Can You Deadlift On A Smith Machine? (Technique Explained)

Doing a Smith Machine deadlift is a unique way to deadlift that you may never have tried before. Often you might have seen a typical barbell deadlift, but doing a Smith Machine deadlift brings extra benefits to this crucial exercise.

One of the benefits of using a Smith Machine for deadlifts is that proper form gets easier to achieve and maintain. This way, you can use the Smith Machine bar to prepare yourself for free-weight deadlifts.

This article will share what types of deadlifts can be done with and without a Smith Machine. We’ll also cover how to perform a deadlift safely and some common mistakes people make when performing deadlifts.

There are many deadlift variations, and you can do many of them on a Smith Machine. We'll explore some Smith Machine deadlift benefits in this section.

1. Conventional/Regular Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is one you’ve no doubt heard of.

A deadlift is “...a compound, multiple-joint lower body exercise.”[1]

Conventional deadlifts are also known as barbell deadlifts. You’ll attach free weights to the barbell and get into a starting position where your arms can go straight down to the bar on the ground and pull it up.

Most gym-goers who regularly practice the free barbell deadlift will only use heavy weights once their starting position is right and proper form is maintained.

This means having an overhand grip, knees slightly bent, arms shoulder width apart, hips pressed forwards, and the head straight forward. Other grips, like the mixed grip, can be used but are more advanced.

2. Stiff-Leg Deadlift

A Smith Machine deadlift provides more stability as the barbell has a fixed bar path. The Smith Machine deadlift muscles worked include the upper back, glutes, and hamstrings.

This deadlift on a Smith Machine uses a different form than the conventional deadlift. The entire posterior chain is used, including all of your back muscles. When you’re lifting heavy weights, this is a powerful variation.

Performing standard deadlifts on straight bar path machines increase your chances of hitting the correct starting position. Stiff-leg deadlifts on a Smith Machine mimic this but confine your range of motion.

Related Article - Romanian Deadlift Vs Stiff-Leg Deadlift

3. Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The only difference between Smith Machine RDLs and stiff-leg deadlifts is the name. They both achieve the same result. But doing Romanian deadlifts using a Smith Machine involves either a straight bar path or angled bar paths. Most commercial gyms have the latter.

The angle on some Smith Machines can cause a problem, like excessive hip extension, but this can be corrected with careful practice. So long as the bar placement is right, with legs stationary and hands approximately shoulder width apart, you’ll be good to go.

It’s worth experimenting with a hamstring isolation exercise like the Smith Machine Romanian deadlift, especially with heavier weights. But only once you know how to deadlift with Smith Machines using the correct form.

See Also - Romanian (RDL) Vs Conventional Deadlift

Can You Deadlift On A Smith Machine? (Technique Explained)

4. Sumo Deadlift

If isolation exercises for the posterior chain are your preference, sumo deadlifts are a step above the conventional deadlift and Romanian deadlift. Sumo deadlift training involves moving your feet further apart.

Doing this tilts the upper body closer to the ground, ensuring there isn’t too much pressure on your back muscles. This makes sumo deadlifts a great addition to your workout arsenal, working the same muscles as regular deadlifts but without extra strain.

It’s important to mention that your toes should be pointed outwards when pulling weight and lifting the bar slowly on this exercise. On a Smith Machine, the fixed plane provides an assisted deadlift, making this easier.

Learn More - Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlift

5. One Leg Deadlift

There are some alternative exercises when you do a Smith Machine deadlift. One of these is the one-leg deadlift. A Smith Machine deadlift with one leg makes sense because a Smith rack stays stationary while in use.

A one-leg Smith deadlift is doable regardless of whether you’re dealing with an angled Smith Machine or an ordinary one. So long as you use the Smith Machine correctly, you’ll get results. The main benefits of the one-leg deadlift are felt in the glutes.

When doing this deadlift on a Smith Machine, you should balance carefully and tilt one leg backward. Ensure you activate the hamstrings and glutes.

smith machine one legged deadlift

How To Safely Perform A Regular Smith Machine Deadlift

It’s essential to understand how to perform a Smith Machine deadlift correctly.

The Strength and Conditioning Journal highlights the “complexity of mastering proper lifting technique and implementing the correct training program.” [2]

We’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to do a regular Smith Machine deadlift correctly. This guide will be broken down into several sections to give you a detailed understanding.

Recommended Gear

In most cases, you won’t need any extra accessories to complete a regular Smith Machine deadlift.

But if your workout routine is intense or you’re lifting heavy weights, you’ll want some lifting straps. They will help you while using a Smith Machine when your grip wears out.

Wearing trousers, socks, and flat shoes is also a wise choice because it stops your shins from getting scraped.

Initial Setup

  • Begin using a Smith Machine on the lowest setting.
  • Add a limited amount of weight.
  • Get into the correct form.
  • Approach the bar.

Foot Position

  • Ensure your feet approach the bar from behind.
  • Feet positioned shoulder width apart and pointing ahead will help with your form.
  • Some exercises like the sumo deadlift can involve placing the feet wider apart and pointing toes outwards.

Body Position

  • Slowly move your lower body towards the bar and gently press your hips forward.
  • Keep knees stationary at first, but bend forward a little when hips can go no further.
  • Ensure your shoulder blades are over the bar, and don't let them sag.
  • Activate the lats by pulling downwards.
  • Ensure your back remains in place and look forwards.

Hand Position

  • Ensure your hands are just outside the shins.
  • Firmly grip the bar, almost crushing it as you do so.
  • Prepare mentally for what you’re about to do.
  • If you require more grip strength after several sets, apply some weightlifting chalk.

The Pull

  • The lift will be easier or harder, depending on your muscle mass and the weight involved. Ensure that you pull upwards on the bar to remove any slack.
  • Breathe properly to create intra-abdominal pressure to ease spinal stress.
  • Explode the bar upwards, shoving your feet downwards as you would on a leg press.
  • Drive your chest back and up as you move the bar off the ground.
  • When the bar is at your knees, push your hips forward.
  • Maintain a flat back as you continue toward lockout.

Lockout

  • Press your hips forwards.
  • Perform a rep squeeze with your glutes at the very end.
  • Align the hips and knees, ensuring the shoulders lean slightly back.

Lowering The Bar

  • Push your hips backward and only bend the knees once the bar is below your thighs.
  • Lower the bar with control, but not too slowly.
Conventional Deadlift on a Smith Machine

Smith Machine Deadlift Mistakes (Risks To Avoid)

Smith Machine deadlifts influence your range of motion and rely on your stabilizer muscles, much like conventional deadlifts do. But when you deadlift with a Smith Machine, there are extra concerns to be aware of. They’re covered in this section.

Lower Back Hyperextension

When using a Smith Machine with an angled bar path that limits your range of motion, it’s easy to strain your back muscles.

The lockout is the most challenging portion of the exercise, and you can unintentionally press your hips too far forward. This hyperextends the back and offers no practical benefits.

Back Rounding

You might notice your back rounds when holding the bar if you're not familiar or comfortable with Smith Machine deadlifts. This is incorrect form and will damage your back if the weights you lift are too heavy.

Shrugging The Weight Up

Even when using a Smith Machine, it shouldn’t be possible for you to shrug up the bar while you’re holding it.

If this happens, it’s a sign that your dead weight is too light. Instead, you need to add more weight to the bar and try again with the new amount.

Not Alternating Grips

When you deadlift with a Smith Machine, the usual overhand grip will suffice in most cases.

But sometimes, if you’re lifting lots of weight, it can cause an imbalance in your muscle training. If you start to notice this, change your grips each week.

Gripping The Bar Too Wide

Even if you change your grip or focus on different exercises like the Smith Machine rack pull, you can still make a mistake and place your hands too far apart.

Your hands need to be close to the outside edge of your shins. This reduces the travel distance of the bar.

Bending Your Elbows

Whether you’re doing one of the deadlift types or a rack pull on the Smith Machine, you should never bend your elbows.

It will channel the exertion into the wrong muscles, making your legs and biceps take on excessive pressure. Ensure you pull with your legs and lock the elbows.

Bouncing Off The Safety Stops

It’s important to lift and replace the bar carefully. Otherwise, you’ll risk damaging the weights or the bar and not maintaining appropriate form.

Always maintain control while you perform standard deadlifts on a Smith Machine, and let the weight plates rest gently after each set.

Breathing Not In Line With Movement

We mentioned intra-abdominal pressure earlier in our article, and breathing correctly is vital for getting it right.

Breathing should be deliberate while you're deadlifting. At the start of your lift, breathe in and hold it. Only breathe out when you reach the lockout stage.

Letting Your Hips Shoot Up

If you‘re out of practice with deadlifts, then you may find that your hips are hard to control. If this is the case, you’ll need to raise your hips and drive them back rather than down at the start of your lift.

deadlifting on a smith machine

Smith Machine Vs Barbell Deadlift (Our Experts Compare)

If you’re still unsure whether a Smith Machine deadlift is correct for you compared to a barbell deadlift, this is the section for you. We‘ve carefully assessed the details.

Muscles Worked

Both types of deadlift will work similar muscle groups. These include the following:

  • Quadriceps
  • Forearms
  • Rhomboids
  • Glutes
  • Calves
  • Trapezius
  • Hamstrings

However, the Smith Machine has a fixed bar path and placement, resulting in less effort being required to keep the weight stable. The starting position is higher, and this means less strength is needed.

Because the range of motion is kept to a minimum, the development of the leg muscles is somewhat reduced compared to a barbell deadlift.

The upside is that practicing form is easier on the Smith Machine, and the right form will effectively target all your muscles.

Benefits

The benefits of both deadlift variants are similar. But barbell lifts have some specific benefits that Smith Machine ones don‘t.

Barbell deadlifts use extra muscles and require more power from the body. This means that developing decent muscle mechanics is best achieved with barbell deadlifts.

A study from MedCrave also reveals barbell deadlifts “improve vertical jump performance.” [3]

Drawbacks

As with the benefits, the drawbacks are similar for both. It’s easy to strain your muscles through poor form or excess weight. But with Smith Machine deadlifts, the narrower range of motion and artificial way of lifting makes deadlifts easier.

However, this makes conventional deadlifts a greater challenge. The longer you use a Smith Machine, the longer you miss out on natural deadlifts.


Smith Machine Deadlifting (Your Questions Answered)

What’s a good alternative to Smith Machine deadlifts?

One of the variations we didn’t discuss much is rack pulls. A Smith rack pull starts at knee height and allows you to lift extra weight. If you have a weak lower back, it can be more useful in your workout journey.

Related Article - Rack Pull Vs Deadlift

How much does the Smith Machine bar weigh?

It depends on the gym you use and what equipment they use. But in most cases, the bar will weigh between 15-25lbs. Sometimes it can be as much as 45lbs or as little as 6lbs.

Can you do Smith Machine deadlifts at Planet Fitness?

Planet Fitness is a gym franchise with thousands of locations. They permit deadlifts on their Smith Machines, but they have some simple etiquette rules to ensure their gyms remain a pleasant environment for all customers.

Is it OK to squat with a Smith Machine?

It is OK to squat with a Smith Machine, but you’ll miss out on the natural movements from conventional barbell squats. Therefore, you should only do squats on a Smith Machine if you need to practice your form.


Conclusion

The definitive answer to the title of our article is that you can deadlift on a Smith Machine. There are various reasons for doing so, along with some disadvantages that we covered in the article.

Because you’re now aware of the possible deadlift variations and common mistakes people make, this should give you the confidence to go to your nearest gym and start lifting!

References:

1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337670594_Understanding_the_deadlift_and_its_variations 

2. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/fulltext/2010/08000/improving_the_deadlift__understanding.4.aspx 

3. http://medcraveonline.com/MOJYPT/MOJYPT-03-00042.pdf 

Last Updated on August 29, 2022