The Smith Machine-aided squats have been the subject of much debate recently. Are they better than free weight squats?
As usual here at UsFitties, we’re interested in what the research says, not just what we might ‘think’ or ‘feel’. So what do those who study these things have to say on the matter?
Squats are a superb exercise. A compound, full body movement that focuses primarily on the thighs, hips, glutes, quads and hamstrings, it also helps to strengthen the bones, ligaments and tendons throughout the lower body. We consider squats a vital exercise for all.
In research from the College of Kinesiology (University of Saskatchewan) by Schwanbeck et. al., EMG activity was measured in a number of muscles while subjects performed squats using a Smith Machine and when using free weights.
EMG activity was significantly higher by 34%, 26%, and 49% respectively in the gastrocnemius (calf), biceps femoris (thigh), and vastus medialis (quads) muscles when using free weights compared to the Smith Machine squat.
More importantly, overall muscle activation (when taking a combined view of all the EMG recordings in the study) show that free weight squats gave 43% better performance than Smith Machine squats.
Some experts also explain that since the Smith Machine offers movement only on a fixed plane of motion, the body can’t adjust the squat for your particular anatomical structure, which actually could compound the issues of using the device and negate any perceived ‘safety’ aspect of using the machine.
In the end, it seems that free weight squats out-gun Smith Machine squats on almost every level. With good form and ensuring you stay safe by having someone spot you, free weight squats are, in the long-term, a safer and higher performing option.
[Image Credit: Sanchom]