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Smith machine exercises are good alternatives for those looking to build form and confidence using barbells.
They are a safe way to use barbells, especially for beginners can reduce the risk of injury.
A smith machine can make it possible for you to lift much heavier loads than you would otherwise be able to. That will allow you to build strength, giving you another option and variety in your strength training regimen.
Best smith machine exercises that can help maximize your muscle-building efforts
Here are some of the best smith machine exercises that can help you target different muscles confidently with a barbell. Incorporate some of these into your strength training program, especially if you are a beginner, apprehensive, or not confident using barbells.
These smith machine exercises can help you build muscles and push your strength training towards your goals.
As the title implies, you will need a Smith machine for all the exercises discussed here. That means you may have to do them at a commercial gym if you don’t have a smith machine in your home gym.
Smith Machine Good Mornings
Good mornings are great exercises for your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. Using a barbell makes the exercise more challenging.
It takes a while to master the movement. But the good morning smith machine exercises are a safer way to do the movements without exposing yourself to high injury.
To do the good morning smith machine exercises,
Steps to follow
- Set the smith bar to your armpit height, and the safety catches to your waist height.
- With feet at shoulder width, grasp the bar, slightly bend your knees, and position the bar across your shoulders, that is, across your rear delts. That will be your starting position.
- Take a deep breath and engage your core.
- Without moving the lower part of your body, lower yourself and the bar down until you feel your lower back stretching.
- Pause for a second and push the bar slowly up with your shoulders to your starting position.
- Repeat 6-12 reps for a set and to complete a session
Smith Machine Kaz Press
The Kaz press is one of the best smith machine exercises and a great way to train your triceps on a smith machine.
It is one of the few exercises on our list that specifically require a smith machine for the movement.
Kaz press makes it possible to target and build your triceps using heavy weights in a controlled setting. That allows you to grow and strengthen your muscles much more quickly.
You will need a weight bench for the Kaz press smith machine exercises.
Steps to follow
- Load the barbell with the appropriate weight and rack it at a height where you can reach it at full arms stretch when lying on the bench
- Lie flat on the weight bench with your face up.
- Firmly plant your feet on the sides of the bench.
- With an overhand grip, grab the barbell with your grips at about shoulder width.
- Press the bar up slightly to remove it from the rack
- Keeping your elbows close to your body, lower the weight until it is a few inches from your chest.
- Then press the weight up until you fully stretch your arms.
- Pause and lower the bar towards your chest
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a lower body exercise for strengthening the muscles in your legs, hamstrings, glutes, quads, and calves.
It is also a great way to improve your balancing and coordination capabilities.
Adding a barbell puts more stress on your core and upper back. The Bulgarian split squat smith machine exercises provide a safer environment for you to do the movement and reduce your risk of injury.
You will need a weight bench or a cushioned platform for these exercises with a smith machine.
Steps to follow
- Set the bar up at shoulder height on the rack and place the weight bench in front of the smith machine
- Stand between the bench and the bar, feet at shoulder width.
- Lift one leg up and rest the top of the foot on the weight bench. Adjust the weight bench, if necessary, to ensure your other leg has enough room at the front to enable you to squat.
- Get underneath the bar, grab it, and unhook it to place it at the back of your shoulders.
- Brace your core, then bend the knee of the foot sitting on the floor to lower yourself and the weight downward.
- Continue lowering the bar and your body until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Stopping at this point will activate your glutes. You will start targeting your quads more if you go beyond this point.
- Pause, then push the bar up with your shoulders till your leg on the floor stretches fully.
- Repeat for up to 12 reps for a set and up to 3 sets to complete for one side of your body
- Switch sides and go through the process for the other side.
Smith Machine Overhead Press
The overhead press is one of the best compound exercises for building your back, shoulders, chest, and core.
Using a smith machine for the overhead press is one of the best ways to master the movement.
The Smith machine overhead press can help increase the growth and strength of muscles in your shoulder area. The Smith machine’s range of motion provides a good platform for beginners to master the overhead press smith machine exercises.
You will need a weight bench for the exercises.
Steps to follow
- Place the barbell on the rack of the smith machine
- Sit on a weight bench with back support and position yourself directly under the barbell
- Adjust the barbell to ring it just above shoulder height
- With a double overhand grip, grasp the barbell, ensuring your arms are more than shoulder-width apart.
- Holding the bar firmly, breathe out, and press it overhead until you completely lock your arms.
- Pause at the top of the movement
- Then, breathe in, and lower the weight back to your starting position.
Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is one of the surest ways to build a strong back. It can also help give your hamstrings a good stretch.
Using a smith machine for the Romanian deadlift makes it possible for you to use heavier weights than you would usually use for the regular barbell deadlift. That should help increase your hypertrophy potential for increased muscle growth.
The Romanian deadlift smith machine exercises are good lower body movements that can help target and strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
It can also help improve your upper back strength and prepare you for standard deadlifts.
Steps to follow
- Load the barbell with the appropriate weight and set it up on the smith machine. Ensure the height of the barbell is around the middle of your thighs
- Stand with feet at shoulder width and grab the barbell with palms facing you. Ensure your grips are shoulder-width from each other.
- Unrack the bar and, bending your knees slightly, lower the barbell until you can feel your hamstrings stretching. Pause for a second
- Then, stand upright while lifting the bar towards your waist. The bar should be at the middle of your thigh, with your arms fully stretched.
- Repeat 10-15 reps for a set and 3-4 sets for a session
Smith Machine Bent-Over Row
The Smith machine bent-over row is an upper body exercise that can help target your lats and other back muscles.
Using a smith machine that allows you to move the bar up and down a track makes it easy do the movement and reduces any risk associated with the movements.
The bent-over row is one of the best Smith machine back exercises to include in your upper body training regime if you are used to working with barbells.
Steps to follow
- Set the height of the barbell on the smith machine to about 2 inches above your knees.
- Slightly bend your knees and hinge at your hips, ensuring you keep your back straight and almost parallel to the floor. Ensure you keep your head up.
- With a pronated or overhand grip, unlock the barbell from the rack. Keep your grips by shoulder width apart.
- Let the barbell hang directly in front of you with your arms fully stretched.
- While breathing out, bend your elbows and pull the bar towards your hips. Ensure you keep your elbows very close to your body.
- At the top of the movement, pause and hold for a second while squeezing your back muscles.
- Breathe in while you lower the weight slowly back to your starting position
- Repeat for 8-10 reps as part of your upper body training or workout
Smith Machine Leg Press
The leg press with a smith machine targets the muscles in your legs, especially your quads. Your hamstrings, glutes, and calves get worked as well.
It can be a good substitute for the traditional leg press. Setting the safety bars on the smith machine at a point high enough to give you a full range of motion will protect you from mishaps.
Include the leg press smith machine exercises in your lower-body workout programs for variety and to help you to achieve your fitness goals
Steps to follow
- Set the bar at about 2-3 feet high on the smith machine.
- Load the bar with the appropriate weight and take a supine position underneath the bar.
- Tuck your knees to your chest and place the middle of your feet under the bar. Ensure your feet are about a hip-width apart.
- Extend your legs to unlock the bar from the rack.
- Bend your knees, flex your hips, and let the bar descend
- Exhale and, by extending your knees, move the bar upward.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement, and return the bar to your starting position
- Repeat for 8-12 reps to complete a set.
Smith Machine Bench Press
Bench presses are compound exercises that target and work many muscle groups in your upper body simultaneously. It is one of the most popular exercises for building upper body strength.
If you are not confident with using barbells or are a beginner, then a smith machine could be an option to help you take advantage of the many benefits of bench pressing.
You will need a weight bench for the bench press smith machine exercises.
Steps to follow
- Set yourself up for the smith machine exercises by placing a weight bench under the bar.
- Set the bar up on the rack at a height where you can easily reach it without fully stretching your arms when lying flat on the bench
- Load the bar with the appropriate weight.
- Take a supine position on the bench, ensuring your head, shoulder and buttocks are flat on the weight bench. Place your feet firmly on the floor on each side of the weight bench.
- Grab the bar using a pronated grip, ensuring your arms are more than shoulder-width apart.
- Breathe in and embrace your core while unlocking the bar from the rack.
- Hold the bar straight up over your chest until you lock your arms.
- Start bending your arms and lower the bar in the direction of your chest. Stop the movement just before the bar touches your chest.
- Pause for a second, breathe out, and press the bar straight up slowly to your starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps
Smith Machine Hip Thrusts
The hip thrust is one of the best smith machine exercises for your glutes.
The barbell hip thrust is one of the most effective exercises for activating your lower body’s glutes and the posterior chain muscles. These include the adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and erector spinae muscles.
The barbell adds additional weight to your gluteal muscles, helping to strengthen them and to prepare your body for other exercises like the Romanian deadlift.
A smith machine makes it much easier and safer to perform a hip thrust. Moving the weight up and down a track makes it safer and easier to control and balance the bar during the exercises.
The hip thrust smith machine exercises are also quite easy to set up, making it a good option for those with little time at their disposal and also for beginners.
Steps to follow
- Place a weight bench behind the smith machine.
- Sit on the floor and place your upper back against the weight bench with your feet shoulder apart and slightly pointing out.
- Unlock the bar and with an overhand grip, pull it down to place it on top of your hips. You can place a thick pad between the bar and your hips for comfort if you wish
- Squeeze your glutes, tighten your core, and push your hips to press the bar straight up. Don’t push or pull with your arms
- Keep pressing the bar up with your hips until your shoulders, hips, and knees are in line. Your mid-scapula area should be resting on the bench.
- Pause and lower the bar down slowly to your starting position.
Smith Machine Calf Raise
Smith Machine Drag Curls
Drag curls are weight exercises for gaining size and strength in your biceps.
Drag curls primarily target your biceps brachii. But they also target your brachialis, brachioradialis, and forearm flexors.
Using a smith machine for drag curls allow the bar to travel straight up and not in a curve, making it more effective. That can put more tension in your biceps to help improve your results.
Get yourself ready for the smith machine exercises by setting the bar up at just above knee height on the smith machine.
Steps to follow
- Load the bar with the appropriate weight
- Stand with feet touching the bar
- With an underhand grip, grasp the bar, ensuring your grips are more than shoulder width.
- Lift the bar up by moving your arms towards your shoulders
- Keep lifting until you contract your arms fully
- Pause for a second, and lower the bar slowly to your starting position in a controlled manner.
- Repeat 8-15 reps for a set and 3-4 sets to complete a session
Final words from LiveLIfe
Free weights may be the obvious choice when you have all the confidence and strength to lift weights. But it is a luxury many beginners may not have.
That doesn’t mean you must forgo many strength and muscle-building exercises and movements. Smith machine exercises can be good options to consider.
Smith machine exercises are effective and, in many cases, much safer to do,
Incorporate these smith machine exercises into your strength training and muscle-building regimen, even if you are an experienced lifter. They can give you variety and spice up your workouts.
- Evan E Schick, Jared W Coburn, Lee E Brown, et al. 2010. A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. National Library of Medicine
- Locke, B. (2018, December 10). Effective Full Range Of Motion! Bodybuilding.Com. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/teen-locke3.htm
- Thomas, L. (2020, June 28). Are you making these 4 Smith machine drag curl mistakes? Smith Machine UK. https://smithmachine.co.uk/exercises/drag-curl/