Smith Machine Safety

The smith machine is a relatively simple piece of equipment, commonly found in gyms everywhere. Based on my keen skills of observation (whenever I am not scoping out the spandex babes in the gym) I have watched it used improperly or even worse - placed improperly in gyms from coast to coast. How the hell do you use a smith machine the wrong way? I mean all you do is lift the counterweighted bar up and let it back down, right? So how do you mess this up?

If your smith machine has a slight angle (7 degrees is the industry norm) in the side carrier rails, there really is an ergonomically proper and improper way of using it for certain exercises, and using it improperly, you can really screw yourself up. Improperly squatting and performing certain shoulder exercise can wreak havoc on your joints, especially the lower back and rotator cuff so take the time to make sure you and your iron brothers and sisters are using the smith machine as it was designed to be used.

I am writing this article because I have spoken to so many of you who have lobbied hard within your departments to get the funds (and I know how hard some of you are working to get these funds from an already tight budget) to buy a smith machine, and my fear is that after all the work of getting the money and finally getting the machine, someone uses it wrong, gets hurt, and then the department wants all the gym equipment "outta there before someone else gets hurt".

I spoke to Wyatt at Nebula equipment manufacturing in Ohio in researching information for you and he agreed on how many smith machines he had seen used wrong. Nebula manufactures probably some of the most bullet proof gym equipment you have ever seen. Need 2000 pounds to perform leg presses, or a smith machine that safely holds 6 plates on each side? Nebula is your equipment! They are the experts and Wyatt (their national sales manager) told me is that the angle of the carriage is set at usually 7 degrees. Below is a list of exercises that are commonly performed wrong and the correct way to perform each exercise.

I hope you all find this helpful in preventing an injury and maximizing your results from your hard work in the gym. Amy Kassouf of Southern Florida is the beautiful fitness model in this feature and the location was provided by our very good friend Dave Humann of Fitness Gallery in Denver, they are Colorado's premier gym equipment store.


Carrier Angle Direction


Up and to the Back

Military Presses

Up and Out


Upright Rows

Up and Inward

Flat Bench

Push Out and Downward

Incline Bench

Push Up and Forward

Right way-
The carrier guide angles up and back allowing your back to naturally open up while squatting. Amy's foot position is perfect too!

Wrong way
See how the guides angle up and forward? Amy is fun to watch even when I tell her to do them the wrong way - don’t you agree?

Right way
See how the carrier angles up and forward—this angle minimizes stress on the rotator cuff

Wrong way
In this angle the carrier is angles up and back, causing excess stress to the shoulder joint and eventual injury

Right way
Notice how Amy is upright rowing up and inward? This follows your bodies natural line of movement although poor Amy can only row up so high!