Fitness Tips

Smith Machine Deadlift: How To (Video Demonstration), Benefits, Mistakes, & Alternative Exercises

In this article I am going to cover the smith machine deadlift. Here you will learn

  • Why you would use this exercise
  • How to do this exercise correctly
  • What muscles this exercise targets
  • Benefits of the smith machine deadlift
  • common mistakes beginner need to avoid
  • alternative exercise that can be substituted for the smith machine deadlift


What is a Deadlift?

deadlift exercise

Before going into what a smith machine deadlift is, it is important to understand what a deadlift is in the first place.

A deadlift is a compound movement exercise which involves lifting weight from the ground up to a flexed and standing position. This “heavy weight” is usually a loaded bar or a weighted barbell.

The objective is to lift the bar up to your hip height, thereby strengthening your lower back muscles as well as a host of other important muscles.

They are one of the most popular exercises through which you can effectively target not just one but instead a good number of muscles all at the same time.

Why Use the Smith Machine for Deadlifts?

why use the smith machine deadlift

As you would have noticed from our explanation above, deadlifts involving lifting stationary loaded bars or barbells. Emphasis, of course, on the word stationary, which, in other words, can be referred to as “dead”, hence the name.

So, you may be wondering, what in the world does a smith machine have to do with dead weights? Well, that’s a pretty great question.

With a smith machine you have a flexible yet supported system capable of acting as a traditional barbell. You’re able to configure all the facets of the machine so that it acts as a traditional stiff-legged deadlift but with the control and stability that the smith machine bar can provide.

Control and Stability

Doing deadlifts on a smith machine gives you a higher degree of control over facets of the exercise that you just don’t get with a free weight barbell deadlift.

This allows the exercise to be more controlled and fluid motioned. You’ll be able to focus more on your motion allowing you to squeeze at the top of the rep instead of worrying about controlling the free weight to your taste.

If you want more control doing a regular deadlift you can use lighter weights and shorter barbells but you won’t get the same results as using regular barbells and weights or using a smith machine.

Good for Beginners

As a result of its higher degree of flexibility and control working deadlifts on a smith machine is without a doubt the most suited deadlift variation for beginning lifters.

As a beginner you’ll be able to spend more time working on isolated fundamentals, which are easier to master when using the smith machine, rather than worrying about every single aspect of a deadlift.

How to Do the Smith Machine Deadlift

Here are the steps you will need in to do in order to perform this exercise correctly

Step 1

Begin by setting up the smith machine with the required amount of weight. The bar should be at its lowest height setting.

Step 2

Assume a starting position in front of the machine. Your feet should be apart, shoulder-width. Your toes can be slightly diagonal outwards, or completely straight forward.

Step 3

Bend as low as possible to grab the bar. Your hands should grab the bar from above (overhand grip) for more balanced lifting. You can also make use of lifting straps to be able to lift more weight.

Step 4

The next thing to lookout for is your hip placement. At your lowest position your hips should be low enough to allow your shins to lightly graze the barbell before you lift.

Step 5

Ensure your eyes are looking straight ahead (not downwards at the barbell). Your back should be as straight as possible.

Step 6

Step 1 – 5 are the steps required for a correctly performed smith machine deadlift starting position. After these you can carry out the actual lift. To do this, ensure that your aim is to stand up with the barbell. Eyes forward, lead with your head and rise with it.

Step 7

In the midpoint, while the bar begins to rise, lunge your hips forward and your shoulder blades backward to contract your back and let it straighten as you stand.

Step 8

Once you’re able to stand with the bar at its highest point, hold your position for a few seconds at most.

Step 9

Slowly lower the barbell to its initial position at the lowest point.

Step 10

Go back to your starting position and repeat for as many reps as you want.

The Smith Machine Deadlift Video Illustration

Muscles Worked

As noted above, one of the most unique aspects of deadlifts is the fact that they’re able to target more than one muscle at the same time. For those who are not too comfortable with the concept of moving from exercise to exercise to focus on different muscles, this really comes in handle.

Below are all the major muscles worked with a simple smith machine deadlift.

Gluteus Maximusthe Gluteus Maximus is one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

Deadlifts are very effective ways of targeting the gluteus maximus, also known as the muscles responsible for creating that nice firm bubble butt.

You can deadlift and squat on the same day if you want to activate your glutes even more and get faster results, not just deadlift.

Hamstringsthe Hamstrings is one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

The hamstrings are muscles located in the upper part of the backs of our legs. Strong hamstrings are particularly important for sporting and endurance events.

Quadricepsthe Quadriceps are one of the muscle groups worked by the Smith machine deadlift

Also known as the quad muscles, the quadriceps are the biceps equivalent of the leg. They are found at the top front part of our legs. They are worked vigorously during deadlifts.

Soleusthe Soleus is one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

The soleus can be found in the calf. It is the tinny part of the calf muscle. They are quite powerful muscles and play a huge role in regular activities such as walking and running.

Related Reading: How to Make Calves Smaller

Adductor MagnusAdductor Magnusis one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

The adductor magnus is a large powerful muscle found in the inner thigh. It is shaped in the form of a triangle and is arguably one of the most fundamental muscles for walking and running.

Erector Spinaethe Erector Spinae is one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

Deadlifts also strengthen our back muscles, especially the erectus spinae which is a muscle found on either side of our vertebral column. It is an integral part of a straight back.

Levator Scapulaethe Levator Scapulae is one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

This muscle stretches from our shoulder up to our jaw. Performing smith machine deadlifts targets this muscle.

the Rectus Abdominis is one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

While deadlifts are no Roman chair sit-ups, proper smith machine deadlifting does a good job of targeting the rectus abdominis, also known as the abs. So yes, smith machine deadlifts can also give you that chiselled 10-pack set of abs you’ve been craving all along.

Obliquesthe Obliques are one of the muscle groups worked by the Smith machine deadlift

The obliques are also known as side-abs muscle, located near the rectus abdominis. Deadlifts do a good job of strengthening and carving out the oblique striations.

If you want to specifically target this area you can do standing oblique crunches.

Trapezius Upper and Middlethe Trapezius Upper and Middle Muscles are worked by the Smith machine deadlift

The trapezius upper is located right in the upper area of the neck. The trapezius middle is located right at the middle. It is not uncommon to experience a considerable strain on the neck when carrying out a smith machine deadlift the right way. This is you feeling the action of the exercise on the trapezius muscles.

Gastrocnemiusthe Gastrocnemius is one of the muscles worked by the Smith machine deadlift

This muscle makes up the bulk of the calf muscles. They are secondary targeted muscle that is worked during a smith machine deadlift.

Rhomboidsthe Rhomboids are one of the muscle groups worked by the Smith machine deadlift

Lastly, smith machine deadlifts target the rhomboids which is a set of muscles found below the neck right around the upper part of our backs.

Benefits of Smith Machine Deadlifts

Now that we’ve taken a look at all the major muscles in the body worked by a single effective deadlift session, below are some of the overall benefits that this exercise can provide

Builds your Butt

Thanks to its work on the glutes, regular smith deadlifting is capable of significantly improving the strength, tone, and size of our butts. Want to get rid of a mom butt? Want a big jiggly butt? Smith machine deadlifts is a perfect exercise for that.

Builds your Legs

Among the muscles worked by a smith machine deadlift are the quadriceps. These muscles are found in the top part of our legs. This is the muscle that is most noticeable for those wearing tighter shorts and is the one that most people want to build.

Want to build big legs? This is a perfect exercise to help you pack on the size.

Builds Your Hamstrings

Strong hamstrings are your gateway to endurance sporting activities particular those which require a lot of running and leg work. The smith machine deadlift targets the hamstrings as well as the stabilizer muscles in the back of your legs.

Common Mistakes Beginners Make During Smith Machine Deadlifts

Here are some common mistakes you will want to avoid as a beginner just getting started on this exercise

Going Too Heavy

During the initial stage of the smith machine deadlift workout (before you even attain a starting position) you will have the task of loading the bar with weight.

It is important that you do not start off with heavy weight. It is all too easy to be tempted into going heavier than you can handle, and a lot of beginners make this mistake and they end either not doing it correctly or get burnt out on it before they ever even master the form.

Start off with light weight, get the form down and then progress up from there.

Not Stretching

An unquestionable rule of thumb whenever you go to the gym or really any exercise for that matter is to get some stretching done first.

This proves to be especially true for compound lifts like deadlifts and squats.

Related Reading: Best Leg Stretcher Machines

It is also worth noting that when it comes to stretching before deadlifts there is an additional caveat — don’t do too much pre-stretching.

Just as you don’t want to workout without stretching you also don’t want to be doing too much of them before deadlifting.

Instead just stretch for a few minutes until you can feel that your muscles are warmed up.

Bending Backwards

When performing a smith machine deadlift you need to make sure to keep your back as straight as possible, your head facing forward, and your hips evenly balanced.

Foot Placement

Your feet must be shoulder-width apart. Having them too close to each other or too far apart will cause a major imbalance and affect your ability to perform the exercise with the correct form.

Not Asking For Help

It is all too easy to attain a position in front of the machine and assume you have the perfect stance. Sometimes, though we’re quite wrong and it only feels that way because we’re too close to ourselves to be able to fully gauge whether we’re off or not.

It is due to this reason that you should always ask another lifter to help assess your position to determine whether your stance is correct, and if not, get instructions on how to adjust.

Smith Machine Deadlift Alternative

Here is an alternative exercise that you can substitute for the smith machine deadlift

Cable Deadlifts

alternative exercise to smith machine deadlifts

Cable deadlifts are the smith machine deadlift alternative which makes use of cables to replace the free weights.

Both exercises generally target the same muscles – the hamstrings, glutes, quads, abs, obliques, lower back muscles, and so on.

Steps To Do Cable Deadlifts

Step 1

Position yourself a few feet away from the cable machine.

Step 2

Ensure your legs are shoulder-width apart.

Step 3

Ensure your core muscles are tightened your chest is pushed out and your lower back is arched slightly.

Step 4

Bend your hips and thrust forward. Your position in front of the bar must ensure you are able to get a full contraction of the muscle.

Step 3

Once you’re fully stretched with your glutes sticking out, your knees slightly bent and you feel a slight tug at your hamstrings you are ready to go. This is where you start to apply force and pull the bar upward.

Step 4

Pull until you get back to the starting position. Hold for one to two seconds.

Step 5

Repeat steps for as many reps as you deem appropriate.

Cable Deadlifts Video Illustration

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Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now. My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future. I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics. My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics. Here, myself, and a team of specialist aim to provide the most accurate, and actionable information possible in hopes to help foster the fitness community forward. You can learn more about Fitlifefanatics on our About Page