We tried Smith squats to get more depth. The Smith machine removes the element of balance making it easier to go further down.
In this video analysis (Quicktime ipod compatible, 12.5MB; Google streaming flash video), Nancy Arnold and I (Bud) try the somewhat controversial Smith squat. If you've followed our squatting series, you know that we have been working quite a bit on achieving greater squat depth. The Smith machine removes the balance element from the squat, making it easier to achieve greater squat depth.
There are a number of advantages to achieving greater squat depth. First, as explained in Serious Strength Training, the book we are following, the longer range of motion means more impact on the individual muscle fibers involved in the exercise. Second, more muscles are involved, in particular the gluteus. Since our current program calls for a limited number of exercises, we want to get the most out of each one.
However, the Smith has the noted drawback of forcing a specific arc of motion that may be unnatural to the lifter such that Chris Dorr has recently compared it to a bear trap. Further, by removing balance elements, the Smith machine removes some of the functional benefits of the exercise.
As Nancy and I demonstrate in the strip of pictures on the left, the Smith squat is performed much like a regular squat. We are both able to achieve below parallel depth at weights that approach our free bar targets. In the video, you'll note that shortly into Nancy's set we have to drop weight a bit. Her depth is even better afterward. As for me, I get good depth, but my general lack of flexibility continues to show.
As for the forced arc of motion, I did feel locked in. However, I found the exercise went better if I used the habits I learned doing squats with the free bar. Both Nancy and I view the Smith as a tactical move. We have ordered Eric Cressey's Magnificent Mobility video and plan on continuing to work on free bar squats.
- EXRX, a noted quality exercise site, provides a thoughtful analysis of the Smith squat, essentially taking the view that it can serve useful roles and removes some of the free squat's difficulties.
- Many athletes have flexibility issues with squats, and it may not always be possible to achieve full depth.
- Dynamic stretching, as also recommended by Cressey, appears the best way to resolve squat flexibility issues. Achieving high flexibility may not always be desirable.