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Dumbell Squats Vs. Smith Machine Squats
The squat is sometimes called the king of weightlifting exercises, and with good reason. The massive quadriceps are the prime movers, and the rest of the legs also get into the act. The core stabilizes the body and gets a workout as well. Although the traditional powerlifting squat involves a free weight barbell across the shoulders, there are many variations of the movement. Dumbbells and the Smith machine are two common pieces of equipment used to perform the squat.
Perform the Dumbbell Squat
The dumbbell squat involves standing with a dumbbell in each hand with the feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping the back straight and looking forward, the performer bends the knees until the thigh is parallel with the floor. Then the performer reverses the motion.
Squat with the Smith Machine
The Smith machine is a suspended barbell that follows a track. It only moves in a single, vertical plane. The performer stands with the bar on the shoulders, feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping the back straight, he bends his knees until his thighs are parallel to the floor. Then the performer reverses the motion.
Dumbbell Squat Movement and Safety Issues
The dumbbell squat is a free weight exercise. Analysis of the movement done by kinesiologists shows that it involves more stabilizer muscles than the machine squat, and since the performer holds the dumbbells in her hands, it also involves the upper body to a limited extent. This can also be a major disadvantage since the amount of weight that can be used is limited by grip strength, which means that it is much more difficult to get leg development from a barbell or even Smith machine squat. The main advantage of the dumbbell squat over other squats is that it is safer to do without a spotter since there is no danger of having a bar fall on the performer. The advantage over a Smith machine is that it works more muscles and is a more effective core exercise.
Smith Squat Pros and Cons
The Smith machine squat is a machine exercise. Since the bar only moves in a single plane, it does a large portion of the stabilizing. Since the hands are not involved, more weight can be used than in a dumbbell squat. This factor, combined with the reduced stabilizing, means that the Smith machine is better for hitting the quads hard specifically. Additionally, the Smith squat is especially appropriate for those just starting to squat. The major disadvantage with the Smith machine is that unlike with free weights, the performer doesn’t fall over if he uses bad form. That means that performers can get away with standing out of position or bending their backs in strange directions, increasing their risk of injury. When using the Smith machine, as with any exercise, it is important to learn the proper form and progress carefully.
When to Choose Dumbbells or the Smith Machine
Consider your goals before choosing the Smith machine or dumbbell squat. The dumbbell squat is a good option as part of a core training program, while the Smith machine is better for additional strength and development of the thighs. With both, focus first on learning the proper form before progressing, since neither has been shown to be any safer than any other type of squat, and both are just as safe as any other weight training exercise when done properly.
- Ex Rx: Dumbbell Squat
- Ex Rx: Analysis of Smith Squat
- Lorenzetti S, Ostermann M, Zeidler F, et al. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018;10:14. doi:10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7
- Schellenberg F, Taylor WR, Lorenzetti S. Towards evidence based strength training: a comparison of muscle forces during deadlifts, goodmornings and split squats. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2017;9:13. doi:10.1186/s13102-017-0077-x
- Kuvačić, Goran & Padulo, Johnny & Milić, Mirjana. Smith Machine exercise: the key points. Acta Kinesiologica 11 (2017) Issue 2: 19-29
- Lee H, Jung M, Lee KK, Lee SH. A 3D human-machine integrated design and analysis framework for squat exercises with a Smith machine. Sensors (Basel). 2017;17(2):299. Published 2017 Feb 6. doi:10.3390/s17020299
- Saeterbakken AH, Olsen A, Behm DG, Bardstu HB, Andersen V. The short- and long-term effects of resistance training with different stability requirements. PLoS One. 2019;14(4):e0214302. Published 2019 Apr 1. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0214302
- Schwanbeck S, Chilibeck PD, Binsted G. A comparison of free weight squat to Smith machine squat using electromyography. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(9):2588-91. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b1b181
Dave Abbass has been writing for four years. He began writing as a member of his high school newspaper and was editor-in-chief in his final year. He currently writes at the Xaverian Weekly, the newspaper of St Francis Xavier University, where he has been a senior reporter and sports editor.