The Best Exercises for the Smith Machine: Squats, Bench Press, & More

The Best Exercises for the Smith Machine

If you've ever stepped foot into a gym and noticed a weight machine with a fixed barbell, you’re looking at a Smith machine. And while trying new lifts with free weights can be intimidating, so can using the Smith machine—made for vertical, controlled barbell training. Here’s what you need to know about this fixed-pulley machine. 

What Is a Smith Machine?

The concept of the Smith machine is said to have been created by fitness guru Jack Lalanne [1], who wanted to be able to complete heavy free-weight squats without a spotter. It is named after Rudy Smith, who turned Lalanne's idea into a functioning machine, which resembles a squat rack.

Smith machines can be used to do many of the movements you would do with free weights or a free weight barbell. Since the Smith machine is a fixed barbell, it only allows for vertical or near vertical movement—think squats, bench press, or even deadlifts. While the Smith machine for exercises removes the need for a spotter, it also limits your range of motion in these moves and can limit how much strength you build.

While you can base your entire workout around moves that can be done on the Smith machine, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you incorporate full-body exercises that are done both on and off the Smith machine.

What Is the Smith machine Good For?

Any exercises that you would complete with a barbell moving in an up and down motion can be done on a Smith machine. Think of it as another training tool to add to your arsenal. You can perform compound exercises (moves that train more than one muscle group), and you can also use it to help perfect your form or work up to heavier, unassisted lifts—especially if you are a beginner or are adding new moves into your full-body workout routine.

The most common Smith machine exercises include Smith machine squats and Smith machine bench presses, but you can also do moves such as deadlifts, hip thrusts, or even to improve your push-up form. Due to the setup of the Smith machine, you’re able to isolate muscle groups during exercise and focus on form without worrying about your weights moving in the wrong direction.

A Smith machine can also offer some safety during your lifts, as you can set the bottom safety hooks or springs to limit the range of motion of exercise you are doing. Additionally, there are locking mechanisms so you don't need a spotter when using Smith machines.

How Do You Use a Smith machine?

Depending on the movement you're doing, you'll set yourself up similar to when you use free weights. Note: there is no wrong way to face when you're using the machine, as the Smith machine bar is fixed in place.

  • For example, if you're doing a Smith machine bench press, you'll need a flat bench to position yourself similar to a barbell bench press. Starting with the bar close to your upper chest and a shoulder-width grip, straighten your arms to push the bar away from your chest until your arms are extended. Pause at the top, then slowly lower back down to return to starting position.

  • To set up for an upright move, such as a Smith machine squat, adjust the bar to shoulder height. Then, stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Place hands on the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip, and rest the bar on your trap muscles. Unlock the bar by lifting up and forward, then brace your core as you send your hips back and down into a squat. Pause, then keeping core braced and back tall, slowly stand to return to starting position.

The Best Smith Machine exercises:

  • Lower-body exercises, including a Smith machine squat

  • Upper-body exercises, including a Smith machine bench press

  • Full-body workouts, including a Smith machine Romanian deadlift

  • Back workouts, including a Smith machine row

"Can you still get a good workout with a Smith machine?"

Though you can add Smith machine training to your workout regimen, this really depends on your goals. Overall, it's not suggested to do an entire workout on a Smith machine, but instead, use it to supplement your workout with a combination of Smith machine exercises and free-weight exercises that target muscle growth. Again, the Smith machine should be used to focus on form first.

"Can you build muscle using the Smith machine?"

Using the Smith machine bar can be a great way to lift without a spotter or to help you with your form, but when it comes to building muscle, you’re going to want to incorporate bench and free weight moves as well. With most Smith machine exercises, your stabilizing muscles won't be recruited since the bar can only move up and down.

Studies have found that greater muscle activation can occur when completing a free weight bench press than when using a Smith machine [2]. So, if your fitness goals include building muscle, then you may want to opt for free weights or at least ensure your workout includes a mixture of Smith machine exercises and free weights.

Takeaways: Best Smith Machine Exercises

The Smith machine can be a great tool for beginners to learn new exercises. It can also be used to practice proper form of more difficult moves, such as the deadlift, or even to correct your form in order to get the most out of a push-up. You can use it as a tool to increase the weight you are lifting with less risk of injury. The Smith machine can be used to get in a great full-body workout or to help make your workout safer if you want to lift heavier, but don’t have a spotter. 

However, since the Smith machine is on a fixed track, it does limit your range of motion. And since the moves you’ll do with a Smith machine follow this fixed track, it can be a limiting factor when it comes to building as much strength or stability as you would when using free weights. Remember, the Smith machine is just another training tool to incorporate into your workouts,

Don't forget to prepare for your Smith machine workout with proper nutrition and supplementation. Try Transparent Labs LEAN pre-workout supplement with 100% formula transparency and a potent Fat Burning and Thyroid Support complex, which includes Chromium Picolinate and Zinc, PreSeries LEAN is most effective for those looking to target stubborn fat, while simultaneously focusing on preventing lean muscle loss. 

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