Investing in a 3D Smith machine is like buying a regular Smith machine and then getting sent a squat rack for free—as a thankyou present for investing in the business of fitness. However, there's one small difference. You get this combination at once—no need to wait around for the free gift to arrive. You get Smith machine and squat rack functionality together, in the same workout system.
Best of all?
3D Smith machines offer double the features of a regular Smith machine. Yet they cost only a fraction more. And in some cases (as with the top-rated pieces of equipment that I'm about to show you) they're actually quite affordable.
It's no secret. A Smith machine that moves horizontally is incredibly beneficial for gaining muscle and developing strength. You essentially get all the benefits of free weight training—rapid strength gain, stronger stabiliser muscles, better lifting technique—but with the added safety protection of a traditional Smith machine.
However, most fitness companies fail to make their 3D Smith machines realistic enough to free weights for us to achieve an effective workout. As a result, we're left feeling ripped-off and unmotivated to train.
But as you'll soon learn, there are a small handful of trustworthy companies that put us first by precisely engineering their 3D Smith machines to transform our bland workouts into fun, yet intense weight training sessions.
The compact Impulse Smith Machine measures just 200cm L x 141cm W x 218cm H, making it a popular choice among personal training professionals who're seeking a space-efficient solution that provides their clients with dynamic training possibilities, while simultaneously allowing them to remain safe and in control of the weight.
This premium 3D Smith Machine (sometimes called a 4 way Smith machine) has ten lockout points on both the front and back of the frame, providing double the safety of a regular squat rack while taking up virtually no more room. This safety-first design is ideal if you, your clients or your gym members usually train alone, but still want to experience the benefits of dynamic training.
Moreover, the spotter catches give you the extra peace of mind to test your limits because you know that—should you reach muscular failure—you can simply lower the bar onto the catches without needing to muster up the effort to re-rack it.
Besides being safe, the Impulse 3D Smith machine is also incredibly sturdy. It has a commercial-grade 200kg weight rating and hence, is a popular choice among commercial gym owners.
Like the frame, the guide rods are made from heavy-duty steel, which provides improved bar tracking and better durability. What this means to you is that your new 3D Smith machine is naturally more resistant to wear and tear, thus requiring significantly less maintenance (and all the money and time that such labour entails).
However, the sturdy guide rods also provide a more fluid lifting motion. There's no annoying friction that creates an uncomfortable jolting sensation in your joints. Instead, the bar path is silky-smooth. You can feel your muscles working much more intensely than you can while using lower quality 3D Smith machines.
Naturally, this frictionless range of motion results in a stronger mind-muscle connection. And as any sports scientists will tell you, a strong mind-muscle connection can make a big difference in muscle hypertrophy. It's why bodybuilders are usually bigger than powerlifters.
Impulse also equips their four way Smith machine with a heavy-duty pull-up handle. This design conveniently slashes your training time by allowing you to perform push-pull supersets. For example, you could do bench press and chin-ups or shoulder press and pull-ups. And with Impulse's neutral grip option, you have even more combinations at your disposal, enabling you to make exercise fun by adding variety to your workout regime.
These push-pull supersets were a favourite training technique of the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger. So it's no surprise that they give you an intense pump.
The Gym Gear Smith Machine is strikingly similar to the popular Impulse Smith machine that I introduced you to a moment ago. It measures 200cm L x 141cm W x 218.5cm H, weighs 199.4kg and supports a hefty 200kg of resistance.
Like any good 3D Smith machine, Gym Gear's commercial-grade Elite Series 3D Smith machine offers both horizontal and vertical movement. Obviously, this free-moving design makes your workouts more effective because you'll naturally developer greater core strength and immediately achieve higher levels of muscle activation by training on a dual action Smith machine versus just going through the motions on a regular one.
Like Impulse, Gym Gear also equips their dual axis Smith machine with ten lockouts on each side (as well as safety catches), allowing users to re-rack the bar at virtually any point during a set. As a result, Gym Gear is a good choice if you or your gym members want to train safely without a spotter.
However, considering that the Impulse Smith machine is considerably cheaper while being virtually identical to Gym Gear's offering, I think that Impulse is the better choice for almost everyone.
Of course, Gym gear still makes a quality piece of fitness equipment. After all, their Smith machine has built-in pull up handles with three grip options, enabling you to achieve complete back development. Plus, it comes with a 20kg barbell, which makes it an excellent choice for advanced lifters. Overall though, I think that Impulse offers better value for money (though prices do change).
The Jones Machine, which comes in three different packages, takes the concept of 3D Smith machines, supercharges its safety and then adds another dimension (almost literally) by making your muscles work harder to balance the bar.
BodyCraft's patented Active Balance Bar cleverly mimics free weight training by incorporating lateral movement into its design. This lateral (side to side) movement increases muscle activation because you have to work harder to stabilise the weight. It also means that you have less chance of developing muscle imbalances because you need to use both sides of your body at least somewhat evenly in order to stabilise the bar.
However, the bar only tilts so far. It can't fully tilt off to one side like a free weight barbell can. So you never have to worry about dropping it (or its weights) and making a loud clang.
The Active Balance Bar has a sturdy 25kg (55lb) starting weight and supports up to 450kg (1000lbs) of resistance. So it's unsurprising that it carries a lifetime warranty like the rest of the unit. Obviously, this generous lifetime guarantee enables you to lift hard and heavy without worrying about pushing things too far.
By default, the Smith bar has 13 lockout points. However, you can also choose to lock the bar horizontally and use the Jones Machine as a regular Smith machine, in which case you'll have five lockout points. The advantage of using it as a regular Smith machine is that you can develop a more reliable mind-muscle connection because you don't have to think about stabilising the bar. Over time, this heightened ability to focus on the working muscle will lead to greater hypertrophy.
So as you can see, the Jones Machine isn't your ordinary multi axis Smith machine. In fact, the uprights that hold the bar move with you at all times, meaning that you can re-rack the barbell at any point during a rep with a simple forward wrist turn. In other words, you don't have to trek to the front or back of the unit just to rack the barbell, which is the main downside of other 3D Smith machines.
Unlike other products, you can also upgrade the Jones Machine and effectively transform it into a home gym by adding the Full Body Trainer Attachment (FBT). The FBT add-on consists of two independently-functioning 73kg (160lb) cable columns, which you can also upgrade to 90kg (200lbs). These pulleys offer 33 height adjustments and provide a whopping 196cm (77") of cable travel, allowing you to achieve a completely unrestricted range of motion and get a better, more challenging workout.
Like some of the other two way Smith machine systems, the Jones Machine also comes with pull handles so that you can build a more muscular back and improve your bodyweight strength.
We get close, wide, neutral, underhand and overhand grip options, allowing us to build more muscle by working our back from different angles. They even include pull up handles on both the front and rear of the machine, enabling two people to work out simultaneously.
The Halo Smith Machine is a true heavyweight in the 3D Smith machine category. It has a sturdy 200kg steel frame and measures 224cm L x 198cm W x 170cm H, making it ideal for homes and facilities with low ceilings.
Halo's ingenious 3cm linear bearing 3D system provides precise horizontal and vertical movement that gives your workouts extra freedom, while still retaining all the safety benefits of a regular Smith machine. As such, it's an excellent halfway house for progressing from machine-based training to free weight lifting.
Halo includes ten lockout points so that you can easily re-rack the barbell regardless of what exercise you're doing. Naturally, this makes it a reliable choice for training without a spotter because even if you can't fully lock out that final rep, you can still re-rack the barbell on one of the lower hooks.
Yet even if you're fatigued to the point where re-racking the bar with a simple wrist turn is too effortful, then you don't have to shout across the gym for help because the heavy-duty safety catches will quickly get you out of harm's way.
It reminds me of a lot of the Smith machine from Indigo Fitness, which is available in a variety of colours like the Halo Smith machine.
The safety catches have five adjustable positions and, like power rack safety stoppers, span the entire length of the workout area. This adjustability makes training on the Halo Smith machine extra safe because even if you're lifting in the middle of the machine—away from the front and back lockout points—and you fail a rep, then you can simply rest the bar on the safety catches. In other words, you don't even have to re-rack the barbell.
Halo also equips their dual Smith machine with 8 Olympic weight plates pegs to encourage gym members to keep the weight room floor tidy and free from potential trip hazards.
The Star Trac Max Rack Smith machine with moving bar appears to be discontinued in the UK. However, in its heyday, it was a very popular 3D Smith station among commercial gym owners.
Since it's a relatively old product, the Max rack has gone through several iterations, and as such, is available in different sizes and with different features. Some versions are better and more expensive than others. For example, certain Max Racks have pull up stations. But in general, they're all pretty similar.
The Max Rack measures 209cm L x 190cm W x 228cm H, weighs a whopping 435kg and has an impressive 227kg weight capacity that's reflective of this machine's heavy-duty frame.
Star Trac includes ten lockout points on both the front and the back of their 2 way Smith machine, meaning that you have a much larger workout area. As a result, you can perform a variety of dynamic exercises like power cleans and lunges, which you can't normally do (at least not properly) on a standard Smith machine .
The bar itself has a familiar 20kg (44lb) starting weight that will make advanced weightlifters feel at home. However, 20kg might be too much too soon for beginners who're still grasping the proper form . Nonetheless, I'd rather have a heavy barbell that's sturdy than a flimsy bar that's light.
You'll also notice between 6-8 storage posts (depends which version you buy) on the frame. This storage is particularly useful for commercial gym owners because it means that you don't have have to crowd your facility with weight disc tress, which offer no real value to members besides storage.
Investing in a 3D Smith machine with movement both vertically and horizontally is a great move to make, especially for a fitness facility that prides itself on catering to members of all abilities .
With a 3D Smith machine, you're afforded the smooth, unrestricted lifting motion of free weight training . But you also get the peace of mind that only a Smith machine and its safety features can provide.
And since 3D Smith machines are almost always designed for commercial gyms specifically, they're incredibly durable—and they come with excellent warranties.
Overall, I recommend investing in the Impulse 3D Smith Machine if you want a workout station that's sturdily built, but which is also very affordable for even a smaller sized commercial gym. It comes with a robust and familiar 20kg barbell that's rated for a hefty 200kg, making it an attractive option for those seeking a heavy-duty 3D Smith machine that'll stand up to the test of time, constant daily use and even roid rage.
The BodyCraft Jones Machine is another excellent high-end option that's also relatively affordable. While the Jones Machine is often found in health clubs; it's also one of the most popular 3D Smith machines for people who train at home because you don't have to buy a separate squat rack and Smith machine.
It has an astounding 450kg weight capacity, comes with a lifetime warranty and is by far the easiest 3D Smith machine to use, making it a brilliant investment for both beginners and advanced weight lifters.