Like most gyms, the one where I work out has only one squat rack. In most globo-gyms this probably wouldn't be a problem as people overwhelmingly – and mistakenly – prefer working out on machines rather than lifting free weights. But the PCYC gym I use in Cairns is a bit of a meat-head gym and there are a lot of dudes (almost universally they are men) who use the squat rack. I try to work out between 7 am and 8 am, which, as far as I can tell, is around the “golden hour” for the squat rack being free.
My gym also has a Smith machine which the guys will occasionally use, but is much more popular among women. I'm not a fan of any machine lifts. Unless you are training for a body building competition, I think time in the gym is better spent doing some of the big lifts (squats, deadlifts, rows, etc.) and using your own stabiliser muscles to move the weight rather than relying on a machine. Using a Smith machine instead of squatting with a bar seems a bit like doing plank exercises to work your “core.” When you actually have to move something around in the real world, it is seldom, if ever, on a pulley and a track. Similarly, when we need to stabilise our trunk to move weight we virtually never do so in a static position.
Overhead squat with Roland's 20 kg ski pack
People do some really weird things on a Smith machine they'd never get away with using an Olympic bar and weights. They tilt way back on their heels, they pulse up and down in ultra-quick tempo like some demented 70's aerobics tape, or they wiggle their butts about like a pollinating bee. So, when the squat rack was busy this morning, I approached the Smith machine with some trepidation. From all my observations it seemed well nigh impossible to do a proper squat on a Smith machine.
I did a few warm-up sets and then plopped 50 kg onto the Olympic bar. This sounds frightfully impressive as I don't weigh that much over 50 kg, but really it's not. The cage has some kind of pulley mechanism and the bar moves up and down on a track so you aren't really moving 50 kg. Luckily, I was only one set into my work-out when the squat rack came free and I quickly switched over – and dropped the weight a couple of kilograms.
I did learn, however, that you can do a proper full depth squat on a Smith machine. That doesn't mean you should, but you can.