Barbell or Smith Machine. Which should we bench with?

We’ve probably heard this question multiple times..

What’s better to use when performing a bench press – a barbell or a smith machine?

For those of you that don’t know, a barbell is the long metal bar you see in gyms where you can add varying weights (plates) on either end. A smith machine is a weight machine that consists of a barbell that is fixed within steel rails allowing the bar to move in a vertical plane of motion.

Some may argue that the smith machine is better for beginners as it’s easier to learn and it lets you use more weight, especially for those that are just starting out.

With the barbell, others will argue that the smith machine doesn’t train as many other muscles as the barbell bench press given that it standardizes the movement.

We definitely agree with this position, and we’ll get into this further..

Research has been conducted to figure out which one is the better bet. They found that muscle activation was the same in the pecs and anterior deltoids, but that the barbell bench press increased medial deltoid activation by 50% more than the Smith machine.

The reason for this is simple..

Since the bar path is fixed on a Smith machine, this means that your stabilizer muscles put in significantly less work than with a barbell. A barbell requires you to control the weight to prevent the bar from shifting too far in one direction (i.e. towards your head, your stomach, etc). This requires other muscles to contribute to each lift. This is not the case with the Smith Machine since the movement is fixed in a standardized plane of motion.

This is also similar to the logic in choosing whether to use free weights versus machines. The engagement of your stabilizers in one versus the other simply isn’t comparable!

Some of us are restricted in the types of equipment that we have available in our gyms. Many of our clients are condo dwellers that live in downtown Toronto with limited access to equipment in our condo gyms. I’d chat with your personal trainer to make sure that you’re leveraging the right equipment on your lifts as it may still be beneficial to use a Smith machine if a barbell isn’t available at your home or facility. You can also select similar types of exercises that don’t involve a barbell. For example, a dumb bell chest press can be a great substitute for the barbell bench press if you do not have access to a barbell. Free weights can also be a great alternative to barbells for certain types of exercises as well. Our personal trainers are well versed in leveraging minimal amounts of equipment to help you reach your goals and we’re confident you can still progress towards your goals even if you aren’t working in a fully equipped gym.

If you’d like to get the process started with working with one of our personal trainers, you can reach always call us at 1-888-682-0724 or sign up on our website.

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