Smith Machine vs. Squat Rack

Smith machine vs. squat rack: what are they? What exercises can you do on them? How are they different?


Both types of equipment can be beneficial for weight training and targeting various areas of your body. The Smith machine and squat rack appear to serve similar purposes, but there are quite a few differences in how you set up your exercises, how your body moves, and the price of each.

Smith Machine

The Smith machine is a popular piece of equipment that has a barbell attached to a steel frame. On the frame are several slots, or safety catches, for the barbell to rest on. There is no flat bench connected to the Smith machine, but you can easily roll one into place underneath it if you want to train your upper body.


You can find the Smith machine in almost any commercial gym. Typically athletes newer to weight lifting use the Smith machine. But that’s not to say it’s used only by newer weight lifters, as many advanced athletes will use the Smith machine for a range of movements to target specific areas on the body.


Some of the most common uses for the Smith machine are squats, rows, and flat bench press. This machine is lucrative to newer gym-goers because it provides guidance and stability, allowing its user to feel confident about training on their own. You should also think about using the Smith machine if you’re at the gym by yourself, without a spotter, since the barbell is completely attached to the frame.


A great benefit to using the Smith machine is that you have a built-in spotter. The slotted spots on each side of the machine allow you to lock the barbell into place with a quick twist of the wrists. Additionally, there are blocks and safety bars you can lock into place to prevent the barbell from moving below a certain point.


This fact is primarily why the Smith machine is a popular choice for those newer to weight lifting. That doesn’t mean you should go crazy with the weight and reps you do; you still need to be responsible and know your limits to avoid injury.


Because the barbell is attached to the Smith machine frame and can move up and down, it’s easier to position the bar for your exercises, like hip thrusts. You’ll need to determine the correct height to position your hips under the bar and then adjust the barbell to your desired starting position.


On a squat rack, you have to use the plates you add to the bar to act as a support to raise it enough to slide under it. With the Smith machine, since the rack has slots, you need to raise the bar to your desired height, add the weight, and then you’re good to go.


As beneficial as the Smith machine can be to newer weight lifters, it’s often frowned upon by advanced lifters in the fitness community.


The fixed path of the barbell can force the user into an unnatural or set range of motion. On top of that, you might have trouble removing the barbell from the slots as you need to twist your wrists to unlock the barbell from the safety slots at the same time that you pull up to release it.


The positioning of the bar may even be uncomfortable for some; if you find that’s the case, it’s best not to use the Smith machine. If you’re not careful, performing exercises incorrectly on the Smith machine can lead to injury, especially while squatting.

Squat Rack

The squat (or power) rack is a piece of weight lifting equipment with a metal frame or cage with support pillars and hooks. You can adjust the hooks that hold the barbell in place up or down depending on your height and the type of exercise you’re performing.


Unlike the Smith machine, the squat rack is considered free weight, since there are no guides or extra bars to keep you on a set path. Once you un-rack the barbell and step back, you’re on your own.


This machine is probably one of the most popular pieces of equipment you’ll find in the gym, and typically the busiest since this is where you’ll do a lot of your compound movements, like squats and deadlifts.


While people newer to weight lifting often use the Smith machine, it’s not the opposite for the squat rack. Everyone should use this machine regardless of expertise level; as long as you’re safe and know your limits, the squat rack is a great place to start training strength and stability.


Performing exercises in a squat rack is a great way to build strength and increase stability, especially in your core. The free range of motion forces you to stabilize yourself by engaging your core and bracing before you perform the movement.


You can complete many exercises in the Smith machine, but the squat rack is more advantageous in regards to versatility. If you’re building a home gym, purchasing a squat rack is the way to go.


You’ll have a place to do squats, deadlifts, lunges, and other lower body movements. In addition, you also have a place to do flat bench press, overhead press, rows, and other mid-to-upper body exercises with no restriction on how you train.


There aren’t a ton of disadvantages to using the squat rack. But if you have a weak core and poor stability, it might be difficult for you to perform exercises, especially squats, on the squat rack. At the same time, it’s beneficial to use the squat rack to improve those deficiencies.


However, if you’re inexperienced in weight lifting and are without a spotter, using the squat rack can be dangerous if you exceed your limits and don’t know how to fail. Always make sure you understand how to use the squat rack and how to bail from the bar if you find yourself unable to push the weight.


Another potential issue while using a squat rack is the setup for certain movements. If you want to perform deadlifts or hip thrusts, you’ll need to find something to raise the barbell off the ground so you can add weight to it.


You can use a plate to prop the bar up so you can add a plate to each side. Once you have at least one on each side, it’s easier to load the bar from there.


The Smith machine and squat rack both offer you the ability to train your entire body. Both pieces of equipment can be set up so you can perform a variety of exercises such as:


  • Back squats
  • Front squats
  • Split squats
  • Hip thrusts
  • Traditional and sumo deadlifts
  • Romanian deadlifts (or RDLs)
  • Single-leg deadlifts
  • Lunges and reverse lunges
  • Calf raises
  • Flat bench press
  • Overhead press
  • Bent over row
  • Regular and behind-the-back shrugs
  • Pullups
  • Hanging leg raises

Price: Smith Machine vs. Squat Rack

If you’re trying to build a home gym, you want to optimize your space and get the most out of each piece of equipment you purchase.


Smith machines start around $900 but can cost up to $5,000. While it includes the bar, of course, you’ll still need to purchase all the weight you’ll want to use with it, which can run you another few hundred dollars, at minimum.


The average cost of a squat rack cage starts around $300 and can run you up to $600, depending on the brand/type. The rack doesn’t typically come with a barbell, weights, or a flat bench, so you’ll need to purchase those separately.


As you can see, the squat rack cage is typically less expensive than the Smith machine.

Safety and Injuries

Being mindful of your safety is crucial any time you’re doing something strenuous with your body, and weight training is no different. Several factors play into your safety while training.

Proper Form

Whether you’re using the Smith machine or the squat rack, you need to make sure you practice proper form on each movement you perform.


Proper form on the Smith machine during exercises such as squats may be more difficult because of the fixed bar path. It’s very important to be conscious of this if you decide to use the Smith machine for these exercises. It’s best to use a squat rack so you can build the appropriate core strength and stability.

Stretching and Mobility

You must warm up properly before you begin your workout.


Remaining flexible will allow you to comfortably perform exercises with no impingements and will foster proper form within each movement.


Mobility isn’t just the warm-ups you do before you get ready to squat or deadlift. Mobility is what you do outside of the gym that will benefit each of your workouts and prevent you from sustaining any injuries.


Greater mobility allows you to train at the edge of your flexibility for a stronger body overall. 


Proper nutrition will help you sustain your lifts. You need to ensure you’re taking in adequate vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to keep your body functioning at its best.


This fact is especially important if you’re looking to lose weight. Even though you may be in a caloric deficit to lose fat, you need to make sure you’re still eating at least the minimum amount of calories that keep you alive, or at your basal metabolic rate (BMR).


There are a ton of calorie calculators you can find online, like the one from Mayo Clinic, to help you find a starting point, but to truly determine what works for you, you’ll have to experiment. If you’re still stumped, contact your doctor for more guidance.

Consult Your Doctor

Consulting your physician if you sustain any injury


What is a smith machine?

A piece of equipment with a barbell attached to a steel frame with several slots, or safety catches, for the barbell to rest on. 

What is a squat rack?

A squat rack is a piece of weight lifting equipment with a metal frame or cage that has support pillars and hooks.

Which one is better?

Between the Smith machine and the squat rack, the squat rack is the better option. Though you can perform a variety of exercises on both of them, the squat rack is most beneficial to your progress overall.

Because you’re forced to stabilize yourself in every movement, you’ll build better stability and a strong core.


About the author
Jason Hughes
Follow Me