Which Way To Face On A Smith Machine: So You Don’t Look Dumb

Are you new to weight lifting and wondering which way to face when using the Smith machine? If you're reading this, you’ve probably heard about or seen a Smith machine and want to start using it in your training routine.

The good news is that there is no right or wrong way you should face when using a Smith machine. The direction you face depends on the type of Smith machine you're using.

To learn more about which way to face when using a Smith machine, continue reading!

Yes and no. On a straight Smith machine, the bar travels in a fixed vertical path which means your body angle will be the same, regardless of which way you’re facing.

For this reason, it doesn’t really matter if you face inward or outward. This applies to most exercises like the bench press, smith squats, overhead presses, and standing calf raises. 

Therefore, you can choose to either have your body facing inward toward the mirrors, or you can face outward. It’s simply a matter of preference. However, on an angled Smith machine, the way you face matters.

Since the bar follows an angled bar path, the angle will change depending on the way you’re facing. If you’re doing a bench press on the angled Smith machine, you want the bar to push up from your lower chest and travel backward toward your head. This is a more natural fixed bar path that ensures better safety and effectiveness.

If you face the wrong way, you’ll have your body facing the other direction relative to the angled posts. This is not only an unnatural movement, but it also places your joints at an increased risk of injury.

When using an angled Smith machine for exercises such as overhead presses, squats, lunges, incline bench presses, decline presses, and close-grip bench presses - it’s important to ensure not only correct form but also correct body position.

Related Article - What Exactly Is A Smith Machine?

Which Way To Face On A Smith Machine: So You Don’t Look Dumb

Smith Machine Form & Movement Patterns (Tips For Safe Execution!)

When doing free weight exercises, the barbell follows a natural bar path. This means that when you're doing an exercise like a bench press, you'll push the bar upward and backward.

On a Smith machine, the bar path is fixed, and you're forced to follow it - rather than it follow you in a natural path.

As a result, you should adjust your form according to each exercise to ensure safe execution. Here are a few tips for safe execution when doing popular Smith machine exercises:

Squats

The main difference between Smith squats and barbell squats is where your feet are placed. When using a Smith machine, you want to place your feet out in front of the bar to accommodate the bar coming down.

Since the Smith machine is such a versatile piece of equipment, you’re able to do a wide variety of squat types. This includes the front squat, back squat, Zercher squat, hack squat, chair squat, sumo squat, box squat, and split squat.

When squatting with a Smith machine, your neck position should be neutral. Most people prefer to face outward since it’s easier to re-rack using wrist flexion instead of extension.

Whether you’re working out at your local gym or in your own home gym, you should only do Smith squats as an accessory lift and prioritize free weight squats. When doing heavy weight lifts, remember to breathe correctly, focusing on your form rather than reps.

Learn More - Smith Machine Vs Squat Rack - Which Is Better?

how to use assisted squat machine

Bench Press

A bench press on the Smith machine is perfect for helping you overcome training plateaus and build stronger pecs. It’s also ideal for your home gym since you’re able to lift without needing a spotter.

Bench presses can be done using either a standard Smith machine that follows a fixed vertical bar path or an angled Smith machine (also sometimes called a slanted Smith machine).

Regardless of the type of Smith machine used, it's important to ensure that you set up the Smith machine correctly before beginning your set.

If you've never used a Smith machine before, it's best to first start with an empty bar and get an understanding of the movement of the machine first. You want to ensure that bar is pushing backward on the ascending portion (the pushing up phase) of the movement.

Read Also - Should You Use A Smith Machine For Bench Press?

Standing Calf Raises

The Smith machine is perfect for this exercise since it can provide a superior isolation movement. It allows you to focus more on the workout and less on maintaining your balance (like you would when using a barbell).

Additionally, by placing a weight plate under your feet to bring your heels up off the floor, you can achieve a full extension to get the most out of the workout.

For this exercise, you’ll want to keep your legs straight. Avoid bending at the knees. Doing so changes the workout into more of a shallow back squat than a calf raise and takes the tension off the calves.

Rise up onto your tip-toe and drop down as low as you can to achieve a full range of motion.

Leg Press

If you don’t have access to a leg press machine, the Smith machine is an excellent alternative. Also called a reverse squat, this vertical leg press variation places more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes compared to a regular leg press.

It’s important to note that this exercise can be tricky to execute on a Smith machine. Since the Smith machine safety works by twisting your wrists to lock it into place, you won’t be able to do that with your feet.

Instead, lying with your back on the floor and your knees bent, you’ll have to reach up and twist the bar. Avoid using a heavier weight right off the bat. Rather begin with a lighter weight and go slowly, focusing on good form.

man doing leg press on smith machine

Angled Smith Machine: Which Way Should You Move The Bar When Pressing?

By now, you'll have read that it doesn't matter which way you face - unless you're using an angled Smith machine. So, which way should you face when doing bench press exercises on angled ones?

This depends on the type of press you're doing. Put simply, you should be mimicking the natural bar path of a free-weight barbell.

With a straight Smith machine, the bar straights in the same vertical path regardless of the direction you’re facing. However, with an angled Smith machine, the bar pushes in the other direction relative to the angled posts.

Facing one way, you’ll push from your lower chest and backward toward your head. Facing the other direction, you’ll be pressing up and away from your head. You always want to ensure that the bar is going towards your head and not towards your feet.

As the name suggests, angled Smith Machines follow angled bar paths. If you want to do an exercise with a vertical bar path, but your local gym only has an angled Smith machine available, you can eliminate the incline by leaning on the bar so that your body angle mimics the bar angle of the machine.

However, you should still ensure you're facing the correct way when using angled machines, even if using it as a straight bar.


Avoid These Common Smith Machine Mistakes

Mistake #1 - Not Setting Up The Safety Rails Before Starting

When using Smith machines, you can limit how far down the bar can travel. For example, when doing a bench press, you want to ensure that the bar doesn't go further than your own range of motion to avoid injury.

The same goes for most exercises (if not all exercises) you do. Always ensure that your safety bars are set up before you use the Smith machine.

To determine where to place the safety bars for squats, get into the starting position without any weight added. Squat down and take note of the height where the bar is at this position.

Then, set the safety a few inches below this height. For bench presses, set the safety at or just below the height of your expanded chest while lying on the bench.

Mistake #2 - Incorrect Foot Placement

When doing back squats with free weights, your heels should be positioned under the barbell. However, when you're doing squats on a Smith machine, the bar path is different.

This means that you need to adjust your foot placement and position your feet more forward. They should be far enough to ensure that your knees don't go past your toes at the bottom of the squat.

Mistake #3 - Speeding Through The Exercise

Studies found that, when slowing down their training speed, both men and women saw a 50% increase in strength.[1]

By reducing your speed while lifting, your muscles spend more time under tension and work harder through their range of motion.

Mistake #4 - Minimizing Your Range Of Motion (ROM)

Following on the previous point, if you speed through the exercises, focusing more on reps and less on ensuring a full range of motion, you’ll negatively impact the effectiveness of your workout.

A study conducted to compare the effects of a short vs long range of motion on squats found that deep squatting resulted in better gains of the quads.

Additionally, the study found that compared to shallow squats, deep squats produced favorable adaptations on the knee extensor muscle size and function. [2]

Mistake #5 - Rounding Your Lower Back

Regardless of the equipment or the type of movement you're doing, it's important to always ensure a straight and neutral spine when lifting. This will help you to avoid injuries caused by too much strain placed on the lower back.

To ensure the correct form, look up and bring your shoulders back. Right before you begin the exercise, take a deep breath in and engage your core. Maintain this form throughout the workout.

man facing forward on smith machine

Smith Machine Body Placement FAQs

Should you squat with a Smith machine?

It's not ideal since Smith machines don't allow for unrestricted movement like free weights do and force you into a fixed bar path. Without proper form, you can cause muscle imbalances within your body and increased strain on your knees.

Smith machines also don’t activate your other muscles (such as your stabilizer muscles) as much as free weights do. This means that you’d get a better workout doing free weight exercises to target every muscle group.

Is a Smith machine the same as an assisted squat rack?

Yes, it is! Since the purpose of the Smith machine is to assist you when squatting (among other exercises), many people simply refer to it as an assisted squat rack.

Why do people hate the Smith machine?

The main reason that the Smith machine gets a lot of hate is for its lack of a free barbell. Instead, the Smith machine forces you into a fixed range of motion that doesn’t allow for a natural path.

Since the range of motion is not ideal for your body, there is an increased risk of injury. Additionally, the Smith machine does not train your stabilizer muscles the same way free weight exercises do.

How do you use the Smith machine at Planet Fitness?

Smith machines at Planet Fitness work similar to any other gym. For squats, ensure that the bar is positioned at a height that is slightly lower than your shoulder height and that the safety pins are in place.

For bench presses, the height should be slightly below chest height when lying on the bench. Grip ahold of the bar and, using wrist extension, release the bar to begin the exercise. When you're finished, you'll hook the bar back onto the rail using wrist flexion.


Conclusion

That wraps up our guide on which way to face when using a Smith machine. We hope that all of your questions and concerns have been addressed.

Now that you know what factors to consider, which way to face depending on the exercise, and how an angled Smith machine changes things - you'll be able to include the Smith machine into your training routine (whether at home or the gym) and achieve your weightlifting goals in no time!

References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11447355/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23604798/

Last Updated on September 7, 2022