Understanding the Counterbalance: How Much Weight Does a Smith Machine Take Off?

The Smith Machine is a popular piece of equipment in gyms worldwide, known for its ability to provide a safe and controlled environment for weightlifting. One of its key features is the counterbalance system, which can make the barbell feel lighter than it actually is. This article delves into the mechanics of the Smith Machine, how much weight the counterbalance system takes off, and how this affects your training.

The Mechanics of the Smith Machine

The Smith Machine consists of a barbell that is fixed within steel rails, allowing only vertical or near-vertical movement. This setup is designed to aid in the performance of compound lifts such as squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, providing stability and support to the lifter. The core of the Smith Machine’s appeal lies in its counterbalance system, which reduces the effective weight of the barbell.

How the Counterbalance Works

The counterbalance system in a Smith Machine uses weights and pulleys to offset the weight of the barbell. This makes the bar lighter than its actual weight, enabling beginners to start with lower weights and helping experienced lifters to focus on form and technique without the full load of a standard barbell.

How Much Weight Does It Take Off?

The amount of weight a Smith Machine takes off can vary significantly between models and manufacturers. However, understanding this can be crucial for accurately tracking progress and setting appropriate weight levels for exercises.

Typical Weight Reductions

  • Standard Smith Machines: These typically reduce the bar’s weight by 10 to 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kg), depending on the counterbalance mechanism.
  • Commercial Gym Models: Higher-end models found in gyms might take off anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds (6.8 to 18 kg), offering a smoother experience and greater weight reduction.

Calculating the Effective Weight

To calculate the effective weight you’re lifting on a Smith Machine, subtract the weight reduction from the total weight loaded on the bar. For example, if you load 100 pounds (45 kg) on a machine that takes off 20 pounds (9 kg), you’re effectively lifting 80 pounds (36 kg).

Impact on Training

Understanding the weight reduction of a Smith Machine is vital for several reasons, particularly for those tracking their progress or transitioning between free weights and the Smith Machine.

Tracking Progress

When logging workouts, it’s important to note the use of a Smith Machine and its weight reduction to maintain accurate records of the weights lifted.

Transitioning Between Free Weights and Smith Machine

Because the Smith Machine takes off a portion of the weight, lifting the same amount on a Smith Machine and a free barbell are not directly comparable. This difference should be considered when transitioning between the two to avoid overloading and potential injury.

Choosing the Right Smith Machine

When selecting a Smith Machine, consider the following factors to ensure it meets your training needs:

  • Counterbalance System: Assess the weight reduction offered by the machine’s counterbalance system.
  • Build Quality: Look for sturdy construction that can handle heavy weights and intense workouts.
  • Smoothness of Movement: The bar should glide smoothly along the rails for a comfortable and safe lifting experience.


The Smith Machine is a valuable tool for both novice and experienced lifters, offering a safer way to perform heavy lifts with its counterbalance system. Understanding how much weight this system takes off is crucial for accurately tracking progress and setting appropriate training loads. By considering the weight reduction and other factors when choosing and using a Smith Machine, lifters can effectively incorporate this equipment into their training regimen.

Comparison of Smith Machine Weight Reductions
Smith Machine Type Weight Reduction (lbs) Weight Reduction (kg)
Standard 10-20 4.5-9
Commercial Gym 15-40 6.8-18

By keeping these insights in mind, you can better leverage the Smith Machine for your strength training goals, ensuring a safer and more effective workout experience.