Smith machine squats are an excellent exercise that removes the need for balance so you can focus solely on strengthening your lower body.

Not all gyms have Smith machines, and very few people have a Smith machine in their home gym.

I'm giving you the 11 best Smith machine squat alternatives for you to build serious lower body strength. 

Whether you don't have a Smith machine available, you don't enjoy doing Smith squats, or you need an alternative move for any other reason, you have options. For a Smith squat alternative to be effective, it has to work the same muscles. 

Read on for 11 Smith squat alternatives that you can do without the Smith machine that offer you all of the same benefits. 

1. Barbell Squats 

Man Doing Barbell Squats

Barbell squats are an excellent Smith machine squat alternative. A barbell squat are a step up from Smith machine squats as it involves more balance and coordination. A barbell squat requires more core engagement and has a higher recruitment of stabalizer muscles. 

If you want to get stronger barbell back squats offer more of a challenge than Smith machine squats.


  • One of the most effective lower body strengthening exercises that builds strong legs.
  • Improves core strength.
  • Increases mobility in the squat position. 

How To do a barbell squat:

  1. Start with a barbell in a squat rack at about shoulder height. 
  2. Walk forward and grip the bar with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Push your elbows forward and under the bar so your upper arms are parallel to the floor. The bar should rest against your neck, but it should not press heavily on your throat. 
  4. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back. Then, unrack the bar and take a couple of steps back. 
  5. Your feet should be between hip and shoulder-width apart. 
  6. Inhale and bend your knees and hips at the same time. 
  7. Descend as far as you can while keeping your torso upright, your elbows up, and your knees in line with your toes. 
  8. Drive your feet into the floor and stand back up.

Tips From A Trainer!

When doing a back squat, keep your upper back engaged by pulling the bar downwards, into your shoulders. This creates a strong upper body position and helps protect your spine. 

2. Reverse Lunge 

Man Doing Reverse Lunge Exercise

Reverse lunges focus more on the glutes and hamstrings than the Smith machine squat. Reverse lunges have a natural and full range of motion and can be done with minimal equipment.

However, if you have a knee injury, you can try lunge alternatives that can work the same muscles as regular lunges.


  • Improves unilateral strength in the legs.
  • Works on muscular imbalances. 
  • Builds strong hips.

How to do a reverse lunge: 

  1. Grab dumbbells in the suitcase position or place a barbell across your soldiers and stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Move your left leg back behind your body and bend your right knee while lowering your hips. Keep your upper body upright and lower yourself until your left knee is 90 degrees and your right knee is parallel to the floor. 
  3. Push through the right leg to return to the start position, squeezing your glutes as you come back to upright, and repeat on the other side.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure your back knee hovers just a couple of inches from the floor, don't hit your knee of the floor each rep. 

3. Goblet Squat 

Woman Doing Goblet Squats

Another effective squat variation to build strong leg muscles is the goblet squat [1]. This is a great Smith machine squat alternative.

You can do the exercise with a straighter back because the weight is in front of you in a wider stance, similar to Smith machine squats. This results in less core engagement compared to a back squat.


  • Builds a strong core.
  • Great exercise for beginners.
  • The front position of the weight helps balance and keeps your torso upright.

How To do a goblet squat:

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a weight with your hands at about chest height and keep it close. 
  2. Bends your knees and lower your hips. You want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height at your lowest point. 
  3. Lean forward for balance, but keep your back in a straight line. 
  4. Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.

Tips From A Trainer!

You can do this exercise holding either a kettlebell or dumbbell.  

4. Cable Machine Squat 

Man Doing Cable Machine Squats

A cable machine squat will work your quads like a Smith machine squat. A cable machine squat will provide a more intense workout for your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

Because the weight is guided on rods, it's a straightforward exercise that's easy to learn and very safe. This exercise can also be done with resistance bands.


  • Great for hypertrophy training.
  • Increases glute size and strength.
  • Good variation for those who have a back injury. 

How To do a cable machine squat:

  1. Attach a straight bar to a low pulley. 
  2. Hold the handle with an overhand grip and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and arms straight. 
  3. Take a couple of steps back, leaning backward slightly. 
  4. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back. 
  5. Bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor without rounding your lower back. 
  6. Return to a standing position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure your pelvis stays neutral in the bottom position of the squat. If you find that your pelvis starts to tuck under, try not going as low.  

5. Pistol Squat 

Woman Doing Pistol Squat

Pistol squats are a challenging one-legged squat exercise that isolates one leg to develop balance, coordination, and mobility and are much more challenging than Smith machine squats. 

Most people won't need any extra weight to do this exercise. With practice, you should work up to using impressive weights building muscular legs in the process.


  • Improves muscular imbalances and builds strength in all leg muscles.
  • Challenges balance.
  • Increases core strength.

How To do a pistol squat:

  1. Stand with your feet closer than hip-width apart. Raise your arms out to the sides for balance. 
  2. Squat all the way down with one leg until you reach a sitting position. Keep the other straight out in front of you and your torso completely straight. 
  3. Squat back up and bring your arms directly in front of you to help with control and balance. 
  4. Repeat the exercise and then do the same with the opposite leg.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're a beginner, try holding on to something for stability or aim for a box. As your strength increases, try removing the aid.

6. Stability Ball Wall Sit 

Woman Doing Stability Ball Wall Sit

Stability ball wall squats are a little easier than freestanding squats because the ball supports and guides your movements. Similar to Smith machine squats, stability ball wall squats put an emphasis on your quadriceps.


  • Strengthens leg muscles and challenges your core.
  • Challenges balance.
  • Great exercise for beginners.

How To do a stability ball wall sit:

  1. Put a medium-sized stability ball between your back and a smooth wall on your lumbar curve. 
  2. Put your feet slightly out in front of you, between shoulder and hip-width apart. 
  3. Keep the ball between your back and the wall and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Stand back up and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

You can make this exercise more challenging by holding dumbbells in your hands.  

7. Zercher Squat 

Man Doing Zercher Squat

Zercher squats aren't the most comfortable Smith machine squat alternative, but it's an excellent exercise for building strong, muscular legs.

You can place a folded exercise mat between the bar and your bent elbows or wear neoprene elbow sleeves to make them a little more comfortable. 


  • Increases quad size and strength.
  • Helps train full range of motion and allows you to get deeper into a squat position.
  • Challenges upper back and help promote an upright torso.

How To do a zercher squat:

  1. Set up the squat rack so you're able to get the bar underneath your elbows.
  2. Wrap your elbows under the bar and keep the arms bent to keep the barbell in place.
  3. With your feet in a squat stance, initiate the movement by bending the hips and knees at the same time.
  4. Squat down past parallel while keeping your torso upright and core tight. 
  5. Push through the floor back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired number of reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

A Zercher squat helps keep your torso upright. If you are struggling with mobility, you can elevate your heels with weight plates or a wedge.

8. Leg Extension 

man doing leg extension machine exercise

The leg extension is an excellent quad exercise because it moves your quads through its ideal biomechanical range of motion, isolating the working muscle.  

It's a great alternative to Smith machine squats that will protect you from injury. If you can't access the machine, try out leg extension alternatives for similar effects.


  • Great exercise to strengthen ligaments around the knee joint.
  • Improves athletic performance.
  • Helps reduce risk of injury.

How To do a leg extension:

  1. Sit on the leg extension machine and grab the handles. 
  2. Bend your knees and place your ankles under the pads. 
  3. Lift your legs until they are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Lower the weight until it nearly touches the machine, stopping short of knee lockout. 
  5. Lower and repeat the movement.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure you have the machine set up so you can full extend your leg to get complete quad activation. 

9. Jefferson Squat 

Man Doing The Jefferson Squat

The Jefferson squat emphasizes the inner quads and the glutes, making it a great alternative to a Smith machine squat. 

In addition, the Jefferson squat doesn't compress your spine, so it's great for people with pre-existing back problems. 


  • Builds strength in the adductors.
  • Stabalizes your core and builds more core strength.
  • Adds variation and can keep your leg day more interesting. 

How To do a Jefferson squat:

  1. Place the barbell on the floor and straddle the middle of it. 
  2. Squat down and grab the bar with one hand in front of your body and the other behind. 
  3. Squat the weight up until you lock your arms and legs. 
  4. Keep your chest up, back and head straight, and your feet flat. 
  5. Bend your knees, lower the bar, and return to the starting position

Tips From A Trainer!

Bring your chest up in the starting position to avoid your back rounding. If you can't stop a rounded back whilst performing this exercise then try dropping the weight.  

10. Leg Press 

Woman Doing Leg Press Exercise

The leg press has you push weights away from your body with your legs. This can be done sideways but is often done upward while sitting in a low seat. 

If you have access to a leg press machine this is a great alternative to Smith machine squats that builds up your leg muscles. 


  • Lower risk of injury compared to barbell lifts.
  • Great for building leg strength.
  • Ideal for beginners.

How To do a leg press:

  1. Adjust the machine to your personal size and select your desired weight. 
  2. Sit down and put your feet on the pad at about shoulder width. 
  3. Push the weights away from your body by stretching your legs.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't go so low that your lower back starts to lift off the seat whilst doing the leg press. Keep your back in contact the whole time to reduce chance of injury. 

11. Barbell Hip Thrust

Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust allows you to achieve full glute extension and hold that extended position for maximum muscle fiber activation making it one of the best alternatives for a Smith machine squat that focuses on the glutes.


  • Strong glutes helps prevent risk of back and knee injuries.
  • Can easily be done at home or whilst travelling. 
  • Suitable for all fitness levels and can easily be progressed.

How To do a glute bridge:

  1. Sit on the floor with your upper back resting on a bench and a barbell across your hips. 
  2. Grab the bar with your knees bent and feet flat. 
  3. With your hands on the bar, push your feet into the floor and lift your hips upward until they are parallel to your shoulders. 
  4. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and hold for 2 seconds. 
  5. Lower the weight back to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure you keep your spine neutral throughout this movement by keeping your core braced, ribs down and chin tucked. 

Mistakes To Avoid When Doing Smith Machine Alternatives

You need to avoid certain mistakes when doing the above Smith machine squat alternatives. Here are just a couple.

Using Incorrect Form 

When performing any exercise, form is vital. The most common mistake people make is performing the movement too fast. Instead, take your time and stay precise and focused on engaging your muscles.  

This is especially important on the descent, where your ability to control your movement down is an exercise alone. Come back up at a steady rate.  

And be mindful of your back. Curving your spine is always a mistake. Keeping your upper-back muscles engaged and your chest up will enable you to prevent injury. Also, be sure to get your foot placement right from the start.  

Adding Too Much Weight 

Another mistake a lot of lifters make is lifting too much weight. It's best to leave the ego at the door and focus on form more than weight.

Lifting weights that are too heavy can cause muscle and joint damage. It can also cause spinal injuries such as herniated discs. In extreme cases, heavy lifting can even tear a heart artery, resulting in death. 

Muscles Worked With Smith Machine Squat Substitutes


The Smith machine squat substitutes above focus heavily on your lower body and legs. Your quad muscles are by far the largest muscle group in your body, making up the front of your thigh [2].

Your leg muscles are essential for sports, and your quadriceps are the largest muscles in your legs, so they should be trained for greater athleticism. 


Your gluteal muscles are another one of your largest and strongest muscle groups. Strong glutes have always been symbols of youth, virility, and strength. The glutes sit at the center of your body, so they are involved in most athletic endeavors you undertake [3]. 

Lower Back 

Your lower back muscles are found in your lumbar region. They are the center of much of your movements and provide strength and flexibility for your lower back.

The muscles of your lower back are responsible for stabilizing, extending, and rotating your spine. Your lumbar region is used extensively in your everyday life and during sports and lifting, so it's crucial to train them. 


Your calf muscles are located on the back of your lower leg and are always working when you are on your feet. Your calves are responsible for extending your foot and propelling you forward and upward for sprints and jumps. Your calf muscles are the finishing touch to your legs [4].


Your hamstrings are another large muscle group in your legs. They are responsible for extending your hip and flexing your leg, and they are involved in everything from lifting to sprinting. They are essential to training for athletics. 

Smith Machine Squat Alternative FAQs

What's better for squatting - smith machine or free weights? 

Do both if you're trying to decide between a Smith machine or free weights. Both exercises can be incorporated into leg training. The Smith machine squat can allow heavier lifting and the forward adjustment of foot positioning. However, the fixed nature of the Smith machine doesn't call numerous stabilizer muscles into play.

What are the reasons you shouldn't squat on a smith machine? 

First, there's nothing natural about a Smith Machine Squat. When you train with free weights, your muscles have to work to stabilize the weights. On a Smith machine, though, the stability is provided for you.

The Smith machine allows for unrealistic movement patterns, so it doesn't train you to move in everyday life. Every exercise you do should be functional and transfer to how you move in sport and life. With its fixed bar path and total lack of instability, the Smith machine doesn't. 

Can I replace smith machine squats with deadlifts and lunges? 

Along with the alternatives above, lunges and deadlifts are excellent alternatives to the Smith squat machine. Both lunges and deadlifts work your legs and lower back and are both very functional. 


If you aren't able to do a Smith machine squat, or you'd prefer to do an alternative, you have lots of options. The alternatives in this guide are just as good, if not better, than the Smith machine squat.

Incorporating these exercises into your routine will help you build a strong lower body. 






Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website