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Smith machine vs leverage gym systems: Which is most worth it for lifting?

By Henry Wilson
Last Updated on 8th November 2020

Diehard powerlifters, look away now. In the next 5 minutes, I'm going to compare the Smith machine against leverage gym systems to see which is most worth your money.

I've owned both Smith machines and leverage gyms in my training career, and by the end of this article, you'll have all the info you need to buy a quality piece of home gym equipment that aligns with your ability level and your fitness goals.

So, grab a protein shake, and prepare for the showdown. Who's your money on?

Difference #1: Safety

While free weights certainly build muscle, they're not exactly the safest choice when you're training alone. After all, one slip and the barbell is heading straight for your neck and/or chest. And I don't think I need to tell you how that story ends…

sporty woman doing back squats

Anyway, both Smith machines and leverage gyms offer fixed range of motion training. Contrary to popular belief, being forced into so-called "unnatural" positions is actually safer for your joints because your limbs can't slip into compromised positions as easily.

So, from a joint health perspective, the safest choice is the leverage gym because the individual workout stations tend to be more ergonomically designed.

However, from an absolute safety perspective, the Smith machine still reigns supreme because you can use the safety catches to create a dead stop, which prevents the barbell from travelling below a predetermined point.

Winner: Smith machine

Difference #2: Muscle stimulation

Let me just say, muscle stimulation has a lot to do with your form. You can use gym quality equipment all day long, but if your form sucks, then so will your results.

man performing behind the back shrugs

As I mentioned a moment ago, leverage gyms tend to offer a more personalised range of motion because the manufacturers can be more creative with their design.

With the Smith machine, however, gym equipment companies generally have to follow a preset design in order to appeal to the mass market. More often than not, this means that [lower quality] Smith machines can feel a bit restrictive. Unsurprisingly, this leads to less muscle stimulation on a per-set basis [1].

Now you know why bodybuilders are so fond of plate loaded machines.

Winner: Leverage gym

Difference #3: Ease of use

Just because a piece of fitness equipment is easy to use doesn't mean that it's a poor muscle-building tool. On the contrary, overly complex machines can actually hinder both your muscle growth and strength development because you're forced to spend your time learning the ropes instead of training your muscles.

Body Builder Putting Weights On Bar In Gym

For a rank beginner, I'd say a Smith machine is easier to use than a leverage system because you only need to master one station before the gains come pouring in.

Related comparison: Dumbbells vs Smith machine

Since leverage gyms have multiple stations, they tend to have more of a learning curve than barbell based machines. But don't worry if you have your heart set on a new leverage gym, because the difference is pretty minute.

Winner: Smith machine

Difference #4: Strength development

What is "strength" to you?

The ability to open that awkward lid on a jar?

The power to flip massive tires as if they were made of foam?

strong man training his legs in a gym

As you can see, true strength is pretty hard to define unless you want to get really nerdy (no thanks). Generally speaking, though, strength is a combination of genetic factors and muscle size. So the bigger you can make your muscles, the stronger they'll naturally become [2]. I spoke about this in my power cage vs Smith machine post, too.

Anyway, since leverage gyms allow you to lift more weight overall, and hence provide better progressive overload, I'm giving this one to team plate loaded.

Winner: Leverage gym

Difference #5: Value for money

Since you're probably not going to fork out for both a Smith machine and a leverage gym, it's essential to make the right choice the first time. Otherwise, you could waste a lot of money (believe me, I've lost a small fortune on crappy fitness equipment!).

So, in the realm of value, there's only ever going to be one winner. You can get an excellent Smith machine for well under a grand, and, if you know where to look, you can get a quality product for under 500 quid.

Leverage gyms, on the other hand, start at around £1000 and increase from there based on the brand and number of workout stations. Which brings me nicely onto the next point…

Winner: Smith machine

Difference #6: Versatility

Smith machines mimic virtually every barbell exercise in existence (yes even curls). For this reason, they're more versatile than leverage gyms, which tend to be great for overall mass building, but pretty lacklustre for muscle isolation. That is, of course, unless you find a leverage gym that comes with a pulley system.

Winner: Smith machine

Difference #7: Durability

This one's hard because build quality differs wildly from brand to brand. But generally speaking, since Smith machines have a more simple design and thus fewer moving parts, they tend to be more durable than leverage gyms. Hence why they also have longer warranties.

Winner: Smith machine

Smith machine vs leverage gym: The verdict

So on paper, the Smith machine wins 5-2. And by my reckoning, it's the best overall piece of gym equipment that you can buy if you train at home. Why?

Because it provides an excellent workout (on par with free weights) while having by far the best safety features of any fitness machine out there.

However, if you've been in the gym a while and are purely focused on building muscle, then leverage systems (providing you get a good one) are also a great choice for getting swole. Just know that they're a tad more expensive on average.

And that concludes my Smith machine vs leverage gym comparison. Whichever you invest in, I hope you enjoy your home workouts, because they're much more fun that going to a gym!

Henry Wilson
I'm an experienced research assistant who's responsible for the scientific accuracy of the information provided by Smith Machine UK. When I'm not analysing the latest studies from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and advising university physiology departments, you'll find me cycling in the great British countryside.
At Smith Machine UK, we create in-depth tests of the latest and greatest gym equipment on the British market so that you can create your dream home gym.
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