How Much Does The Bar Weigh On A Smith Machine?
Walk into any gym, commercial, strength-based, or otherwise, and one thing you’ll immediately notice is that along with the common everyday products such as dumbbells, barbells, and treadmills, you’ll find a Smith machine.
Now, forget what any ‘Bro Science’ believers say about the Smith machine, because it certainly isn’t for weaklings, it isn’t a pointless piece of equipment, and it absolutely is every bit as beneficial as other resistance exercise staples.
Real gym OGs know that the Smith machine is the real deal, and if you don’t believe us, just check out the footage of Kevin Levrone behind-the-neck pressing 4 plates on the Smith, then tell us it’s just for sissies.
Real ones know that the Smith machine is legit, which is why pro bodybuilders, athletes, and strongmen such as Brian Shaw and Eddie ‘The Beast’ Hall have been seen incorporating it into their training.
A common question when using the Smith machine is: how much does the bar weigh on a Smith machine?
Which, amongst other things, is what we’ll be answering today.
- 1 What Exactly Is A Smith Machine?
- 2 Why Is It Called a Smith Machine?
- 3 What Are the Benefits of Using a Smith Machine?
- 4 Why Are Smith Machines Not Taken Seriously?
- 5 How Much Does The Bar Weigh On A Smith Machine?
- 6 Factors Affecting the Weight of a Smith Machine Bar:
- 7 Final Thoughts
What Exactly Is A Smith Machine?
We’ll answer the question shortly; before that, we need to explain this awesome contraption to you.
A Smith machine is a piece of gym equipment that is basically a hybrid of a barbell and a squat rack.
It is made up of a barbell that is contained within steel rails, which can only be moved up and down. Basically, imagine a barbell fixed in place that you can only lift up and down.
On either side of the machine are hooks that allow the bar to be locked in place on a selection of lockout grooves, just like you see on a bench press bench.
The barbell is plate-loaded, just like a regular barbell, though as the bar only moves vertically, there is no horizontal movement so there is no need to use clips to lock the plates in place.
Contrary to popular belief, Smith machines are not just for weaklings or beginner lifters too weak to lift free weights, they are for all manner of lifters and gymgoers alike.
We commonly see Smith machines mocked by those in the strength community, despite the fact that they’re a very versatile and effective piece of equipment (1).
The Smith machine has been partly responsible for me setting a personal record bench lift, as there were many workouts where I did not have a training partner and thus would not have been able to lift as heavy as possible without asking someone to come in and spot me.
Why Is It Called a Smith Machine?
Those who have advanced knowledge of fitness, especially in the United States, will no doubt recognize the name Jack LaLanne.
Jack LaLanne was a fitness guru who is credited with inventing all manner of fitness aids and workout programs to help get everyday individuals off the couch and active.
In the 1950s, Jack created a basic prototype for the now much-respected Smith machine. He created a basic sliding apparatus with a bar affixed to it.
As he also designed some of the world’s first cable machines, it was clear that he knew what the fitness industry needed.
A man called Rudy Smith came across LaLanne’s creation and hired a man named Paul Martin to take it and adapt it.
Martin did exactly that, and Smith, who was managing Vic Tanny’s gym in LA at the time, installed the new and improved design in the gym. The clients loved it.
Smith would go on to be made an executive in Tanny’s gyms, and shortly afterward, the machine became known as the ‘Smith Machine’ and was a common sight in commercial gyms up and down the USA, and shortly afterward, around the entire world too.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Smith Machine?
The Smith machine is one of the most popular pieces of gym equipment, but why is it that this piece of kit is still so popular decades after being invented, and why has the design barely changed at all?
Here are some key benefits of using a Smith machine:
Great For Training Solo
Working out with a buddy is great, especially if you want to train heavily because you can get a spot. A spotter will help you to unrack the weights, will help you to squeeze out extra reps, and will help keep an eye on you if the weights look too heavy.
When benching heavy for example, if the bar is too heavy to press from your chest, it could pin you to the bench, crush your sternum, or even kill you. Yes, it really is that serious. A spotter would help take the weight off you before it could hurt you.
This happened to me when I was a beginner and will likely be a concern to most of us at least once in our lifetime.
A Smith machine is beneficial because it allows you to train heavy alone. There are hooks to rack the bar on up and down the machine, plus you can adjust the safety springs and set them at a height to catch the bar if you get into trouble.
Smith Machines Are Stable
Another benefit of Smith machines is the fact that they’re more stable free weights.
With a barbell you’re constantly having to adjust the bar to keep it in a straight line, depending on which exercise you’re doing. All it takes is one wrong move and you could lose your balance which again, could result in injury.
With a Smith machine, there are only two directions the bar can go, and that is up and down. The fact that these machines simply go from A to B means that the bar is kept stable so you can really isolate your target muscle groups, and reduce your risk of injury.
Versatility when training is very important when it comes to keeping your workouts fresh and exciting, which is why the Smith machine is such a popular choice.
Smith machines are extremely versatile because they allow you to perform a series of exercises in one. I have used a Smith machine to perform flat bench presses, incline presses, decline presses, shoulder presses, squats, bent-over rows, calf raises, upright rows, close grip bench presses, and more.
When you lift free weights because the weights are not attached to anything, you’re constantly having to move your body and adjust to keep the weights in a straight line.
If you stray off course you run the risk of injuring yourself or executing a lift with poor form, making the exercise less effective.
With a Smith machine, because the bar doesn’t move, you are essentially just pressing it or pulling it, which means that your form will be much better, and you’ll be able to hit your target muscle groups much more effectively.
Great For Beginners
Smith machines can be used by powerlifters, strongmen, pro bodybuilders, athletes, and seasoned gymgoers. At the same time, they can also be used by people who are new to working out.
Smith machines are easier to use than a barbell, so exercises that would normally be done with a barbell will be made much easier when using a Smith machine.
In terms of the bar weighing on a Smith machine, it weighs less than a barbell so you can lift more weight.
Bench pressing 225lbs on a Smith machine, for example, will be much easier than bench pressing 225lbs with a barbell.
If you want to build your strength and work on your form before you make the transition over to free weights, a Smith machine is a great piece of kit to use first.
Lift More Weight
Okay, first and foremost, the amount of weight you can lift on a Smith machine is NOT representative of how much weight you can lift with free weights.
Say, for example, you can seated shoulder press 6 x 45lb plates (3 on either side) that does NOT mean that you could seated shoulder press that amount of weight with a barbell. You may be able to, but it’s unlikely.
Despite this, Smith machines do allow you to lift more weight easier because there is less resistance on the bar. We’ll be looking at the bar weight on a Smith machine shortly, but for now, let’s just say that pressing the bar alone on a Smith is much easier and lighter than pressing a 45lb barbell.
Being able to add more plates to a Smith machine also gives your ego a bit of a rub and a nice psychological boost, as long as you know you won’t be able to lift as much with a barbell and weight plates.
Why Are Smith Machines Not Taken Seriously?
If you follow the lifting and fitness communities online, you’ve likely seen the memes mocking Smith machines, and read the comments from gym bros talking about how useless the machines are and how they’re for girls.
We’ve established the benefits of Smith machines and have looked at just how awesome they are, but why are they mocked in the first place?
To start with, Smith machine bars are attached to safety rails on either side, making the exercise much safer. Some lifters see this as chickening out and being overly cautious. Yet, if you ever experience a situation like mine where I couldn’t lift the bar up, you’ll be grateful for those rails.
Some see it as the equivalent of going on a small bike ride around the nearest park and being kitted out in protective helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and a protective suit.
Other lifters see Smith machines as a waste of time because they’re easier than using free weights, and arguably, not as effective as using free weights because the machine is counter-balanced, so it does some of the lifting for you.
There are also some who feel that because of the mechanics of Smith machines, they can make some exercises dangerous.
Squats, for example, are often mocked when performed with this piece of kit because people believe that you can’t position your knees correctly and are therefore more likely to suffer from a knee injury. That personally hasn’t been the case with me when regularly squatting in a Smith machine for several years, but for others with weaker knees, it may be problematic.
Whatever people’s reasons are for hating the Smith machine, or mocking it at the very least, it is still a very effective and useful piece of gym equipment and can provide the users with a whole host of different advantages.
How Much Does The Bar Weigh On A Smith Machine?
As you can probably guess, there is no clear-cut answer to how much the bar weighs on a Smith machine because it varies from machine to machine.
In my experience, Smith machine bars usually weigh anything from 7 pounds up to 30 pounds. As you can see, that’s quite the difference.
Smith machine bars are not as strong as Olympic barbells and have a max weight capacity of between 600 and 1000 pounds, which is more than enough for the average lifter, or even an above-average lifter for that matter.
Because of the counterbalance, Smith bars feel lighter during the concentric portion of a movement, i.e., the upwards motion.
This means that, for a bench press, for example, when I press the bar into the air above my chest, it feels easier than it would with a barbell.
Factors Affecting the Weight of a Smith Machine Bar:
Okay, we’ve established that Smith machine bar weights can vary massively from machine to machine, and we’ve looked at what can affect this, so now let’s elaborate.
Here are some of the main factors affecting the weight of a Smith machine bar:
This is by far the most prominent factor when it comes down to a Smith machine bar weight.
Most Smith machines will utilize a counterbalance to offset some of the weight of the bar. So, if the bar weighs 45 pounds like a standard 7ft Olympic barbell, the counterbalance will offset some of this weight so that the bar doesn’t actually weigh 45 pounds.
Counterbalances basically work just like a balancing scale. Here, the bar will be located on one side of the device, while the counterbalance weights will be concealed from sight on the other side of the machine.
The bar is always heavier than the counterweights to offset the weight of the bar so that it is always lighter. This isn’t cheating, nobody ever claims that Smith machine lifts are comparable to Olympic bar lifts because they aren’t.
That would be like saying 40 minutes of cycling is the same as 40 minutes on a treadmill, they’re two different things entirely.
The bar always feels lighter on the upward (concentric) portion of a lift, so while standing up during a squat, or the pressing motion of a bench press.
In my experience, different manufacturers have different counterbalancing systems in place, so some Smith machines will be easier to press with than others.
The Smith Machine Bar Materials
Another variable that I find affects the bar weight on a Smith machine is the material the bar is made from.
If you thought that Smith machine bars were just Olympic bars concealed in a rail system on a Smith machine, think again, because they are different.
Smith bars are made from a different type of metal, usually steel, compared with an Olympic barbell.
Olympic barbells are made to withstand a lot of weight, especially the good-quality ones. While it’s unlikely anybody will be deadlifting upwards of 501kg to beat the deadlift world record, a lot of strength athletes and powerlifters will lift upwards of 400kg in the gym, which is an insane amount of weight. Because of this, Olympic barbells are made from heavy-duty steel.
The bars also need to have some flex in them.
Smith machine bars, however, have to remain completely rigid. The clamps, slides, rails, and counterbalance all help to take some of the strain so the bar doesn’t need to be as heavy or as strong as an Olympic barbell.
Just because Smith machine bars are not the same as Olympic barbells in terms of flex and tensile strength, that doesn’t mean that they can’t hold a lot of weight because they can.
Depending on the brand, Smith machine bars can easily hold 600–1000 pounds in weight. Not that I’ve ever come close to testing that threshold.
Smith bars are also 7 feet in length like standard Olympic barbells, the main difference here can come in the form of the diameter, although again, most are the same as an Olympic bar.
I have generally found that the cheaper the Smith machine, the less weight the bar can withstand, so the lighter the bar will be.
Thus, a stronger bar will likely be made from stronger, more expensive metals and will likely weigh more.
Smith Machine Type
Although Smith machines are commonly used in commercial gyms, there are some that are made for home use.
Home gym Smith machines are often smaller and lighter than commercial Smiths and have smaller bars. Some have standard bars with the option of adding Olympic sleeves.
Needless to say, the cheaper and much weaker Smith machines intended for home use have bars that are much lighter than commercial gyms.
The Angle Of The Rail System
Finally, the angle of the rails can also determine the bar weight on a Smith machine.
Most Smith machines feature rails that are virtually vertical. Some, however, feature a bit of an incline of between 7 and 12 degrees.
I find that Smith machine rails on a bit of an incline provide a more natural movement pattern for the bar, but the incline angle does affect the weight of the bar itself.
The more vertically the bar travels via the rail system, the more resistance it will provide for your target muscles, meaning that the bar will feel heavier than one with a bit of an incline. I’m only talking about a couple of pounds of difference, but the difference is still very noticeable to me.
I have found Smith machines to be awesome pieces of equipment that have added a lot to my training routine.
Smith machines are staples in many commercial gyms, and that won’t change anytime soon.