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A Comparison of Free Weight Squat to Smith Machine Squat Using Electromyography

Schwanbeck, Shane; Chilibeck, Philip D; Binsted, Gordon

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: December 2009 - Volume 23 - Issue 9 - p 2588-2591
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b1b181
Original Research

Schwanbeck, S, Chilibeck, PD, and Binsted, G. A comparison of free weight squat to smith machine squat using electromyography. J Strength Cond Res 23(9): 2588-2591, 2009-The purpose of this experiment was to determine whether free weight or Smith machine squats were optimal for activating the prime movers of the legs and the stabilizers of the legs and the trunk. Six healthy participants performed 1 set of 8 repetitions (using a weight they could lift 8 times, i.e., 8RM, or 8 repetition maximum) for each of the free weight squat and Smith machine squat in a randomized order with a minimum of 3 days between sessions, while electromyographic (EMG) activity of the tibialis anterior, gastrocnemius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, biceps femoris, lumbar erector spinae, and rectus abdominus were simultaneously measured. Electromyographic activity was significantly higher by 34, 26, and 49 in the gastrocnemius, biceps femoris, and vastus medialis, respectively, during the free weight squat compared to the Smith machine squat (p < 0.05). There were no significant differences between free weight and Smith machine squat for any of the other muscles; however, the EMG averaged over all muscles during the free weight squat was 43% higher when compared to the Smith machine squat (p < 0.05). The free weight squat may be more beneficial than the Smith machine squat for individuals who are looking to strengthen plantar flexors, knee flexors, and knee extensors.

College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

Address correspondence to Philip D. Chilibeck,

© 2009 National Strength and Conditioning Association