I've been doing the Stronglifts 5x5 program as you guys sugested and it's been amazing. I can really say that I feel great. Being a complete newbie as I started I had no idea there's a difference between a Smith Machine and a Power Rack so I've been doing all my squat workouts on that machine and managed to reach 65kgs.

After more Research I can see that most of you agree Barbell Squats are much more usefull than Smith Machines but that would mean I have to set the Barbell on my shoulder by myself and I don't think I can lift more than 40/50Kg over my head and onto my shoulders.

Now onto my question, should I carry on with the Smith Machine squats or should I do my best weight with a Barbell squat?

Are there any easier ways to get the weight onto my shoulders than the awkward over the head pull?

PS: No strength Training Partner no Power Rack as of yet(will do my best to change the gym)

  • 1
    Trap Bar Dead-lifts are a reasonable substitute for Squatting.
    – pufferfish
    Mar 18, 2015 at 15:22
  • Firm believer in form over weight, every time. Lower the weight and do what you can free. #'s are nearly meaningless in terms of proper biomechanics... they only help ego.
    – HC_
    Mar 18, 2015 at 15:48
  • I begin to suspect the Smith machine invaded Poland in 1939...
    – Mephisto
    Mar 23, 2015 at 23:16

6 Answers 6


If you haven't gotten a squat rack, back squats will be hard. Front squats are more doable, but still require cleaning the weight to your shoulders and will use less weight.

However, in this case lower weight front squats will be much better for you than smith machine squats. Especially at this early stage.

Front squats force you to have a more upright stance with a straight back which is a common mistake in new lifters. Additionally you'll get the benefit of all your auxiliary muscles when squatting.

At the end of the day, with good form smith machines aren't terrible but they make it easier to exercise incorrectly with poor form.

  • @LegoStormtrooper: you meant to say smith machines aren't terrible with good form, right?
    – user8119
    Mar 18, 2015 at 9:39
  • Err.. I didn't not realise that I didn't put that there. It won't not never happen against in the future... maybe.
    – user2861
    Mar 18, 2015 at 9:41

The point of barbell squats is to exercise your body through all the form that the Smith machine takes away from you.

  • Yes, you will go back to 20kg at first.
  • Yes, you need to stay there, not until your quads are ready for more, but until the rest of your body, including your core for stability, arms, hands, and overall sense of balance, are ready to work up.

    Never increase weight without perfecting form. Then you have bad (and dangerous) form and nowhere to improve. You can't improve form at too much weight, but you can increase weight when you have good form.

Barbell is about perfecting form and getting a total body workout. Machines are about skipping form and getting an isolated muscle workout. You can guess which is the better exercise for most human beings.


In your situation, the solution is simple:

  1. Dismantle the Smith machine
  2. Look for another gym, three sets of five every workout
  3. In the meantime, hoist the weight to your shoulders with a straight-backed power clean:

    enter image description here

    ...and then front squat the barbell for five reps. When you're done, lower the bar to the ground as carefully as possible. This way you can squat with the bar in front of your neck so you don't have to get it past your head.

Yes, you may have to use less weight with your clean-and-front-squat system than you could "lift" with the Smith machine. That's fine. It's nothing to worry about.

Keep in mind that this is a significant deviation from the StrongLifts program, both by power cleaning the weight and using front squats instead of back squats. But until you find a better gym it's the best solution.


The loading on a smith machine is completely different from a barbell squat. The barbell squat provided one has excellent technique is most definitely superior to a smith machine squat for several reasons.

The smith machine prevents the stabilisers (especially the core) to engage thus resulting in a lower muscle recruitment than a barbell squat. This is keys factor in strength training. Furthermore you are completely removing the functional strength aspect of a good squat. The lack of core engagement will put the spine at a higher risk.

The motion pattern in a smith machine is unnatural. It forces the knee into a fixed movement pattern which in turn creates unnecessary stress and compression on the knee and ligaments. This is only made worse by the false sense of security that comes with the smith machines that allows you to lift often more then your joints have been trained to.

Squat heavy, squat clean and squat hard and witness real muscular and strength change. A gym without a squatting rack is not a gym.

Finding people to spot you on your squat is easy. Simply ask a more experienced member or staff member to assist you. 99.9% of people are more than willing to spot you.


Smith-machine in any way is not superior to barbell squat. You have alternatives though.

  • Front Squats
  • Zercher Squats
  • Hack Squats
  • Goblet Squats
  • 2
    • This is more of a comment. Care to elaborate?
      – user8119
      Mar 18, 2015 at 14:54
    • I answered his question and supplied him with alternatives which do not need any rack.
      – Michael C.
      Mar 18, 2015 at 20:55

    You say you have been doing your squats on a Smith Machine and are, rightfully, looking toward the free-weights as a better way to keep good form. The question then asks whether to stick with Smith Machine or "just" do your best with free-weights.

    My answer is: BOTH

    My personal approach in a very similar situation is that I do all but my very heaviest set with free-weights. Do warm-ups and get close to your max with the free-weights, but for that last set where you honestly don't know if you can hit all five reps it isn't a sin to use the Smith Machine.

    1) It is important to raise weight consistently and challenge yourself to increase strength. Doing that while keeping to weights you can absolutely 100% do without help is not likely.

    2)Squats and bench presses are the only (core, major, etc) lifts where that bar is over your body in a potentially hard to evade position so safety is key.

    When I don't have a spotter I do exactly this: all warm-ups and incremental increases are done free-weight (you should get very close to your max weight this way), then that last set is the only one on the Smith Machine. This has allowed me to increase my Max almost weekly for over a year and my max weight is more than double when I started - all without hurting myself on those (not rare) occasions I just can't make that last rep.

    This gives you that critical stabilizing muscle development to actually use your strength, while providing the enhanced safety of the Smith Machine on the last set. Safety first - (and of course this is not everything you need to do for safety, just a relating of my own method that might help you)

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