Deadlift on Smith Machine? Seriously?

I’m assuming you already know the many benefits of the deadlift, but if you need a refresh you can read more about why you should deadlift here. One of my favourite things about the deadlift is simply the feeling of picking up a massive amount of weight. When proper deadlifts with a barbell performed correctly, you’ll immediately start to notice how much extra weight you’re adding to that barbell every week.

The Good vs The Bad

Smith machines and deadlifts on the other hand… don’t mix well at all. They can be useful for things like assistance work, or for people coming trying to rehabilitate joints or strengthen them for certain exercises. For example, things like bench press (incline/flat, and decline), shoulder press, close grip bench press, rows, and even stiff-legged deadlifts can be beneficial on a smith machine.

Some people even do box-squats or front squats on smith machines (controversial, but I don’t recommend it). At best, smith machines should only be in your workout as an accessory exercise – meaning not one of your main lifts.

mark rippetoe deadlfit

‘Squatting’ in a Smith machine is a oxymoron. A squat cannot be performed on a Smith machine, as should be obvious from all previous discussion. Sorry. There is a gigantic difference between a machine that makes the bar path vertical, and a squat that is executed correctly enough to have a vertical bar path.

Mark Rippetoe

Performing deadlifts on a smith machine is just flat out ridiculous. Matter of fact, you should probably stay away from smith machines if possible; especially as a core component of your workout.

Listen To The Master

Mark Rippetoe, one of the most well known strength coaches, and author of Starting Strength (which includes the insanely popular beginner strength program) has this down to a science. Seeing as how his starting strength program has stood the test of time while still being one of the most recommended workout programs out there, you might want to pick up his book for reference – a no BS guide to barbell and strength training.

Check out this deadlift coaching session here, as well the importance of angles and anatomy for the deadlift here.

Smith machines only offer a limited range of motion on a fixed track, and the weight you are lifting isn’t exactly what you think it is.Just try to bench press 315 lbs on a smith machine and then do the same on a regular barbell bench (with a spotter) and notice my point.

Not everyone will have the exact same squat and deadlift form because of varying heights and dimensions, so it’s ridiculous to think that a smith machine would cater to everyone. Performing deadlifts and squats correctly and pushing (or pulling) a decent amount of weight will all come down to your form and the angles. If you’re able, stick to the basics – barbells, good form, and heavy weight. If you’re in it for the strength, we also have condensed version of the strength training program available here.


One Response to “Deadlift on Smith Machine? Seriously?”

  1. Sam

    Errm, I kinda get this. However biomechanically speaking surely one who lifts using a fixed rack is still activating almost the same as someone who lifts on a free rack. I still get all the necessary D.O.M.S in my hamstrings, glutes and lower back on a smith machine, plus I also get to work my grip too. Isn’t the basic principle of a deadlift to lift a weight from a dead position. It’s a somewhat controversial concept depending which side of the fence you sit, I.e. pure bodybuilder fanatic or all round health person. I prefer endurance events however I do add one day of heavy squats/deadlifts however I do use the Smith for reads and squats. Perhaps it’s incorrect because I am not activating 100% of stabilisers however it still makes me sweat a tonne, my heart rate goes near maximal, my grip feels like it’s being torn apart, and at the end of the day I am lifting the weight, no anti gravitational force is helping me.

    I kind of sit on the opposite side to the ‘meat head’ approach. Please I’m not trying to tarnish everyone with the same brush, but I certainly don’t fall into the category of you need to lift metal to get bigger, nor do I believe you have to use the basic caveman equipment to lift a weight. Sure a barbell has so many advantages, but just because it’s better doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right way. Or rather, let me correct that, the only way.

    That said, I appreciate this post, we all have controversial views on some things, I myself don’t do carbs and eat extremely high fat (with low to moderate protein), which to many is extremely controversial. It’s not the only way however. Each to our own I guess. I guess with the deadlifts it really depends on where you want to go with it.

    What do other people think?

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