs Floor Press

5. Wide Grip Bench Press

You can also do wide grip bench presses. You will have much more stability and be able to perform the movement on the Smith machine in a very controlled manner.

This is beneficial if you’re a beginner and looking to ease yourself into the exercise without incorrect form.

man doing wide grip bench on smith machine

How To Safely Bench Press Using A Smith Machine

As with every piece of workout equipment, you should know how to use it safely, especially when learning how to bench press on a Smith machine. To do a bench press with a Smith machine, you must first set it up properly.  

Ensure that the bench is placed in the middle of the Smith machine’s barbell. Then you want to ensure that the barbell aligns with your mid-chest area. Then you will need to grip the bar shoulder-width apart.

Your bar should be unloaded and ready for you to put on the weight plates that you feel confident you can lift or challenge yourself with.  

Smith machine bench press form is critical when performing a bench press. Lie down on the bench and make sure that the bar is aligned with your mid-chest area, as I mentioned.

Ensure that your core is tight and your chest is up and out. Unlock the barbell and bring it to your chest before pushing it back up until your arms are outstretched once again. Once you’re finished, you can lock the barbell back in place.  

When you’re using a Smith machine, there are a few safety precautions that you will need to consider. Firstly, ensure that you don’t load the bar with too much weight. Even though the Smith machine is safer than free weights, overloading the bar with weight can still be dangerous.

If you’re a beginner lifter, you might be surprised and overwhelmed by the weight, leading to an injury.  

Secondly, you need to always be mindful of your form for every exercise. If you’re doing a Smith bench press and the bar is above your head, you risk injuring your shoulders or wrists instead of working your mid-chest. Lastly, ensure you know how to use the locking system.

Related Article - Which Way To Face On A Smith Machine?

man in gray shirt doing smith machine bench press

Smith Machine Bench Press Vs Barbell & Free Weights

The first main difference is the weight of the bars. In comparison, free weights like an Olympic barbell weigh 40lbs or 20kg. The Smith machine barbell is designed to be light and glide up and down the rails of the Smith machine. Smith machine bars weigh anywhere from 5 - 15lbs.  

The other main difference between the Smith machine vs free weights bench press is muscle activation. Free weights create more muscle activation—for example, your core muscles when you're doing a bench press with dumbbells or a barbell

With the Smith machine, it’s easier to increase weight because it requires less stabilization and energy to lift.  

Working out with free weights is generally more common because you don’t need a machine. All you need is a barbell, dumbbells, and sometimes a bench depending on the exercise. However, Smith machines take up a lot of space and can only be used by one person at a time.  

There’s a never-ending debate about which is more effective. And the truth is that they both have their own benefits. Smith machines can be a great way to practice form and build strength for beginners.  

The disadvantage is you don’t work out your stabilizer muscles as you do with free weights. For experienced lifters, free weights are generally the preferred type of equipment.

However, Smith machines can be used when trying to add on more weight when training alone or when recovering from injury.   

Smith machines are generally the safer option. With the locking system and the fact that the bar is light and on a rail that assists you while lifting, it’s the safer option of the two.

But whether you’re using free weights or a Smith machine, it’s always important to warm up and set up the equipment correctly.

man doing flat barbell bench press exercise

Common Smith Machine Workout Questions

Is it better to squat with a Smith machine? 

If you’re not sure how to do a squat with a barbell or dumbbells, then a Smith machine is a great place to start. However, if you’re looking to target your legs more, it’s better to use a barbell. But there’s no correct answer here. It all comes down to which one you’re more comfortable using.  

Why are some Smith machines angled? 

Angled Smith machines are becoming more common. This is because they help focus on the pressing movements more accurately—for example, the angled Smith machine bench press. The bar will be at mid-chest, and when you push it back up, it will be almost above your shoulders. Hence why they’ve become popular among weightlifters.  

How much does a Smith machine bar weigh? 

Smith machine bars generally weigh a variety of different weights. Including 5lb, 10lb or 15lb. It depends on the manufacturer. Usually, it will say how much the bar weighs somewhere on the Smith machine. But it’s not a major concern because they are designed to be much lighter than barbells, which normally weigh approximately 40lbs or 20kg.


Smith machines have a definite role to play when it comes to exercising. Whether you’re looking for a safer option with free weights, to add a lot of weight, or to train alone, you’ll find a Smith machine useful.

Plus, you’ll now understand the advantages, disadvantages, and uses of a Smith machine when it comes to keeping fit. 




Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website