Six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates had a prosperous bodybuilding career despite making significant changes to his leg day routine. The English bodybuilder was an unstoppable force on the Olympia stage from 1992-97, thanks to a mass monster lat spread and tight conditioning.
On social media, Yates disclosed why he prefers Smith machine squats over barbell squats. Check out the Instagram post he uploaded this past week below:
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Why Dorian Yates Prefers Smith Machine Squat
A right hip injury in the late ’80s forced Yates to switch from barbell squats to Smith machine squats. Although an injury prompted Yates’ substitution, he discovered the benefits the Smith machine squat had over the barbell squat, which include biasing the legs thanks to the added stability.
With the Smith machine, I could position my feet closer together and slightly forward to minimize any back involvement.
In his post, Yates included an image of himself from an unnamed magazine article presumably published during his bodybuilding days. In the article, a younger Yates explained that the Smith machine squat transfers the tension away from the glutes and lower back to the quads.
I personally prefer to squat on a Smith machine. This allows me to vary my stance…I can shift the emphasis to my thighs.
The Smith machine squat doesn’t require as much stability as the barbell squat, as the tracking of the machine removes the necessity to balance the barbell through the range of motion. That likely means Yates could load more weight without devoting as much attention to his balance or technique.
This hypothesis aligns with some research studying the two styles of squat as well. One paper in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that, in some cases, participants had a higher predicted one-rep max on the Smith machine than when using free weights. (1)
However, the authors noted that no “practically significant” (as in, relevant to real-world training) difference was observed in the male participants, who reported having more free-weight squatting experience than the women volunteers.
This data does support Yates’ claims, albeit indirectly — if you’re new to lifting weights and want to squat to build muscle, the stability and technique demands of the free-weight back squat may hinder your ability to work hard and build muscle, at least temporarily.
Dorian Yates’ Smith Machine Squat Tips
In the magazine snippet of the champs’ social media caption, Yates gave invaluable tips to get the most out of Smith machine squats.
Keep your head up and [your] back erect at all times during the movement.
Yates noted that the Smith machine enables different stances to engage all angles of the thigh.
I prefer a narrow stance with my hips directly under the bar.
A narrow stance biases the quads and minimizes hip involvement, while a wider stance will activate the glutes and hip muscles to a greater extent.
The six-time Olympia champ touched on the importance of squatting down far enough:
You should squat at least to the parallel position. I squat rock-bottom — below parallel.
However, Yates acknowledged that not everyone is suited for such a deep squat depth, or “ass-to-grass,” where athletes reach the bottom position of the squat. However, it’s critical to squat as far as hip mobility comfortably allows to engage the lower body muscles in their full lengthened positions.
During the eccentric portion of the movement, Yates cautions lifters against “dropping” to the bottom of the squat and “bouncing” out of it. Instead, the weight should be lifted slowly and controlled through every degree of the squat.
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- COTTERMAN, MICHAEL L.1; DARBY, LYNN A.2; SKELLY, WILLIAM A.3. COMPARISON OF MUSCLE FORCE PRODUCTION USING THE SMITH MACHINE AND FREE WEIGHTS FOR BENCH PRESS AND SQUAT EXERCISES. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 19(1):p 169-176, February 2005.
Featured image: @thedorianyates on Instagram