The History of the Smith Machine

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Ah yes, the dreaded Smith Machine. Criticised for its unnatural movements, failure to fully tax the muscles and its generally unappealing design.

Who invented the Smith Machine? Why did they do it and how did it become so popular? These are some of the questions answered in today’s blogpost on the history of the Smith Machine!

Who invented the Smith Machine?

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Well believe it or not, but Jack Lalanne, one of the most influential men in the American fitness industry is responsible for creating the much maligned Smith Machine.

The Smith Machine was just one machine in a series of inventions from the ‘god father of fitness. In a career spanning over five decades, Lalanne has been credited with inventing and popularising a series of machines found in gyms throughout the world from the  the leg extension machine to the cable crossover. Ever seeking new and improved ways to challenge his clients, Lalanne was on a never ending mission to innovate the fitness business. The Smith Machine, whether you like it or not, is a testament to Jack’s creativity.

Why  did he invent it?

During they heyday of Lalanne’s success in the 1950s, Jack was on the search for a machine that could allow him to safely lift squat heavy weights without the need for a spotter. Lalanne didn’t want a machine capable of replacing free weight exercises, but rather one that would complement one’s overall workout routine.  So one evening when Jack went to dinner with his long time friend and men’s bath house manager Rudy Smith, to discuss his plans.

As legend goes, following a long discussion between both men Lalanne hastily scribbled out something on the back on a napkin that he believed would work. His little drawing was the prototype for the modern day Smith Machine.

How did it become so popular?

Smith_machine inventor rudy smithRemarkably it was Rudy Smith and not Jack Lalanne who decided to turn Lalanne’s drawing into a tangible machine. Seeing his friend’s sketch, Smith asked Lalanne if he could try and design it. Seeing no reason to object, Lalanne gave Smith permission.

Rudy wasted little time in securing the services of an equipment builder by the name of Paul Martin to create a functional machine. When the first machine was built, Smith used his connections with Vic Tanny, who ran a series of gym franchises in the US, to install the Smith Machine in a Tanny gym. As clients began to use the machine more and more, Tanny installed a Smith Machine in nearly all of his nation wide gyms. Furthermore he even installed Rudy Smith as an executive in his gymnasium. The picture to the right shows Rudy with one of the world’s first ever Smith Machines.

By the 1970s the Smith Machine became a common piece of equipment in American gyms and as a lasting tribute to Rudy his equipment would forever more bear his last name.

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Heck, Smith Machines became so popular that even Arnold Schwarzenegger used to do ‘Smith Machine Squats‘, an exercise now largely derided amongst the fitness community. Interestingly from the early 1990s, gym goers and physicians alike have begun to turn against the Smith Machine arguing that it should only be used for specific exercises such as Rack Pulls, Bench Presses or Shoulder Presses, which judging by Lalanne’s opinion on the machine, echoes the intentions of its inventor.

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