Q&A: Using the smith machine for “base reps”

“Hey James,

Thanks for the info. I really appreciate your help and insight.

Question for you – what about lunges in the smith rack/machine thing?  (This is the big squat/press safety rack where the bar is held in rails.) In the past I have done lunges in here and they seemed valuable but I was not using that exercise for riding.

Lately, I do my dead lifts in this rack.  I can tell my strength is getting better but I’m working on increasing reps and sets first and then planning to increase weight later.  Like base miles sort of.
Anyway, lunges in the rack with a bar – any thoughts or insight? Thanks,”



I always have some thought or insight 😉


I personally don’t think that the Smith Machine has much of any place in a training program. There are several problems with the Smith Machine –

1) Unnatural movements. The Smith Machine prohibits any movement except for up and down. Our bodies are designed to work and stabilize in multiple plains of motion. Muscles are designed to work in a specific recruitment pattern and perform specific duties (prime mover, stabilizer, or assister) in order to create movement. Any strength than is not built with those demands is not going to have maximum transfer to your riding.

2) Increased risk of overuse injury. Being locked into a 2 dimensional movement will mean that your joints are exposed to the same stress in the same way each rep. This will increase joint wear and tear and increase risk of injury.

3) Gives you a false sense of strength. The main reason that people use the Smith Machine is because it is perceived to be safer. What that really means is that they can use more weight than they should and the machine keeps them from hurting themselves. If you can not lift a weight without the Smith Machine stabilizing it for you then you are not really strong enough to lift that weight. You are only as strong as your weakest link and rarely does any machine allow you to expose and focus on your true weak links.

I would also caution against the mindset of building “base reps” before adding more load. As you know I do not think that idea has much merit with cardio training and it has even less with strength training. The more reps in a set and the more total sets that you do the more likely your form is going to break down somewhere.

Keeping your reps low (like between 3-6) will help you keep laser focus on each rep. Keeping your total sets low (like between 2-4) will help you build the nervous system strength you need to ingrain the movement. Look to build your strength while maintaining good form first and then you can go back when you have your form ingrained and do higher rep deadlifts.

When in doubt with any aspect of your training always go for more intensity and less volume. And stay away from anything with the word “machine” in its name.

Hope this helps, let me know if you have any more questions…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

Social Comments:

WordPress Comments:

  1. Jade Jenny says:

    Quick comment on doing the deadlifts on a smith machine. At least from the smith machines I’ve seen you can’t even really do a real deadlift. The stops only allow the weight to sit so low. Yes the weight is sitting a dead position, but it is not sitting on the floor, it is sitting higher up, thus decreasing your range of motion, unless you elevate yourself onto a platform and do them.

    Reply • February 24 at 1:32 pm

Add a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *


Follow MTB Strength Training Systems:
James Wilson
Author and Professional
Mountain Bike Coach
James Wilson