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Thread: Smith Machine Squats vs. Free Squats

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  1. #1
    Rollin Dubs HORNEDFROGS07's Avatar
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    Smith Machine Squats vs. Free Squats

    Until about 6 months ago, the only type of squats I did were down to parallel free squats, but an older guy that I was lifting with told me that there was no need to do free squats, claiming that squats on the smith machine gave the same results w/a much lower risk of injury. Since he is huge, I listened and started doing only smith squats, mixing up parallel, ATF, and limited ROM squats. My max on the Smith squats started at around 315, same as free weights, and within 3 months, I could squat 450 2x. However, when I tried free squats just for fun a while back, I couldn't do $hit (315 ish). To me, the smith machine seems to isolate the legs much, much better, and it takes the back bending out of the squat movement, so my back doesn't hurt as bad at the end of every leg day. However, I am worried about the supporting structures of the leg not getting enough work from the smiths.

    So my questions are this:

    1) Which type of squat is best, Smith or Free?

    2) Should I do only one of the types or mix it up some?

    3) I want size, really don't give a d*** about strength (sure, its nice, but size gets attention.... who gives a rats a$$ if you can bench 345 and dont have the size to show it, like me), so which gives the best size gain.


    BTW, I know the answer to all three ???'s is 1)there is no "best" type, 2) Mix it up, and 3)combination of all. However, I don't want to believe it, because i have a deep seated hatred for free squats from my not too distant days in high school athletics.
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  2. #2
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    I am not a fan of smith machines for anything, but that is just me. My body and machines do not work well together since they force me into unnatural ROM.

    You kind of answered your own question, when you did a free weight squat your weight went down, why? Because you have not been working all of the assistor muscles needed in the squat. It is like doing bench on the smith machine and then going back to free weights, you cannot lift near as much.

    I know some people do front squats on the smith machine but I would not do regular squats.
    Just one guy's opinion.

  3. #3
    Still Plugging Away -TIM-'s Avatar
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    HORNEDFROGS07, I know this doesn't answer either of your questions but if you're having a lot of back soreness after free squats you might want to examine your form. With proper form you shouldn't feel discomfort in your back afterwords. If it is your form I'd lower the weight a tad. We only get one back, don't want to hurt it

    And I personally like free squats. I really don't like doing a major compound exercise and have a restricted range of motion. Cuts down on the work load to your stabalizing muscles for the exercise. Hope that helps.
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  4. #4
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    If you are squatting correctly, you should feel it in your lower back. It is a lowerback exercise as well. If you feel a soreness in your lowerback, then all is well.
    "42"

  5. #5
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    Smith machine squats are somewhat safer and fine on occasion. You're taking the balancing issue out of it using the machine which isolates the quads more. If you do them more frequently than free squats then you'll hinder your capabilites in free squats.

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    No, they are more dangerous because they do not utilize a natural range of motion. They can wreak havoc on your back, hips, knees, etc due to the improper position.
    "42"

  7. #7
    Rollin Dubs HORNEDFROGS07's Avatar
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    my form on the free squats is fine, but it just seems to put too much strain on my lower back; not from my form or ROM, but from the weight load.
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  8. #8
    Skinny not scronny Stabber's Avatar
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    as long as your legs are getting bigger, why worry?
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  9. #9
    Wounded Deadlifter ryan1117's Avatar
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    Do you squat more than you deadlift?
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  10. #10
    One crazy MOFO/Mail man
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    Dude if the sqaut is putting too much weight on your lower back then it is because your form. People do here and otherwise do alot more weight then you probably do (not an insult or an attack on the amount of weight you do. I have no idea what kind of weight you move.) for reps with little or no discomfort.
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  11. #11
    Rollin Dubs HORNEDFROGS07's Avatar
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    My legs were getting bigger much faster with smith squats, but they seem to have slowed down lately.

    Yes, I squat much more than I deadlift. (450ish Smith Squats, 375ish Free Squats, as opposed to around 315 for deadlifts)

    Finally, the pain in my lower back is more mental than physical, simply because I learned to hate squats due to the way I had to do them 3 days per week in Athletics.
    Vincere aut mori

    "The best inspiration is not to outdo others, but to outdo ourselves."

    "From the inside looking out, you can't explain it; from the outside looking in, you can't understand it."

  12. #12
    Senior Member Turboboy's Avatar
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    I've never been a big fan of the smith machine squats but if they are making your quads bigger, why worry about free weight squats? Unless you are a competitive powerlifter, I would just do what makes you grow. SM machine squats make my knees sore so I don't do them personally but everyone is different. Regular squats will definately make your lower back sore. But there is a difference between sore and injured.
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  13. #13
    Pretty Fly for an Old Guy W8_4_Me's Avatar
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    Oh, how Ilove a good smith machine -vs- free weight debate.

    I have been doing smith machine squats exclusively for 3 years now. I have realized the exact same gains as I did squatting with free weights for many years.

    The key is results. Are you getting the results you want?

    People who claim that there's a forced ROM are so full of it. If you watch your form... you go down, you go up... you keep your back straight and look at the ceiling... it's the same either way. If not, your form is off.

    Same with benching, inclines, declines, military presses, bent rows... anything.

    IMO, it is a simple matter of preference, nothing more. It has also been my experience that people who bad mouth smiths have never really trained with one. It's like saying you hate a certain food and you've never even tried it.
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  14. #14
    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    Its been my personal experience that smith squats tend to be more of a quad exercise while free squats add to it hams and glutes a little bit more but decreasing the amount of quad engagement.

    With smith squats when I tire, I tend to push back into the rack and really use my quads but with free squats when I tire I tend to start leaning forward and my lower back and hams kick in more to overcompensate for that.

    Both have their places but for me free squats are my mainstay because they tend to help utilize more stabilizers.
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  15. #15
    Pretty Fly for an Old Guy W8_4_Me's Avatar
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    Well, that's a good point, but you do OTHER leg exercises, right? I mean, you don't ONLY do squats... leg press, leg extension, leg curl... if you find yourself cheating on form, you can pick up the slack with the other leg exercises you do.
    "A winner...knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others; A loser...wants to be considered an expert by others, before he has even learned enough to know how little he knows." - Sydney Harris


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  16. #16
    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    Originally posted by W8_4_Me
    Well, that's a good point, but you do OTHER leg exercises, right? I mean, you don't ONLY do squats... leg press, leg extension, leg curl... if you find yourself cheating on form, you can pick up the slack with the other leg exercises you do.
    Right, and that tends to be exactly what I do. SLDL's and lunges are the other 2 exercises I heavily rely on. I've tended to use squats purely for the strength aspect so all the stabilizers come into effect there. Then finish with some assistance work from the other exercises.
    Last edited by WillKuenzel; 07-07-2003 at 10:18 AM.
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  17. #17
    Pretty Fly for an Old Guy W8_4_Me's Avatar
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    I still have yet to understand the major importance of stabilizers. When a person competes in a BB comp, do the judges take off points for under-developed stabilizers? No. When you are talking about BB, you are talking about "The Look".... THAT look... where in the Sam Hill do stabilizers play a role in that?
    "A winner...knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others; A loser...wants to be considered an expert by others, before he has even learned enough to know how little he knows." - Sydney Harris


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    "It's simple. If it jiggles, it's fat." - Arnold Schwarzenegger

  18. #18
    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    LOL, they don't but as I stated (coming from my personal experience) I tend to train for strength and the stabilizers come into play there.

    As far as bodybuilding goes, if you don't care about strength and you can get big legs doing just leg extensions then by all means do what works for you.



    *edit: I still have yet to learn how to type.
    Last edited by WillKuenzel; 07-07-2003 at 10:30 AM.
    What is elite?
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  19. #19
    Pretty Fly for an Old Guy W8_4_Me's Avatar
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    No, I can't... I have to work the crap out of my legs.

    On stabilizers... just like ANY muscle, I suppose your stabilizing muscles, whatever those are, would find work within the other exercises, right?

    So again... what's the difference? Results and preference.
    "A winner...knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others; A loser...wants to be considered an expert by others, before he has even learned enough to know how little he knows." - Sydney Harris


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  20. #20
    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    What's the difference? Can you free squat as much as you can smith squat?
    What is elite?
    "Those who work the hardest often complain the least." -anonymous
    Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

  21. #21
    Pretty Fly for an Old Guy W8_4_Me's Avatar
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    Actually, I don't know. I haven't down a free weight squat in so long, I couldn't say. I gave them up after I stoppped PL comps... I mean, really, what's the point? I was happy to maintain with leg press, leg extension, leg curl, the sled... that kind of thing.

    I figure I'd be very close, though. My smith isn't counter-balanced, so the weight I lift is accurate.
    "A winner...knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others; A loser...wants to be considered an expert by others, before he has even learned enough to know how little he knows." - Sydney Harris


    "It takes a big man to cry, and an even BIGGER man to laugh at that man!" - Jack Handey


    "It's simple. If it jiggles, it's fat." - Arnold Schwarzenegger

  22. #22
    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    Would you have still trained in the smith machine for PL comps?

    I'm missing where you are going with this. Are you saying smith squats are equal to free squats in terms of bodybuilding and powerlifting?
    What is elite?
    "Those who work the hardest often complain the least." -anonymous
    Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

  23. #23
    the stone cold stunner Ironman8's Avatar
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    IMO, just use whatever you're comfortable with. Easy as that.
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  24. #24
    Pretty Fly for an Old Guy W8_4_Me's Avatar
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    Originally posted by HomeYield
    Would you have still trained in the smith machine for PL comps?

    I'm missing where you are going with this. Are you saying smith squats are equal to free squats in terms of bodybuilding and powerlifting?
    No, I wouldn't use a smith to train for PL, but this is the BB board.

    What I am saying is... in the REAL world, the world where so many of the people here fail to report to, is that it doesn't rightly matter which one you use for recreational weightlifting. With the exception of a HANDFUL of people in this ENTIRE FORUM, that's the only sorta weightlifters we got here.

    What matters is the 1) you are lifting, 2) that you are using proper form... the rest is all about preference.

    For years I have listened to people bad-mouth smith machines. They look me IN THE FACE and tell me that you can't do this and you can't do that. Then they say, "So, where do YOU train?"

    "In my garage, with my smith..."

    I am living proof that you can achieve anything with a smith that you can achieve with a free weight. That doesn't mean I think they are BETTER, I just think they are DIFFERENT. Different doesn't mean that a thing is bad. It's just different.

    When you squat on a rack, you keep your body straight, you look at the ceiling, you go down at least to parallel, you come up. It's as closeto a straight up and down motion as you can make.

    Same with a smith machine, so the forced ROM is a bunch of hooey.

    So then the NEXT attack is the stabilizers. In the REAL world, they mean absolutely nothing to the novice or recreational lifter. They DO mean a lot to the PL, but that's another forum.
    "A winner...knows how much he still has to learn, even when he is considered an expert by others; A loser...wants to be considered an expert by others, before he has even learned enough to know how little he knows." - Sydney Harris


    "It takes a big man to cry, and an even BIGGER man to laugh at that man!" - Jack Handey


    "It's simple. If it jiggles, it's fat." - Arnold Schwarzenegger

  25. #25
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    Stabilizers aren't invisible muscles that don't contribute to the overall muscle mass of an individual. They get stimulated, grow larger and stronger like any other muscle group. You're only as strong as your weakest link, so keeping the stabilizers strong will allow you to work your large muscle groups harder and make you a bigger, stronger individual. The difference between a bodybuilder's and a powerlifter's physique has little to do with musculature and everything to do with bodyfat percentage.

    The more stabilizers and synergists worked, the more muscle fibers stimulated. Multi-jointed free weight exercises recruit the most muscle fibers, therefore stimulating more muscle strength and muscle growth.

    So, my answers to the original question are these:

    1) free squats

    2) The free squat should be what you base your leg workouts around. I used to do one set of deep/light smith squats right after finishing my heavy free squat sets for 20 reps or so(if I wasn't too nautious)

    3) free squats will give you the best size AND strength


    I give squats credit for changing my legs from my absolute weakest bodypart by far to my biggest/strongest muscle group. After someone called me chicken legs when I was 16, I promised myself I'd overcome the small-leg genetics I was cursed with. I started planning my weeks around my leg workouts, knowing that if I was doing legs on a certain day, I couldn't do anything else. I'd squat so hard and heavy, I'd nearly puke. I did overcome my leg curse, and for the last year, I've actually only trained legs once every 2 weeks because they grew too large relative to the rest of my body - 5'10" 205 lbs with 27-28" thighs... Now I'm 215, and my legs are about an inch smaller, so I look more proportionate. Squat squat squat

    Also, you should feel a little soreness in your lower back, but not a lot. My last leg workout I did a set of 5 with 405 and then a heavy double with 455, all without a belt, and my back was a little sore the next day, but not a lot. Proper form reduces soreness in supporting muscle groups, while strengthening your stabilizers helps you keep correct form longer with heavier weights.
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