My gym has a smith machine and weights besides lot of machines. I am wondering if one can do the 5x5 program effectively with just the smith machine. I get the bench press and incline for your chest, but what about squats and deadlifts and rows?

  • 1
    Short answer, it won't be effective. You will gain strength, but you will have to deload when you have a free weight barbell available. Jul 26, 2011 at 19:48

2 Answers 2


I'm of the mindset that a Smith machine is better than nothing, but understand what a Smith machine does, and what it takes away from the exercise:

  • balances the weight for you
  • forces the weight along a predefined path. Straight up and down is better than slanted at an angle, but it is not a natural path. (I've seen Smith machines with both trajectories)

One of the benefits of doing squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, etc. without a machine is the opportunity to work your stabilizer and supporting muscles more effectively. You lose a lot of that with the Smith machine.

The question I have for you is, are there no barbells at all? If not, is there another alternative gym available to you?

If there are barbells, but need help for ideas of how to do the lifts you need while standing you can either "Clean" the weight for a front squat and overhead press, or you can perform the Steinborn lift for back squats.

If there are no barbells, then when you are gym shopping make sure they have:

  • barbells (free and not built into a machine)
  • power rack and/or squat rack
  • a flat bench (for bench press)
  • enough weights to load on the bar

With that you can do any 5x5 program from beginner to advanced.

  • Gym does not have barbells either but they do have dumbells so I am suing smith machine for squats and bench press, dumbbells for rows and deadlifts. Although the deadlift is not the same. Jul 26, 2011 at 22:18
  • I realize in some parts of the world you don't have many gyms available to you, or due to economic circumstances you may not be able to switch gyms; but if it is a possibility I would highly recommend it. You will be very limited in what you can do at this gym. Jul 27, 2011 at 12:18
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    I would at least make the following changes: use dumbbells for bench press and overhead press. In fact, assuming they have heavy enough dumbbells, you can do a modified form of the 5x5 program with all dumbbells. I've done that when I'm on travel and that's all the hotel gym has. Unfortunately the hotel only had barbells up to 35lbs so it was only good enough to remain in the habit. Jul 27, 2011 at 12:21

Smith machines are made for squats so you're pretty safe using it for the intended purpose. :) You can also do bent-over rows easily, but the deadlift would require a change to form (the weight wouldn't be traveling straight up and down). Poor form with a deadlift can easily result in injury so I'd recommend against it.

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    Smith machines might be "designed" for squats, but the human body is not designed to squat in a Smith machine. The machine interferes with proper form. Aug 19, 2011 at 15:48

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