Squats are one of the best resistance exercises that can be performed for improving lower extremity and core strength. There are also many different variations of this exercise and numerous squat exercise machines that can be utilised.

For years the debate has raged on… which is best for developing strength? Machines or free weights? There are many arguments for the use of both in order to bring about optimal strength improvements.

Are squat machines effective?

The major benefit of using assisted squat machines is the fact that typically, you will be capable of lifting a heavier load in comparison to a free weight variation. This comes down to the fact that machines only move in one plane and as a result, the machine controls the stability and balance of the movement. This, in turn, means that the user does not waste energy by expending energy through stabilisation and balance and being capable of moving heavier loads may cause greater strength gains. Another benefit of machine-based exercise is that it is useful for teaching beginners the movement patterns required for specific exercises. There are many squat machine types which will allow you to learn the different squatting variations such as the front and overhead squat.

Free weight exercises, on the other hand, require a great deal of stabilisation, coordination and balance. This impacts one’s ability to lift the same types of loads as with a machine. However, the greatest benefits of free weight exercises comes down to the recruitment of muscles. Again, due to the instability of the movements, the body must engage more musculature in order to support and drive the movement – this is something even the most perfect squat machine fails to replicate.

Most fitness professionals will agree that the best option is to combine both machine based and free weight exercises for optimal strength gains. In this case, we can use the smith machine squat as a fixed resistance exercise and a barbell squat as a free weighted exercise.

Smith machine vs squat rack

Firstly, what is the smith machine? It is simply a barbell which is attached to two vertical poles. The bar simply slides up and down the two poles in a fixed range of motion. The smith’s is a fairly adaptable piece of kit which allows you to perform a range of effective strengthening exercises such as: the smith machine deadlift, shoulder press, bench press and row. With the smith’s, as mentioned previously, you may find that you can lift more weight with it than you can with a free weight squat. However, this is not to say it is the better option.

Are smith machines good for squats?

smith machines squats

There is a slight issue with the smith squat and it specifically refers to learning the squatting movement. If you are a beginner be aware that, using the smith’s may be a good place to start, it does not actually teach you the proper mechanics of a free weight, functional squat. The movement patterns for both exercises are actually very different. By all means start with the smith machine but try to progress onto the free weight method in a relatively short space of time.

The free weight barbell squat is a fantastic full body exercise – one of the best exercises you can do for total body strength and functional improvement. Not only will you challenge and improve your strength over time, you will also see massive improvements in terms of balance, coordination and movement. One of the greatest benefits of free weight squatting is the improvement seen in core strength. Although the legs drive the movement, the core must work to stabilise the body during the movement which will cause an increase in overall core strength

How to do squats with bar

Squatting technique does tend to vary from person to person – predominately down to differing limb lengths and physique. However, the form is widely taught as follows.

  • Get under the bar and place it on the “meaty” part of the upper back
  • Grip the bar with both hands just outside the shoulders
  • Lift the bar off the rack and step back
  • Set your stance with the feet slightly wider than the hips
  • Point the toes slightly out the way
  • Push the chest up and brace your core by squeezing the muscle of the trunk
  • Drop the hips back and down towards the floor
  • Drive back up by pushing through the heels
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