It has been long said that there really aren’t bad exercises there are just exercise’s that are inappropriate for certain goals and body’s. The Smith machine has been around a very long time and is typically a staple in debates upon whether it has a place in helping people achieve their fitness related goals. The following points out few things wrong with this particular picture and how it may be ruining your chances at achieving your fitness dreams (and may actually be increasing your odd’s of musculoskeletal disorder!!)
1. Unnatural Movement
It is kind of weird but when you think about the exercises we do, most of them just mimic movements we make in real life. During daily living we walk, we squat to sit down, we bend over to pick some thing up, we jump on curb to dodge traffic, we carry our dog food, and pull weeds from the ground. In the gym just add time, weight or repetition to these movements and they become “exercise’s.” That doesn’t mean the movements that we are making on a daily basis are done bio-mechanically correct it just means that we allowed our brains to develop a strategy to allow us to perform them. The Smith machine allows people to perform exercise’s that look like some of these movements but prevent your brain from being challenged in the same way. Our brains don’t need to figure out a pattern to move because the machine already does it for you. With that being said, your brain isn’t challenged to negotiate muscle usage for balance, coordination, and the abilities to generate force in the same way that need to without the assistance of machines. Real life movement occurs in three dimension’s. Meaning rarely do with just lift something, without twisting or turning in predictable and repeatably pattern’s. Think about this the next time you are doing yard work. Maybe you are on your slight hill with your legs staggered as the muscles in your feet are struggling to help dictate how the rest your body should center your mass as you pull weeds from your lawn. “Natural movement,” is anything but predictable and brain needs to constantly be stimulated to figure how to do this.
2. Slow’s Fat Loss
Due to fact that balance isn’t challenged when using the Smith machine, smaller postural muscles don’t get used. One way in which we use resistance training to lose fat is to put as many muscle’s into motion as possible. The fact that the path of resistance is dictated by the machine put’s the muscle’s that are used to stabilize joint position to effectively to sleep. This is a similar thought that is shared to those that over-use weight belts. The more that we get assistance from devices or equipment to do the job that our muscular system is supposed to do, the more the brain will just decide to not to use those muscle’s. Using the Smith Squat as an example, the muscle’s of our core don’t need to work to support bar on the person’s shoulders because the bar can only travel in a vertical path whereas with a barbell free weight squat there are three dimension’s that the core must stabilize the relationship between the lower body and the upper body. The core isn’t used and less calories are spent, so more time exercising is needed to obtain fat loss goals. Again, it would just be nice if the work we put into our bodies within a fitness setting can be useful outside of that setting.
3. Injuries Increase
The fixed path of the Smith machine makes it very difficult to position yourself correctly. Using the squat as example, the low back and the knee’s are two areas that are left very susceptible to pain and dysfunction. Why?
Lower Back Rounding: Squatting is just your ankles, knees and hip bending as your lower yourself to the ground. Many of us can’t bend at our ankle real well (largely from our footwear), so on the Smith machine we move our feet forward. Feet too far forward puts your lower back in a weak position and will tend to make your lower back round. Now we end up with a rounded back with weight being forced down it from above, this opens the door for stress and strain on the lumbar vertebrae.
Shearing of the knee’s: If we adjust by putting the knee’s to far under the bar, we end up with way too much flexion at the knee joint. Disregard the fact that your quadricep muscles are going to get a great workout at the expense of putting your glutes to sleep for just one second. Understand that this much bending with repetition does harm to the shock absorbers in your knee capsule. The meniscus in your knee is incredbiliy durable and strong but it can’t rebuild itself after it is worn thin with the combination of improper loading and excessive movement.
If you are hurt, you have to avoid fitness activities. This makes all fitness goals impossible.
4. Lack of Visual Cue’s
Although most of us have been squatting since we were 18 months old or so, that doesn’t mean we are bio-mechanically correct in our performance. The problem with the above picture isn’t just the Smith Machine. Maybe the biggest issue I have is with the mirrors. I am in the business of teaching healthy movement (www.romfit.com). To do so, I must use all of the sense’s available to inspire my clients to learn to move better. With that being said I need my clients to be able to see the instructions that I am giving them in addition to feeling them. I know that you are probably thinking that makes no sense because in the real world mirrors aren’t present everywhere you go and perform movement. That’s exactly true but a progression exist’s in which a visual cue is needed initially and disregarded later as movement is successfully adapted. The mirror in the photo only allow’s for half of the picture. For instance, one would not be allowed the opportunity to observe what happens at the foot, ankle and knee. This is pretty important because the foot and the hip are responsible for telling the knee what to do and ultimately for the health of the knee.
5. There’s No Weight on the Bar
This isn’t just problem with this picture but a problem in general that folks heading to the weight room seem to have. Lifting heavy weight’s fixes things. If you want to “burn” fat, you need muscle. Muscle is denser and much more metabolically active than fat. This means three very important facts:
Number 1: You put it in motion, it will create heat. Heat is energy, energy is calories. The calories you spend, the fat you lose. It really is that simple. GET STRONG!
Number 2: Muscle takes more calories to preserve. This means that during rest it takes more calories to preserve muscular tissue. This gives you more bang for your buck while you rest but also allows you the opportunity to eat more food and get away with it without gaining extra fat you don’t want.
Number 3: Since it is denser, it takes up less space. So maybe you scale size doesn’t tumble down, but your pant’s size just vanishes.