11 Best Smith Machine Squat Alternatives (Build Bigger Legs)

Smith machine squats are an excellent exercise for seasoned bodybuilders and beginners. With a Smith squat, you don't have any weight to balance, so you can focus solely on working your lower body. The Smith machine squat can offer many benefits, but maybe you need other options.  

Unfortunately, not all gyms have Smith machines, and very few people have a Smith machine in their home gym. Fortunately, you can do a Smith machine squat alternative that is just as good! The guide below will go over several alternatives to the Smith squat machine. 

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. 

Here are a few Smith squat alternatives that can offer you all of the same benefits. 

1. Barbell Squats 

Barbell squats are an excellent Smith machine front squat alternative. Barbell back and front squats are actually a step up from Smith machine squats. They involve more balance and coordination, more core engagement, and your glutes and hamstrings are more involved. If you want to get stronger, front and back barbell squats are better than Smith machine squats.

How to perform a barbell front squat:

  • Start with a barbell in your squat rack at about shoulder height. 
  • Walk forward and grip the bar with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart.  
  • 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. 
  • Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back. Then, unrack the bar and take a couple of steps back. 
  • Your feet should be between hip and shoulder-width apart.  
  • Inhale and bend your knees and hips at the same time.  
  • Descend as far as you can while keeping your torso upright, your elbows up, and your knees in line with your toes.  
  • Drive your feet into the floor and stand back up.  
Barbell Squats

2. Reverse Lunge  

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.

How to perform: 

  • Grab dumbbells in the suitcase position or place a barbell across your soldiers and stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Move your left leg back behind your body and bend your right knee while lowering your hips. Keep your torso upright and lower yourself until your left knee is 90 degrees and your right knee is parallel to the floor. 
  • 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. 
Reverse Lunge

3. Goblet Squat  

Another variation of the regular squat exercise is the goblet squat. 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. 

How to perform: 

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the kettlebell or dumbbell with your hands at about chest height. 
  • Bends your knees and lower your hips. You want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height at your lowest point.  
  • Lean forward for balance, but keep your back in a straight line. 
  • Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs. 
Goblet Squats

4. Cable Machine Squat  

A cable machine squat will work your quads like a Smith machine squat. However, 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.

How to perform: 

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

Suggested Equipment - Best Cable Crossover Machines

Cable Machine Squat

5. Pistol Squat  

Pistol squats are a challenging one-legged squat exercise that isolates one leg to develop balance, coordination, and mobility. Most people won't need any extra weight to do this exercise. But, with practice, you should work up to using impressive weights building muscular legs in the process.

How to perform: 

  • Stand with your feet closer than hip-width apart. Raise your arms out to the sides for balance. 
  • 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. 
  • Squat back up and bring your arms directly in front of you to help with control and balance. 
  • Repeat the exercise and then do the same with the opposite leg. 

Related Article - Do Squats Make You Shorter?

Pistol Squat

6. 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.

How to perform: 

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

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

Stability Ball Wall Sit

7. 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. 

How to perform: 

  • Bend down enough to wrap your elbows under the bar with your back arched. 
  • Deadlift the bar off of the ground until standing straight up. Your legs should be at a wide stance. 
  • Squat down past parallel while keeping your chest up and core tight. 
  • Push back up with your heels and repeat. 
Zercher Squat

8. Leg Extension  

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

How to perform: 

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

9. Jefferson Squat 

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

How to perform: 

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

10. Leg Press  

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. 

How to perform: 

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

11. Glute Bridge  

The Glute bridge allows you to achieve full glute extension and hold that extended position for maximum muscle fiber activation. It's a safer and more natural way to work your glutes than the Smith Machine squat.  

How to perform: 

  • Lie on a bench with your back elevated off the floor and your barbell across your hips.  
  • Grab the bar with your knees bent and feet flat. 
  • With your hands on the bar, push your feet into the floor and lift your hips upward until they are parallel to your shoulders. 
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and hold for 2 seconds. 
  • Lower the weight back to the starting position and repeat. 
Glute Bridges

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.

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. 

More Training - Best Dumbbell Glute Exercises

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.


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 don't have access to a Smith squat machine, or you'd prefer to do an alternative, you have options. The above alternatives are just as good, if not better, than the Smith squat. Incorporate one or all of these into your routine for an excellent lower body workout. 


Last Updated on March 16, 2023