Love it or hate it, the Smith machine is here to stay. After all, there must be a reason why so many bodybuilders and gym-goers use the machine, right?
If you’ve been looking at the Smith machine, wondering why it’s so popular and how you can use it to build more muscle than your t-shirts can handle, check out the 16 Smith machine exercises below.
It’ll add a whole new dimension to your training program.
Table of Contents
- The 16 Best Smith Machine Exercises
- Benefits Of The Smith Machine
- Drawbacks Of The Smith Machine
- How To Create Your Smith Machine Workout Routine
- Frequently Asked Smith Machine Exercise Questions
The 16 Best Smith Machine Exercises
1. Kaz Press
The Kaz press is the little-known Smith machine exercise developed by three-time world’s strongest man Bill “Kaz” Kaszmaier.
He created the movement to help improve his lateral head tricep strength, and it worked perfectly; he held the bench press world record for a while.
The movement blends the close-grip bench press and the tricep extension.
Using the Smith machine instead of a free-weight barbell removes any instability, allowing you to use heavier weights.
It’s a great exercise to have in your Smith machine workout plan.
However, the movement can place a lot of strain on the wrist, and elbow joints, so it’s not for everyone.
How to do it:
- 1Lie on a flat bench under the Smith machine.
- 2Hold the barbell with an overhand shoulder-width grip.
- 3Keep your elbows tucked and unrack the barbell.
- 4Bend your elbows and lower the bar towards your upper chest. (Your forearms should flatten to your body).
- 5Push back to the starting position and repeat.
Tip: Focus on perfecting your form; if your elbows flair outwards, you won’t get the full benefit.
2. Incline Bench Press
Performing the incline barbell bench press on the Smith machine is one of my go-to exercises during my chest workout.
The Smith machine’s safety hooks allow you to lift heavy weights without needing a spotter. Nobody wants to drop the barbell on their face, right?
Usually, I’d opt for free-weight bench presses, but a 2010 study found that the muscle activation during the Smith machine and free-weight bench presses are pretty similar, so you don’t need to worry too much about missing out on muscle gains.
If you want to target your upper chest muscles, the Smith machine incline bench press is an effective way to activate your upper pecs without the dangers of the free-weight bench press.
However, when performing Smith machine bench presses, your stabilizer muscles aren't engaged.
This is both a good and bad thing; you can lift more weight, but it doesn't help strengthen your stabilizers.
This movement is also a fantastic alternative to standard incline barbell bench press.
How to do it:
- 1Set a bench to 30-45 degrees.
- 2Lie on the bench and grab the bar with an overhand grip shoulder width apart.
- 3Unrack the bar, draw your shoulder blades into the bench, and slowly lower it to your chest.
- 4Pause at the bottom and press it back to the starting position.
3. Bent Over Row
This Smith machine exercise is a must if you want to develop your back muscles, such as your lats.
When you use the Smith machine for bent-over row, you can usually lift more weight than you would while using free weights.
As with the Smith machine bench press, your stabilizer muscles aren't engaged, allowing you to focus on working your lats, traps, and rhomboids.
Using a Smith machine for bent over row allows you to achieve the same range of motion you get performing the free weight version.
Also Check Out - Best Barbell Bent Over Row Alternatives
How to do it:
- 1Lower the bar to the bottom of the Smith machine rack.
- 2Grab the bar with an overhand grip (slightly wider than shoulder-width apart).
- 3Keep your back straight and hinge from your hips. Bend your knees slightly.
- 4Pull the bar to your mid-stomach and squeeze your lats together.
- 5Slowly lower and repeat.
Tip: Use a reverse grip to target your lats and biceps.
4. Inverted Row
While the inverted row is a bodyweight movement that works the biceps and back, using a Smith machine allows you to adjust the bar height easily, making the exercise highly versatile.
You can perform this exercise using a power rack and Olympic barbell, but the Smith machine setup is much easier.
Plus, you don’t want to be the person hogging the squat rack and not doing squats.
I’m a fan of the Smith machine inverted row, as it’s a great way to develop upper body strength for pull-ups.
How to do it:
- 1Set an empty barbell to hip height.
- 2Lie on the floor (face up) and grab the bar with an overhand grip, shoulder width apart.
- 3Place your feet hip-width apart.
- 4Brace your core and keep your back straight. Lift yourself from the floor until your chest touches the barbell.
- 5Slowly lower and repeat.
Want to build massive traps? - If so, this is one of the best Smith machine exercises you can do to target your trap muscles.
Using the Smith machine, you can overload the barbell, which results in massive muscle activation in your traps.
There are multiple ways you can use the Smith machine for shrugs; you can perform the traditional barbell shrug, single arm shrug, and reverse shrug.
Shrugs are fantastic for developing shoulder stabilization and can help you improve other lifts while reducing injury risk.
How to do it:
- 1Set the Smith machine to waist height.
- 2Hold the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
- 3Unrack the bar and retract your shoulder blades.
- 4Shrug your shoulders upwards and lower.
Tip: Try giving reverse shrugs a try; you’ll get a huge trap pump.
6. Split Squat
Forget leg presses; if you want to give your legs a workout using the Smith machine, the split squat is one of the best leg exercises around.
The split squat strengthens your entire lower body: your quads, hamstrings, and glutes perform all of the major work.
By using the Smith machine during the split squat, you have greater stability. The additional stability allows you to take a bigger stride forward, increasing your hip flexion and glute stretch.
As the exercise trains one side at a time, you can iron out any muscle imbalance that you might have.
Read More - Split Squat Vs Lunge
How to do it:
- 1Set a flat bench or platform behind the Smith machine.
- 2Put the Smith bar on your traps and place your strongest foot on the bench.
- 3Take a big stride forward (around 2-3 ft).
- 4Lower your body until your legs reach 90 degrees. (Don’t touch the floor).
- 5Complete your set and repeat on the other side.
Tip: If you don’t have a bench or platform, you can elevate your back leg using an Olympic plate.
7. Good Mornings
Good mornings are one of the most powerful posterior chain exercises you can perform on a Smith machine.
Many powerlifters, athletes, and bodybuilders do this exercise to build bigger glutes and hamstrings while developing a strong lower back.
By doing good mornings with a Smith machine, you don’t need to keep your torso stable, allowing you to focus on the hip hinge movement and the muscles you want to develop.
I wouldn’t recommend this movement to beginners as it’s a complex exercise, and you can still injure yourself if you don’t do it correctly…even on a Smith machine.
See Related - Good Mornings Vs Deadlifts
How to do it:
- 1Place the Smith bar on your upper traps.
- 2Unhook the bar and brace your core.
- 3Send your hips backwards, with a small bend in your knees.
- 4Get as parallel to the floor as possible, and return to the starting position.
8. Hip Thrust
Want to build a powerful set of glutes? - You need to perform the Smith machine hip thrust.
Men often overlook hip thrusting as they think it’s a “woman’s” exercise.
However, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. It’s been proven that hip thrusts can improve athletic performance in athletes, making them more powerful and explosive.
The Smith machine hip thrust is easier to perform when compared to the free weight version. This is largely because it requires less stabilization (noticing a theme here?).
Strengthening your glutes will help you in all aspects of training, ranging from running faster, less likely to get injured, improved back health, better deadlift lockout, and squat strength.
This exercise is also a perfect beginner alternative to regular barbell hip thrusts allowing you to go heavier but maintain form.
How to do it:
- 1Set a bench behind the Smith machine.
- 2Place your middle back against the bench.
- 3Put the barbell over your hip crease.
- 4Move your feet hip-width apart with a bend in the knees.
- 5Thrust upwards and unhook the bar.
- 6Lower your hips to just above the floor.
- 7Push upwards and squeeze your glutes explosively.
Tip: Use a barbell pad to prevent the bar from digging into your hip bones.
9. Romanian Deadlift
This wouldn’t be a list of effective Smith machine exercises without some type of deadlift.
The Romanian deadlift is one of the best lower body exercises that works your glutes and hamstrings through a large range of motion.
Most lower body exercises gym-goers perform will require a lot of quad activation.
However, with the Smith machine Romanian deadlift, the quads are barely used other than to help stabilize the knee joints.
As it's being performed on a Smith machine, it's generally easier to do and could be better for some beginners.
I often find the fixed plane of movement unnatural, and some of my clients prefer using free weights instead.
This isn’t the best movement if you suffer from back pain, as it will place stress on your lower back.
See Related - Can You Deadlift On A Smith Machine?
How to do it:
- 1Set the bar to mid-shin level.
- 2Stand tall with your feet placed hip-width apart.
- 3Hinge from the hips with a straight spine and hold the barbell with an overhand grip (hands just outside your knees).
- 4Bend your knees slightly at all times.
- 5Unhook the bar and push your hips forward, straightening your body.
- 6Slowly lower stretching your hamstrings.
Tip: Always focus on rep quality. Never sacrifice form for heavier weight.
10. Single-Leg Deadlift
Wait…another deadlift variation? - Yep, this one is an absolute killer for your hamstrings and glutes. As you can tell from the name, it involves you working one side at a time.
Working one side at a time eliminates any muscular imbalances that might occur, as each side needs to work equally as hard.
I’m a massive fan of this movement and can guarantee you’ll learn to love it too.
Again, as the barbell is on a set plane of motion, it stabilizes the bar for you. If you’ve struggled with balance during the regular single-leg deadlift, give this variation a go.
How to do it:
- 1Stand behind a hip-level bar.
- 2Place one leg slightly behind the other.
- 3Unhook the bar and brace your core; ensure your back is straight.
- 4Hinge from your hips and hold the bar with an overhand grip placed shoulder width apart.
- 5As you lower the bar, your rear leg raises.
- 6When your hamstring is fully stretched, push your hips forward.
- 7Repeat until your set is complete and swap sides.
11. Reverse Lunge
Reverse lunges are possibly one of the easier variations of the lunge, but they can still give you one hell of a leg pump.
Performing this movement on the Smith machine allows you to focus solely on loading the legs without worrying about your balance.
This Smith machine reverse lunge is an excellent exercise for anyone who suffers from knee pain.
As you’re stepping backwards, it involves more hip movement, which places less stress on your knees.
As it’s a unilateral exercise, it’s excellent for fixing muscle imbalances.
How to do it:
- 1Stand with the bar on your upper traps.
- 2Unhook the bar and step back with one leg.
- 3Lower your body by bending your knees to 90 degrees.
- 4Push upwards and bring your back leg forward and finish your set.
- 5Swap legs and repeat.
12. Front & Back Squat
The Smith machine front and back squat is a controversial topic for most lifters and strength coaches, mainly as it's often disputed that it can cause injury.
This is mainly because the Smith machine's set path doesn't allow your body to move naturally, causing stress on your muscles and joints.
While this idea isn’t wrong, if performed correctly, it can be an excellent muscle builder for your lower body and will eliminate any need for a leg press.
However, in my personal opinion, I wouldn’t give this movement to a client.
Too much can go wrong, and unless you’re an advanced lifter with years of experience squatting, you might hurt yourself.
How to do it:
- 1Stand under the bar and place it on your traps.
- 2Place your feet hip-width.
- 3Unhook the bar and sit back while bending your knees.
- 4Stop at 90 degrees.
- 5Push upwards and repeat.
13. Leg Press
Leg pressing on a squat rack looks impressive and works incredibly well.
This old-school bodybuilding movement has been around for decades and was performed by some of the most famous bodybuilders of all time.
However, you need to be incredibly careful with this movement as you’re put in a compromised position...and if you’re a guy, it could leave you in a bit of pain, if you know what I mean.
I highly recommend only advanced users do this exercise.
Read Also - Leg Press Vs Squats
How to do it:
- 1Set the bar to hip height.
- 2Lie under the bar and place your feet in the air, resting them on the underside of the bar.
- 3Brace your core and push the weight upwards.
- 4Slowly lower and repeat.
Tip: Use the Smith machine safety catches to hold the weight in place; this also prevents you from being squashed if your feet slip.
14. Assisted Pull-Ups
We’ve covered the inverted row; well, this is the next progression on your way to doing a pull-up.
This bodyweight movement works your lats, traps, rhomboids, biceps, and forearms.
You could argue that your shoulder muscles are activated too. As you can see, you get a lot of muscle activation.
I like this exercise as it gives you a clear path to performing pull-ups, which can evade most gym-goers.
Related Article - Best Regular Pull Up Substitutes
How to do it:
- 1Place the bar around chest height.
- 2Sit on the floor and grab the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
- 3Put your feet out front but keep your body upright.
- 4Pull yourself vertically up using your feet to support your weight.
- 5Slowly lower your body.
Tip: If you run out of gas early on, try performing negative only reps.
15. Drag Curl
Want to blast your biceps into oblivion? - The Smith machine drag curl is the exercise for you.
It’s a fantastic exercise to add at the end of your workout as it gets the blood pumping and burns like hell.
I've seen many clients get Popeye-esque arms by including this exercise into their routines; I recommend you do the same.
The Smith machine stabilizes the barbell and completely isolates the biceps, helping to promote hypertrophy.
How to do it:
- 1Stand with the barbell at hip level.
- 2Hold the bar with an underhand hip-width grip.
- 3Unhook the bar and let your arms hang.
- 4Draw your elbows back and upwards as you drag the bar up your body.
- 5Squeeze at the top.
- 6Slowly lower and repeat.
Tip: High reps work best with this exercise; aim for the pump.
16. Smith Machine Calf Raise
Nobody wants a big upper body and small legs, so it’s important to train your calf muscles adequately.
The Smith machine standing calf raise works the lower portion of your legs, ensuring that nobody will ever call you "chicken legs."
It works your calf muscles and is equally as good as using a regular standing calf raise machine. It's also a great seated calf raise alternative.
Your muscles need to move through an extensive range of motion that’ll leave you with DOMs the next day.
How to do it:
- 1Stand on a solid, raised platform.
- 2Set the barbell to shoulder height.
- 3Place the balls of your feet on the edge of the platform.
- 4Unhook the bar and lower your heels until your calf muscles are at full stretch.
- 5Push upwards and tense your calves.
Tip: A small 3-second pause at the bottom makes the exercise twice as hard.
Benefits Of The Smith Machine
One of the main reasons why you should consider using the Smith machine is that you don’t need to worry about having a spotter nearby.
The Smith machine solves this problem by enabling you to lock the weight into position with a quick turn of your wrists.
This means you can push yourself further than you usually would without the fear of getting trapped under a heavy barbell.
This is why Smith machines are popular in home or garage gyms; it gives you a sense of security knowing you’re safe while working out.
Ever been stuck under a heavy barbell? I have, and it’s no fun at all.
Suggested Equipment - Best Smith Machines For Home Gyms
Perfect For Hypertrophy Training
The Smith machine workouts are excellent for hypertrophy training, as you can push your body beyond what you'd typically do during free weight exercises.
By performing additional reps and sets, your muscles will take a beating. Plus, the constant tension placed on your muscles will stimulate muscle growth.
Another aspect to consider is that it removes a lot of work from your stabilizer muscles.
You can focus on the target muscle without other areas giving in beforehand (stabilizers can often be the limiting factor during exercises).
Add all of these factors together, and you can easily see why the Smith machine is more than just another training tool in your muscle-building arsenal.
Reduced Injury Risk
The Smith machine operated on a fixed plane of motion. This is often considered a weakness, and while this might be true, it’s also one of its biggest strengths.
By using a fixed plane of motion, the Smith machine allows you to perform exercises using a more consistent form, reducing the risk of joint injury.
For example, during free weight squats, your entire body is needed to help maintain stability in your core.
In comparison, the Smith machine keeps the weight balanced throughout the entire movement.
Drawbacks Of The Smith Machine
There are several reasons why the Smith machine receives so much hate. Below are a few reasons why the machine might not be for you.
Aren’t As Functional
One of the main reasons why the Smith machine might not be for you is that Smith machine training isn’t as functional as using free weights.
This is because the Smith machine moves along a fixed plane and doesn’t involve your stabilizer muscles which are needed when using dumbbells and free weighted barbells.
Another aspect to consider is that everybody has a different size and shape; these subtle differences aren’t taken into account on the Smith machine.
What feels good for me might cause you pain and vice versa.
Can Cause Overuse Injuries
If you use nothing but the Smith machine, you might encounter a few injuries due to the overuse of certain muscles and the underuse of your stabilizers.
As the Smith machine removes the need for many of your stabilizer muscles, it can cause certain areas of your body to overdevelop or become overused.
This is because your muscles will take the full force of your workouts with little assistance from the supporting areas.
While this isn’t common, you should be aware of it.
For best practice, I’d perform many of the exercises on this list alongside free weighted movements; this will give you the best of both worlds and limit annoying overuse injuries from occurring.
Don't let this scare you off… how is the Smith machine's fixed movement any different from a leg extension? They both use a fixed plane of movement, and both are safe.
Be smart with the Smith machine, and you won’t have an issue.
Can Help Cheat On Movements
If you performed a Smith machine squat and told your friends, you’d no doubt be told that using the machine is cheating and that only a free weight squat counts… why so?
While you can’t compare the two movements (as they are different), it doesn’t make one ok and the other cheating.
From my experience working alongside professional powerlifters, the use of a Smith machine isn’t allowed during competitions, and I’d bet money that is where the “Smith machines help you cheat on movements” crowd got it from.
It’s like comparing apples and oranges; they’re entirely different.
How To Create Your Smith Machine Workout Routine
Now you know the best Smith machine exercises to develop your muscles, you’re probably wondering how they’d fit into your workout routine.
Here's a quick workout you can try on the next Smith machine you see in your local gym or if you've bought one for your home gym.
Note: This is a full body workout so that you can hit all of your muscle groups in one gym session… talk about getting the most bang for your buck.
Feel free to switch a few of these movements for free weighted versions so you can work your stabilizers too.
If you only manage 8 reps, try to build up to 12 on each exercise. Only increase the weight once you can complete each set with excellent form ‘aka’ progressive overload.
It’s a simple workout, but do it properly, and it should get all of your muscles fired up.
Frequently Asked Smith Machine Exercise Questions
Can you build muscle with a Smith machine?
As most Smith machine exercises are pretty much the same as the free weight version, you can definitely build muscle using this gym equipment. The only difference is the number of stabilizer muscles the Smith machine recruits is less.
How much does the Smith machine bar weigh?
The average Smith machine bar will weigh between 15-25lbs depending on the brand. Most Smith machines have a counterbalance on the barbell to help it remain stable; this removes some of the barbell’s weight and gives it the “gliding” feel that’s associated with Smith machines.
How much do Smith machines cost on average?
How long's a piece of string?... but seriously, Smith machines can cost anything between $1500-4000. It depends on the make and model you've chosen. In my experience, anything cheaper than this can often feel flimsy, which is the last thing you want from your Smith machine.
Which way do you face when squatting on a Smith machine?
When performing an exercise, you want to ensure you’re facing the same way as the hooks are on the smith machine. This makes it far easier to unhook and hook the bar once you’ve finished your set. I once found myself facing the wrong way during a bench press, and rehooking the bar took more effort than my actual set…safe to say I almost died (no exaggeration…honest).
What are the best glute exercises on Smith machine?
Is it the reverse lunge? Deadlift? Squat?... nope, it’s the Smith machine hip thrust. The hip thrust movement virtually isolates the glutes forcing them to move large amounts of weight through a wide range of motion. Doing so promotes glute hypertrophy so that you can build a set of glutes like one of Michaelangelo’s statues.
If you’ve been wondering if you can use a Smith machine to build muscles but are unsure of what exercises you should be doing, the article above should clear things up.
It can be confusing at first as the Smith machine can look somewhat alien, especially if you’re new or use free weights.
Look through the 16 exercises above and add some to your routine. Or, check out the sample workout I’ve created for you.
- Kobe Bryant Workout Routine (The ‘666’ Workout Explained) - December 25, 2022
- 25 Effective Bodyweight CrossFit Workouts – Garage Gym Pro - December 16, 2022
- 10 Shoulder Workouts With Dumbbells For Delt Destruction - December 9, 2022
Last Updated on November 28, 2022