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Smith machines are a popular strength and muscle building tool in commercial gyms. But what can you do if you want to train at home without a Smith machine? How can you replace it without actually buying one?
The best home gym alternative to a smith machine is a free barbell and power cage. The power cage can limit the risks of using free barbells while having none of the drawbacks of a Smith machine. Other alternatives are dumbbells and a functional trainer.
Find out more about what Smith machines do and how to best replace one if you don’t have access to one below.
Home Gym Smith Machine Alternatives
There is no way to replace a Smith machine with no equipment. To properly replace one at home, you’ll have to invest in some equipment one way or another.
Here are the best setups that can be used for a home gym and can replace a Smith machine. Of course nothing is exactly the same as a Smith machine. These setups below have their own pros and cons.
Just want a smith machine? They might not be expensive as you think. Find out more here.
1. Barbell + Coach
As you might have gathered from the paragraphs describing the problems with smith machines, a normal barbell is the best option to replace a smith machine at home. Just a barbell is not enough though. To stay safe, you want a full power rack as well. This is what makes using a barbell at home as safe as possible. A power rack has safety pins you can set at different heights to catch the bar if you would drop it.
Just a squat stand isn’t recommended for a home gym. Since you’ll be lifting alone, a full rack is a safer option. Full racks have four upright posts in between which you do your exercises. So the safety pins limit how far the barbell can go down, the upright posts limit how far forward and backwards the barbell can fall. You create a cage around yourself but within that cage, the barbell can move freely.
If you’ve always used a smith machine and are starting with a free barbell, start with very light weights and it’s a good idea to get some coaching on your exercises to make sure you’re using good form.
A free barbell is the best alternative to a Smith machine and is perfectly possible to get in a home gym. The safety of a Smith machine can almost be matched by using a sturdy power rack and it has none of the problems.
The safety is something you might be concerned about and that’s reasonable. There are two things that will mitigate most of the risk of a free barbell compared to a Smith machine:
- Good form (coaching)
- Power cage
With a free barbell, having good exercise form is very important. Actually in a Smith machine it’s very important too but you can get away with more without falling over. A free barbell has to be handled correctly or you will tip over or lose control. Getting some coaching is advisable if you don’t have any experience lifting free weights.
On a Smith machine, the injury risk is actually not lower than with barbells. That’s because a Smith bar doesn’t move horizontally so as long as you hold onto the bar, you won’t fall over. However, that leads to people using bad form on the Smith machine and with bad form the injury risk shoots up.
The other part of the puzzle is a power rack. This is a big rack you can use the barbell inside of. The upright posts and safety pins can catch the barbell if something were to go wrong. The combination of good form and a power rack is actually quite safe. Of course you’ll have to use some common sense and be careful with your body but that’s the same with every type of exercise.
Are still a little too intimidated by free barbells? Maybe a set of dumbbells is more your cup of tea. Barbells are great for lifting heavy weights and therefore building a lot of muscle and strength. Dumbbells on the other hand are better for smaller exercises and are great for building up those stabilizing muscles. That’s because dumbbells can move separately from each other unlike barbells.
Because dumbbells are generally lighter and you can’t really get stuck under one, they are a bit safer to use than barbells and still have many of the benefits of a free barbell. If you use a set of adjustable dumbbells, it’ll also be cheaper and smaller than a full barbell setup.
Dumbbells are the most compact and cheapest way to replace a Smith machine at home. Dumbbells don’t have the risks of free barbells because they’re usually used with lighter weights and you can’t be pinned under one.
Also, dumbbells are easy to drop if something were to go wrong. If you’re under a barbell, it can be difficult to get away from under it if something goes wrong and the weight is heavy. Dumbbells are easily dropped in most situations.
3. Functional trainer
A functional trainer is a machine with two weight stacks attached to two cables. The cable ends are adjustable in height so you can push or pull from pretty much every height. The weight stacks just move up and down and the cables will go back to their starting position. A cable is obviously more flexible than the guide rods of a Smith machine but safety wise, a functional trainer is much the same. Actually it’s even better since you still have to use the stabilizing muscles to get the cable to move in the right direction.
A functional trainer with the normal D handle attachments would already be a good alternative to a Smith machine but there is a really cool attachment that makes it even better. A double cable barbell attachment is a bar with eyelets to attach a cable to on both ends. This means you practically have a barbell which is connected to a machine. There is just a little more movement in the barbell than with a Smith machine but as you can read above, that’s not a bad thing.
With the right attachments, a functional trainer is hard to beat because you have a lot of exercise options that can be performed safely, train your whole body in a way that creates functional real world strength. Barbells are better for really heavy loads though.
A functional trainer can be used to closely mimic a Smith machine with the right cable attachments. Functional trainers are large and expensive pieces of equipment but they are much more multifunctional than a smith machine and build better real world strength.
With cable exercises you have more freedom of movement than with a Smith machine so you’re forced to perform exercises with better form and build more real world strength. It also allows you to perform exercises with a natural movement pattern making the risk of injury lower.
To get the barbell feel like you do with a Smith machine, there are cable attachments available that make it feel very similar. The barbell cable attachment is a short bar with an attachment point on both sides. So you can attach both ends to a cable and you’ll have a barbell.
And also, there are some functional trainers that have a built in Smith machine. That could be something worth checking out.
4. Smith machine
Really just want a Smith machine? You can get them for your home gym as well. They aren’t even as expensive as you might think. If you’re planning to buy a Smith machine for your home gym, consider buying one that’s combined with another piece of equipment.
The most common with a Smith machine is a power cage or functional trainer. A combined smith machine and power cage means you can choose to use a free barbell or the smith bar. This is a great combination and can help you transition slowly from one way of training to another.