The Smith machine is a controlled alternative to free weights. It has a standard barbell set up that runs on controlled tracks attached to two columns. The columns themselves are fitted with adjustments for varied heights. The Smith machine’s set up allows for precise and controlled lifting.
However, using free weights will allow a lifter more freedom of movement, letting them develop a more natural motion in exercise routines. The controlled motion of the Smith machine can also add pressure to people’s joints and ligaments, leading to possible injury over prolonged usage. Studies also show that the amount of weight an athlete can lift on a Smith machine is about ten percent less than what they can lift using free weights.
Cable machines are the most common type and can be found in just about any gym setting. That being said, they may not be the best option to incorporate into a workout routine. Cable machines may allow the user to isolate and work on areas of their body with more freedom of movement than the Smith machine, causing less chance of injury due to range limitations.
However, cable machines have limitations that may not be suitable for an active weight lifter that is more accustomed to free weights. It would be better for an active lifter to use some cable machines to accentuate workouts in specialized areas, while fitness newcomers could use more of them as they figure out their personal exercise needs.
Lever machines are similar to the Smith type in that they require the exercise to be performed on a controlled track. In addition, they allow for less freedom of movement than a cable machine would, but they focus on specific body areas in a similar way. Lever machines would be better for a more active gym goer to incorporate into their workout because they greatly isolate areas of the body.
The machine will focus biceps in curling or pectorals in butterfly presses, allowing those areas of the body to be affected by the workout, but this can be detrimental for some users. If a lifter applies too much weight to the machine, the rather than risk injury across the the body like in a Smith machine, the intended area of the body alone will suffer the negative effects of improper use.
The more active someone is, the more they will be able to make an effective choice in what exercise machines to use. It really becomes a matter of personal preference combined with fitness needs. A Smith machine could be used by someone who wants to control the direction of their lifting. A cable machine could be used to focus an exercise that isn’t possible with free weights, like lat pull downs or standing tricep extensions. Lever machines can bulk up target areas while using appropriate weight. When used appropriately, any of these machines can accentuate the effects of a workout.