Smith Cable Rack Buying Guide
Smith Cable Racks (SCR) – a Smith Machine, Half Rack and Functional Trainer combined into one compact unit – have grown in popularity in recent years. They offer an incredible amount of exercise variety in an extremely compact space.
In my opinion, this was the downfall of the early designs. Having loads of exercises makes marketing these gyms easy, but training on them can sometimes feel crowded.
Whenever there is a design issue to be solved, IFS (manufacturers of ATX, Barbarian Line & Megatec) step up to the plate. Their design and engineering facility in German is second to none. They have proven this time and time again with new products and revisions to old ones.
But when it comes to Smith Cable Racks, they have really hit it out of the park. The big issue now is that you are spoilt by choice. With the current offerings and configurations there are now 8 choices.
Looking at our website you might be bamboozled by choice. However, if we have break down the features of each configuration it is relatively easy to work out which set up will work best for you.
OPTION 1 – BARBARIAN SMITH CABLE RACK PLATE LOADED (BBP-SDPR-PL)
If you are tight on space or money but need something heavy duty.
Built like a tank and doesn’t take up a lot of space. This unit can not be beaten on price and space – providing you are like me and enjoy changing weight plates between sets. I will cover this in an article later, but basically if you train by yourself you need to maintain focus. So, get off your phone or stop looking at yourself in the mirror and change plates. It will save you a lot of money too!
The Smith Machine & Half Rack on this unit are of commercial quality. Add in a sweet multi grip chin up, that is higher than most power cages allowing for full range for most people, and the cost of the gym of this gym is covered with these features alone. Add in the Functional Trainer and you simply have a gym that offers so much functionality.
If space is an issue, and you really want to do lat pulldowns or seated rows, check out our lat pulldown hack. Naturally it is not as good as a dedicated lat machine, but if you are just after some accessory work it will be more than adequate.
This is the best option if you are tight on space and money. Remember, later if you do have more money and space you can add the lat pulldown option – whether it be plate loaded or stack weight.
OPTION 2 MEGATEC SMITH CABLE RACK PLATE LOADED (MT-SCR-PL)
The most affordable way to perform a nearly endless list of quality exercises.
If you want it all, but you are on a budget, then this will be the option. Perfect for someone who is in to bodybuilding and wants multiple exercises to hit each body part.
To get to this price point, they use the same Nylon Bushings that are used on the Megatec Smith Machine. On the Barbarian Smith Machines, the lifting bar runs on linear bearings. For those of you who are not mechanically minded I will explain the difference in the Tech Talk section at the end of the article.
The other main difference between the Barbarian and Megatec machines is that the Functional Trainer on the Megatec SCR runs off the single lat pulldown carriage or weight stack. On the Barbarian machines the Functional Trainer runs off independent or dual weight stacks/carriages.
The difference will also be explained in the Tech Talk section below.
OPTION 3 BARBARIAN SMITH CABLE RACK STACK WEIGHT (BB-SDPR-GR-SW)
Three commercial quality machines in one – Smith Machine, Half Rack & Functional Trainer.
If you are a personal trainer who is tight on space, then I would recommend this machine. It offers so many quality exercises for your clients, along with durability and safety. The convenience of the weight stack will make it easier for you to train multiple clients.
Alternatively, if you are a home trainer who wants a treat and already have a stand alone lat machine (or want to get one), this is a great way to get three machines in one – Smith Machine, Half Rack and Functional Trainer. Unlike the early smith cable rack designs, none of these platforms are compromised. All have the feel of a dedicated machine.
If you intend on using the lat pulldown hack mentioned above, remember that you will be limited to 55kgs.
OPTION 4 MEGATEC SMITH CABLE RACK STACK WEIGHT (MT-SCR-SW)
A complete multi gym system with weight stack.
Multi Gyms with weight stacks normally are a turn off for the serious weight trainer. But this combination gets you under the barbell, whether it is on the half rack or smith machine.
This really is a complete home gym system and would offer years training with endless variation. Forget about complicated cable home gym. With this Smith Cable Rack you can do all the essential compound movements with complete safety. Then finish yourself with isolation exercises performed with the convenience of a stack weight Functional Trainer.
OPTION 5 BARBARIAN SMITH CABLE RACK SYSTEM PLATE LOADED (BBP-SDPR-PL-VP)
For those beasts that don’t want to be limited by weight stacks. Or if you don’t mind changing plates.
Before you make any purchase decisions based on the following explanation, I stress that it is important that you make sure we are comparing apples to apples……
I would recommend this platform to the gym or studio where there are absolute beasts training. By absolute beasts I mean people that can lat pull or seated row more than 125kgs. Monsters that can tricep press or cable curl over 55kgs.
To save yourself some embarrassment and most importantly money, please check that you are training on machines with a 1:1 ratio first. By this I mean that when you are lifting 80kgs for example, you are using 80kgs of force.
There are a lot of machines that have a mechanical advantage due to the arrangement of pulleys. Seasoned lifters will have heard claims of 120kg lat pulldowns. The first time you hear such claims you are immediately impressed – has the person discovered some strength secret?
This beacon of hope comes crashing down when the person hops onto a 1:1 machine and starts struggling with 50kgs!
For the handful of specimens I am talking to now, by going with this set up you can row or lat pull up to 160kgs. Bicep curl up to 150kgs. You are not restricted by any weight stack capacity.
If you are lifting weight like this, then you will be needing a breather between sets. You will have plenty of time to change weights.
Or if you are not a beast, but likes saving money and changing weight plates, you are getting one hell of a gym at a very impressive price.
OPTION 6 BARBARIAN SCR STACK WEIGHT & LAT OPTION PLATE LOADED (BBP-SDPR-GR-SW & BBP-SDPR-LMO-PL)
If you are a really strong but not interested in breaking record, then this would be the option for you.
OPTION 7 BARBARIAN SCR PLATE LOADED & LAT OPTION STACK WEIGHT (BBP-SDPR-PL & BBP-SDPR-GR-LMO-SW)
If you are on a budget, but have a weight stack preference, then this is the combination for you.
A great balance between convenience and affordability, it even has some advantages over the complete weight stack system (other than price). One of the reasons I am so passionate about plate loading vs stack weight is because I simply don’t see the value in the stack weight. For me the cost of upgrading to the stack weight is minimal – basically assembling the machine. After all these years I haven’t bothered.
For customers, adding stack weights to any machine is expensive. But for a smith cable rack with a lat pulldown, you must add three! That is why the stack weight system is so expensive.
Using my own training as an example, I use the lat pulldown and seated row far more than I do isolation exercises. Plus, you can also do many isolation exercises – biceps, triceps, upright rows, single hand work etc – all on the lat pulldown high and low pulley.
But when you do need to do dual cable work, having the 1:1 ratio will mean that you won’t need a lot of weight. Customers are shocked when they feel how heavy 10kg/side is when trying do a chest fly or even press. This makes changing weight a lot quicker, and you will not need a lot weight to get even a hardcore workout.
Where the advantage is over the stack weight option is micro loading. On the weight stack version, the weight goes up in 2.5kg increments. However, with the plate loaded version you can go up in 1.25kgs or even less. Now I know this won’t be a big deal for the big units out there, but with a 1:1 ratio, increasing an exercise like flys by 2.5kg is quite a jump for some.
Being able to bump the weight by 1.25kg is less of a psychological barrier. The added bonus is that it is also very handy if you have inexperienced trainers using the equipment.
OPTION 8 BARBARIAN SMITH CABLE RACK SYSTEM STACK WEIGHT (BBP-SDPR-GR-KPS-SW)
If you have the money and the space, this is the ultimate gym set up.
Although this might seem super expensive when you factor in a bench, weight, barbells, cable attachments & delivery, you will have to trust me that this is the ultimate in home weight training.
You are getting multiple commercial standard machines, all in an uncompromised format. Ahead of you will be years of training that will make you never want to set foot in a gym again.
Now this is the option for the home trainer where money and space are not a concern. This is also suitable for a personal trainer who is tight on space and needs one machine to do it all.
WHERE IS THE MONSTER?
In our comparisons above, I have not included the Barbarian Monster Gym. Why? For the simple reason I do not really like it, and I am firm in my principle that I won’t sell or recommend something that I wouldn’t use myself.
This is not to say that the Monster Gym is bad. At the time of it’s development it was ground breaking in it’s design. However, in the gym equipment game it is hard to stay at the top with all the innovation that is going on and this is what has happened to the Monster.
After we set up the first Barbarian Smith Cable Rack, I realised that the days of the Monster were over. The Smith Cable Rack was just better. As you can see in the diagram below the footprint was very similar (without lat pulldown option), but the Smith Cable Rack just seemed way bigger.
You feel like you are training on a full-sized Smith Machine. Whereas the Monster I just felt a little squeezed by the tapered design.
With advancements in design and manufacturing, the Smith Cable Rack just felt so much more solid. Not that you would ever break a Monster, the Barbarian unit just blows people away at how rigid it is. It is very impressive.
You also can expand on the Smith Cable Rack with the Lat Pulldown Option. Even though you might not have the space or money at the time, having the option for when circumstances change is an added bonus.
The 2:1 ratio on the Monster’s Functional Trainer set up, meant that it needed 2 x 100kg weight stacks. Even though you would only get a maximum of 50kg per stack resistance. This added to the cost of the machine, with the only return being that you could make 2.5kg increments in weight.
Linear Bearings vs Nylon Bushes
Running a barbell loaded with weight plates up and down steel guide rails is challenging on its own. Where it gets even trickier is making it smooth and reliable.
Early smith machines were almost exclusively for commercial gyms as they were costly to produce. You could justify using high quality bearings that were required to make the machine run smooth for years.
Over the years as the cost of manufacturing has reduced along with the price of components like bearings, we have seen an increase in more affordable smith machines.
When comparing smith cable racks with our competitors you may find some cheaper versions boasting linear bearings. Beware!
Linear bearings offer a better experience than nylon bushes, but at a price. It is not just the quality of the bearings that need to be adequate, but also the guide rails upon which they slide up and down.
Cheap bearings feel cheap. And they fail.
Cheap guide rails are where it gets interesting. If they don’t use appropriate hardened steel the bearings will start wearing into the guide rails. Over time the lifting bar will seize and become inoperable.
This is where the German development team at IFS came up with the nylon bushes for their Megatec Smiths. You can get a quality smith machine experience at a much more affordable price than Barbarian units that have linear bearings.
Instead of opting for cheaper bearings and guide rails that fail, they developed a bushing system that is both smooth and heavy duty. It has been tried and tested for years in the Megatec Smith Machine. If you are on a budget and really want a Smith Machine, then I strongly recommend this version.
Dual Carriage vs Single Carriage Functional Trainer
The other area where the Megatec Smith Cable Rack saves a chunk of money is by utilising the lat pulldown weight carriage or stack. This saves some money, but you don’t have dual carriage functionality.
On the Barbarian Smith Cable Rack, each weight stack operates independently. The best way to describe this is that it is like using dumbbells. Each arm has its own separate source of resistance.
On the Megatec Smith Cable Rack, the resistance on the functional trainer for both handles comes from the single lat pulldown carriage. If you have not seen or used one before this might sound ridiculous. But for years Powertec utilised this system on their stand-alone Functional Trainer.
You are probably thinking that this will lead to strength imbalances? Just like training with a barbell or a leverage gym, if you train with correct form and don’t try to lift weight that is too heavy for you, you will not notice a difference.
From my experience it can promote correct form. Just like when you are pressing with a barbell, you get feedback when you are not applying equal force with each arm.
But most importantly, and just like the Nylon Bush vs Linear Bearing discussion, a quality single carriage Functional Trainer will always be superior to a cheap dual carriage Functional Trainer.
Cheap Functional Trainers will have notchy or varied resistance.
To keep the price of these dual carriage Functional Trainers down, they utilise cheap pulleys and cables which fail. How do we know? We have a thriving gym cable manufacturing service along with gym parts business!