Smith Machines vs. Free Weight Power Racks: Pros and Cons
Most likely, you know the importance of working out, but maybe you didn’t realize it’s just as critical that you choose the right exercise equipment that best fits your workout needs. Two of the most common types of gym equipment are Smith machines and free weight power racks. Although they look alike and are both used for doing squats, shoulder presses, bench presses and other exercises, they’re not quite the same. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the pros and cons of Smith machines and free weight power racks, along with their basic differences.
What Is a Smith Machine?
A Smith machine is designed for controlled barbell strength training. This exercise equipment consists of a barbell with weights that are secured between two steel rails, which allows for only vertical movements. However, there are some newer models that allow for a small amount of horizontal movement. The Smith machine can be used for several types of exercises but is mainly used for doing squats and presses.
Benefits of Smith Machines
The Smith machine offers several advantages:
- Provides stabilized weight — Many smith machines include a self-balancing barbell. Equipped with guide rods, you don’t have to worry about balancing the barbell. As a result, you can devote all your attention on lifting the weight. The bar moves smoothly along a fixed vertical plane. In other words, it won’t move sideways, or fall forward or backward.
- Is safe — Smith press bar catches lessen the need for a spotter while performing heavy plate loaded exercises. You can hook the barbell into several slots on the frame so that it won’t be dropped. If you do get into trouble, just twist the bar and it hooks onto the frame.
- Benefits all major muscle groups — Versatility is another benefit as the Smith machine can be used for a wide range of exercises. In fact, it can be used to work every major muscle group.
- Promotes good posture — When doing exercises, the rails, along with the weights securing the machine in place, help you move properly, so you maintain good form.
- Is suited for both beginners and experienced users — Although the Smith machine is generally the preferred choice for beginners, it’s also ideal for people with advanced fitness skills.
Smith Machine Disadvantages
- The bar won’t deviate from its fixed, vertical path.
- Some users find the fixed bar path to be uncomfortable.
- There are some exercises that can’t be done safely, so it’s not as versatile as a power rack.
- It’s hard to remove the barbell.
What Are Free Weight Power Racks?
Free weight power racks are designed for performing free-weight exercises, such as squats, bench presses and dead lifts. Also known as “half racks” “squat cages” or “power cages”, this type of exercise equipment is typically constructed from steel and shaped as a simple, open cage. Within the sides of the rack are horizontal safety spotters that can be adjusted. There are no mechanical movement parts.
Power Rack Benefits
- Safety is a benefit — If you drop a barbell, it won’t crash on the floor because the horizontal safety arms are fully adjustable.
- There are no restrictions on the barbell, meaning that you can do exercises the same as anywhere else.
- It’s remarkably versatile as most power racks contain attachments for doing dips and chin-ups, and include built-in weight plate storage.
Power Rack Drawbacks
On the other hand, power racks have a few drawbacks:
- The half cage safety arms must be adjusted and used properly. Users can drop the barbell and miss the safety arms.
- The equipment is tall and requires more room, so it may not be the best option for smaller gyms with restricted floor space or low ceilings.
- Even though the safety arms on a power rack can catch the barbell, you still cannot secure the mid-rep bar, which is not a problem for the Smith machine.
- Both Smith Machines and Power Racks come with several attachments. Many include built-in chin-up bars, weight plate storage, dip stands, pull down cable attachments and others.
- The main difference is that you can use a Smith machine as a self-spotting device since the weight moves on a fixed track. Whereas a Power Rack doesn’t have a fixed track, so there are no movement restrictions.
- Some hybrid home gyms include both a smith machine and power rack in one machine. See the TuffStuff Evolution Smith Machine / Half Cage Ensemble (CSM-725WS) to learn more.
When choosing exercise equipment, quality matters. If you have questions about strength training machines, please contact us at Fitness Gallery. Since 1997, Fitness Gallery has carried the highest quality strength equipment from premier brands like TuffStuff Fitness.