Smith Machine Bar Weight – Your Questions Answered

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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The Smith machine is one of the most divisive items of equipment in the gym. 

I love Smith machines. They’re practical, versatile and despite what many people think, they’re actually an effective way to train many exercises.

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One of the reasons people don’t always like them comes from the Smith machine bar weight. There’s no standard weight of a Smith machine bar, so depending on the machine you’re using, the actual weight will be very different from standard barbells. When you’re chasing performance or serious numbers, this can be an issue.

In this article we’re going to answer many of the questions you might have about Smith machines and the exact weight of the bar.

Why do you need to know the Smith machine bar weight?

Knowing the weight of the Smith machine bar is important for a few reasons. First, it allows you to calculate the total weight of the weight stack that you are using. This is important for tracking your progress and making sure that you are challenging yourself appropriately.

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Second, it allows you to compare your lifts on the Smith machine to your lifts on free weights. This can be helpful for determining which type of training is more challenging for you. It’s also useful if you train in different gyms and only have access to Smith machines in one of them.

A common mistake is assuming the Smith machine bar weighs the same across all of the different Smith machines. 

Common Smith machine bar weights

The weight of the Smith machine bar can vary depending on the manufacturer and model of the machine. The general range of Smith machine bar weights is between 15 and 45 pounds. The 15 pounds end is usually on the domestic market end, where the cheaper materials and counterbalanced bars affect the weight.

The Smith machine bars weighing 30-40 Lbs are generally the commercial models made with higher quality materials. In some cases, they’ll include a sticker informing you of the actual bar weights, so you won’t be left unsure. 

If you’re in a gym, there’s a better than not chance that you’ll be using one of the commercial Smith machines.

Practical ways to weigh the Smith machine bar

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If you are not sure how much the Smith machine bar at your gym weights, there are a few practical ways to measure it…

One way is to weigh yourself with the bar on your back. Then, weigh yourself again without the bar. The difference in weight will be the weight of the bar.

Another way to measure the Smith machine bar weight is to use a bathroom scale. Place the bar on the scale and record the weight. You’ll need to place the scale on a couple of plates, or a plyo box to get it high enough off the floor.

Another way is to use a luggage scale – lift the bar up using the luggage scale, let it settle and then you’ll be able to see the correct weight of the Smith machine bar.

Just make sure the bar doesn’t have any plates on so you get the true bar weight!

Different types of Smith machine…

Not all Smith machines are made in the same way. This means getting an accurate weight reading of the bar can be difficult. In this section we’ll look at the key differences in the common types of Smith machines, helping you understand them better. 

Counter Balanced Smith Machines

Some Smith machines have counterbalanced bars. This means that the weight of the bar is offset by weights, or pulleys that are included in the machine. Counterbalanced bars typically weigh less than non-counterbalanced bars.

A counter balanced Smith machine bar is much lighter in the movement action, making it hard to establish a true bar weight. 

Linear Bearing Smith Machines

Linear bearing Smith machines use a different type of guide rails than other Smith machines. The bar on a linear bearing Smith machine slides on a track that is made smoother with the inclusion of ball bearings

They’re generally considered a good option, but you have to make sure the ball bearings are maintained and lubricated, otherwise the steel rails can start to stick, impacting the user experience. 

Is the Smith machine bar considered ‘true’ weight?

The weight of the Smith machine bar is not considered to be ‘true’ weight in the same way that the weight of an Olympic barbell is considered to be ‘true’ weight.

This is because the fixed range of motion on the Smith machine, plus the use of counterbalance weight can make it easier to lift on one. However, the weight of the Smith machine bar is still a useful measure for tracking your progress and comparing your lifts to other people.

Factoring in the Smith machine bar weight with your training

When you are training on the Smith machine, it is important to factor in the weight of the bar. This will help you to ensure that you are challenging yourself.

You need to make sure you know the true weight of the bar, so you can get the correct weight of plates on.

It is also important to be aware of the limitations of the Smith machine. The fixed range of motion can make it difficult to recruit the stabilizer muscles. The natural movement paths that a regular barbell would take are also removed from the exercises, so if you are ne

w to weight lifting, it is a good idea to start with free weights.

Smith machines may not allow a natural path of movement, but they are still very useful. You’ll still be able to recruit the primary muscles during an exercise, and they’re a valuable item of kit to add into your workout routine if you have access to one. 

Are Smith machines actually good for training with?

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One of the questions many people have is whether or not the Smith machine is any good. If it’s not, why bother with it? 

The thing is, they’re great. 

Research has backed this point before. A study published in the April 2020 edition of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research titled ‘Effects of Training With Free Weights Versus Machines on Muscle Mass, Strength, Free Testosterone, and Free Cortisol Levels‘ concluded that…

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‘…training with free weights or machines resulted in similar increases in muscle mass and strength.’

Sure, the Smith Machine does have its issues though.

It’s not a great thing to use for squatting, as the stabilizing muscles that control movement aren’t activated as well as they would be with a free-weight squat. In fact, stabilizing muscle activation is on average 43% lower on a Smith machine compared to free weight squats, according to research from 2009 titled ‘A Comparison of Free Weight Squat to Smith Machine Squat Using Electromyography‘.

The different set ups mean that unlike a standardized barbell, there’s differences between Smith machine bar weights, so lifters are often confused about starting weight, or what weight barbell they’re lifting. 

The other factor is that the different bar paths and types of machines will effectively reduce the barbell weight, so it’s hard to accurately measure progress and performance using a Smith machine. If you don’t know what the accurate weight you’re lifting is, how can you claim a PR for example?

The Smith machine – what is it?

The Smith machine is a weight training machine that uses a fixed barbell that usually runs on a vertical or 7-degree angled path. It is designed to be a self-spotting machine thanks to a rotating barbell and safety hooks that hold the barbell in place. 

The rotating bar allows the bar to be twisted, locking it in place at any point of the lift. This means if you’re struggling to complete a rep, you can just rotate the bar, secure it in place and then get out. The built-in safety mechanism is perfect for beginners, or advanced athletes wanting to perform strength training workouts without a spotter.

Are there practical benefits to training with a Smith machine?

We’ve already seen in the research earlier that Smith Machine are effective, but are they practical as well? Do they justify their place in a gym set up? Let’s take a look…

The obvious practical benefit is the safety features, as we’ve just discussed. There are others though…

The fixed bar path allows for a more controlled range of motion than free weights, which can be helpful for beginners or people who are recovering from injuries. A balanced weight means there’s less chance of poor technique, which is a safety aspect in itself. 

There’s also a lot of versatility from a single item. You can press with it, row with it, use it as a stabilization point for split squats, inverted rows, inverted leg presses. If you train in a home gym, it’s an effective way of adding versatility to your set up

They cater for a wide range of sizes, so they’re great in a home gym. Several members of the family can use the same item. 

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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