Maybe you usually only do barbell bench and tried the smith machine for the first time, or maybe you just can’t seem to bench as much on the smith machine as a barbell.
Why Is Smith Machine Bench Harder?
You aren’t using your stabilizing muscles. The smith machine also forces a fixed movement path that is straight up and down. If you never use the smith machine, you won’t be used to this.
Takes Out Your Stabilizing Muscles
Your pectorals and triceps are the primary muscles that move the weight during the bench press. Your stabilizer muscles are your shoulders and forearms, as well as your core.
What exactly are stabilizer muscles?
They help maintain the optimal position of a joint by helping with joint stiffness. They work together to assist the larger muscle groups while performing an exercise. Having strong stabilizers help the larger muscles move more weight.
Here’s some exercises to strengthen the stabilizing muscles used in the smith machine bench press. The bottoms up kettle bell bench press is a great way to build the stabilizer muscles that take part in the bench press.
Begin by getting in regular bench press position. Keep your abs engaged to keep your back pressed against the bench. Press the kettle bell up using a very tight grip. Then lower it back down slowly. Don’t allow the elbows to pass to far below the body.
It will be very difficult if you’ve never done it as your stabilizing muscles will be worked. However, after adding this into your training, you should notice a big improvement in your bench.
The dumbbell bench press is another great exercise to strengthen the stabilizer muscles. It will make sure each side of the chest is strengthened equally, as each side is holding a weight. Using a barbell, one side of the chest can take over more than the other causing muscle imbalances.
Make sure to use full range of motion and squeeze your chest at the top.
Shoulder press and abdominal workouts will help strengthen your shoulders and core, which will further assist with stronger stabilizers.
Different Range of Motion
The smith machine has a fixed movement of straight up and down. Our body are meant to have a curve range of motion, hence why most people’s bench bar path is up and back.
This may cause pain or difficulties for people trying to use the smith machine.
You will have to make sure that you position yourself properly under the bar to compensate for this. Make sure when the bar drops, it touches your lower chest. This will take out some momentum and force as you cannot push the bar back or use your legs as much.
But this will mean that your chest is the main muscle group worked.
How to Improve Your Smith Machine Bench
Increase frequency, the more you do an exercise the stronger you will get at it.
Improve the muscles used, mainly the chest and triceps. Flat dumbbell bench press, cable flys, and machine presses will all do this. For triceps consider close grip bench press, skull crushers, and any cable attachment push downs.
Warm up and stretch properly before your set. Stretch out your shoulders and chest to prevent tight muscles and injury.
Getting some blood into your lats is always a great idea as it gives you a more sturdy area to push off of when you bench. Go ahead do a couple sets of light lat pull downs or resistance band pull downs before you bench. The goal here isn’t to go heavy and breakdown the muscle, but rather to warm it up.
If you’re having trouble feel the movement in your chest do the same with your chest muscles. Do a couple sets of lightweight cable fly’s and practice contracting your chest. Then you will feel the bench press more in your chest.
Use progressive overload. Each time you bench, either add weight, reps, or intensity. This will ensure that you’re getting stronger each session.
Smith Machine Or Barbell Bench?
The smith machine forces the movement along a straight fixed path, straight and up down. When bench pressing properly, you move the bar up and back. The human body moves along a curved path, so the smith machine is not a natural movement.
This means that the smith machine can cause shoulder pain for some.
The smith machine Is considered safer so may be a better choice for beginners. This is because the safety hooks can stop the bar from crushing you if you can’t get the weight up.
You can load more weight up on the barbell bench leading to more muscle breakdown and growth. This is because you can incorporate leg drive and use your stabilizer muscles to move more weight.
For more information on the barbell bench press, click here.
The smith machine does not require a lot of form to be used. You simply press the weight up and down, making easier activation of the chest, without having to focus on form.
However, there are a lot of considerations that have to be taken into account for the barbell bench to ensure safety and proper chest activation.
The weight of the bar should also be taken into consideration for the two lifts. A standard Olympic barbell used in the bench press is 45lbs or 20kgs. A smith machine bar is lighter because the cables that glide it up and down reduce the weight.
To conclude, the barbell bench press is better for all around hypertrophy. It will build up your stabilizer muscles more. However, a smith machine may be safer for some and may allow more weight, meaning more muscle breakdown.
Try out both and see which works better for you.