How Much Easier is Bench Press on a Smith Machine? (Explained!)

So, you want to know how much easier bench press is on a Smith machine?

In effect, we’re back to the age-old argument – free weights vs. machines.

This is not to say that machine exercises are ineffective, as you can still build muscle and strength.

However, you’re probably also wondering how much more you should be able to bench on a Smith machine when compared to using an Olympic barbell.

So, allow me to explain what you need to know.

How Much Easier is Bench Press on a Smith Machine?

How much easier bench press is on a Smith machine will depend on the machine itself, your body type, your bench press form, and how well your muscles are developed. For a like-for-like weight comparison, a Smith machine bar will weigh 15-25lbs in most commercial gyms. However, a standard Olympic bar weighs 45lbs. So, if you’re using the same number of weight plates, a Smith machine will effectively be 20-30lbs “easier”.

1. You Can’t Compare Smith Machine & Bench Press

A Man Bench Pressing on a Smith Machine

The main problem with trying to compare a Smith machine bench press to a free weight bench press is they are effectively two different exercises.

Yes, I’ll admit that it “appears” that they have the same movement pattern (they don’t).

Plus, they target the same muscle groups, primarily chest, secondary muscle groups are the shoulders and triceps.

However, in truth, this is where the similarities end.

The Bench Press “Arc”

One of the biggest differences is that the Smith machine will provide a fixed, predetermined plane of movement.

In other words, the barbell moves straight up and straight down without ever deviating from this trajectory.

This rarely, if ever happens when you bench press with an actual barbell.

In fact, you’ll typically find that the barbell is around nipple line at the bottom of the movement and in line with your shoulders at the top.

In effect, the barbell actually moves in an arc when you use free weights.

The exact same can be said when you perform any barbell exercise on the Smith machine and then compare it to free weights.

I can guarantee when you squat, deadlift, overhead press, and even row, with free weights, the barbell never travels in a perfectly straight line.

Additionally, both sides of the bar on a Smith machine will always be raised and lowered equally and at exactly the same pace.

You will hardly ever get this type of perfect symmetry when bench pressing with free weights.

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Unfortunately, none of us are actually built with perfect symmetry, or have both sides of the body with exactly the same amount of strength and muscular development.

The Smith Machine Stabilises the Bar

You’ll often hear that the major difference between free weights and machines is the use of stabiliser muscles.

Now, while this is true to some extent, it doesn’t actually provide the full picture.

Basically, when you bench press with a Smith machine, you are not stabilising the bar.

As I’ve explained above, the bar will move up and down equally on both sides, along the same trajectory, irrespective of where your hands are.

Essentially, if both your hands were to the left-side of the bar on a Smith machine it would still move up and down with perfect symmetry.

If you were to try this with a conventional barbell, the right side of the bar would fall towards the floor, and the bar would no doubt end up falling on top of you.

In other words, you have to stabilise a free weight barbell, which is what makes it a harder exercise than using a Smith machine.

2. Not All Smith Machines Are the Same

Okay, so we’ve established that a smith machine will feel easier to bench press for a variety of reasons.

However, this doesn’t mean that all Smith machines are exactly the same.

Therefore, not all Smith machines will be as “easy”.

There are a fair few factors to consider here, although the most obvious will be the actual weight of the bar on the Smith machine.

To be honest, this can dramatically vary from one machine to the next.

With that being said, when it comes to commercial gyms, the bar on the Smith machine will typically weigh 15-25lbs.

You’ll usually find this information on the machine somewhere.

So, in effect, the Smith machine is much lighter than a standard 45lb Olympic bar.

In other words, if you placed two 45lb plates on either side of a standard Olympic bar (4 in total), the weight you will be bench pressing is 225lbs.

However, if you place exactly the same number of weight plates on a commercial gym’s Smith machine, you’ll be benching approximately 200-210lbs.

So, immediately the Smith machine feels easier because you’re bench pressing less weight.

But, you’ll also find that some Smith Machine bars can weigh as little as 6lbs or even as heavy as 60lbs.

So, always look for this specific information on the machine itself.

Something else to consider is the actual condition of the Smith machine and how well it is looked after.

As the machine uses a system of pulleys and a track it will provide better movement if it is regularly oiled.

Plus, you can actually make a Smith machine exercise harder by changing the angle at which you’re pressing the bar up.

As I’ve mentioned, the bar will always travel along a predetermined path.

But, if you’re not applying force directly along this predetermined path, you’ll require additional force to move the bar.

In effect, you can make the Smith machine bench press harder by pushing forwards or backwards slightly.

How to Smith Machine Bench Press

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, there are various reasons why bench press is easier on the Smith machine.

Firstly, the bar on a Smith machine won’t move in a natural path, the bar moves straight up and straight down.

And this is true regardless of where you place your hands, or even how much force you apply with each individual hand.

In truth, when you bench press with free weights the bar moves in a type of arc from the nipple line to just above the shoulders.

This also means that the Smith machine doesn’t need to be stabilised, something which is essential when you bench press with free weights.

Furthermore, most commercial gyms will have a Smith machine bar that weighs 15-25lbs.

So, even with an equal number of weight plates on either side you’ll generally be bench pressing 20-30lbs less weight.

Plus, the condition of the Smith machine and how you apply force to the bar can make the exercise easier or harder.

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