Fitness Tips

Smith Machine Squat – How-To (Video Demonstration), Muscles Worked, Variations, and Alternatives

When it comes to squats, there are so many variations that it can be a lot to take in for someone who's just starting to get into strength training.

In this article, I'll be telling you all about the Smith Machine squat.

I always recommend this type of squat to anyone new to the strength training world.

You can think of the Smith Machine like your regular squat or power rack, except the Smith Machine also assists with the movement. 

Unlike the 45-pound barbell you'd have in a traditional squat rack, the Smith Machine bar weighs about 15 pounds.

This means that you can focus on the motion and form instead of the weight you're lifting.


Smith Machine Squat

What is it and Why Did it Become So Popular

What is the Smith Machine Squat and Why Did it Become So Popular

The smith machine is an idea that Jack LaLanne came up with. He was a bodybuilder, fitness and nutrition advocate as well as a motivational speaker.

Jack LaLanne came up with the idea of the smith machine during his career when he wanted to perform squats and deadlifts with heavy weights without needing a spotter. He wanted to make something that synergized with a free weight workout routine instead of replacing it altogether.

Jack LaLanne's desire led up to him, inventing the smith machine. It is a self-spotting piece of equipment that has a fixed bar on two vertical poles with adjustable safety brackets in order to prevent the weight from falling in case one couldn't finish their rep.

The smith machine squat is an alternate version of the squat. It's used to build leg muscles, especially the quad muscles. The main advantage you'll gain by using a smith machine is that the bar's path will be fixed, removing the constant need to stabilize it during the exercise.

Smith machine squats can be incorporated into leg workouts as well as full-body workouts.


How to Do Smith Machine Squat

how to do the smith machine squat

Step 1:

Position the bar of the smith machine at shoulder height.

Step 2:

Begin with a loaded bar. I recommend using a 10-pound plate on each side as a starting point. If you're still new, you can simply start with just the bar and add weights as you get more used to the movement.

Step 3:

Position your hands about shoulder-width apart on the bar and grip it lightly with an overhand grip.

Step 4:

Stand in front of the rack and put the bar on your trapezius muscles. These are the muscles closest to your neck and upper back.

Step 5:

Unlock the bar by lifting it forward with your feet being hip-distance apart.

Step 6:

Shift your weight back into your heels. Tighten your abs as you start to lower into a squat while keeping your head and spine in a neutral position. Make sure your knees are as close to 90 degrees as possible. Hold that position for a second.

Step 7:

Stand back up with your core still braced. Make sure you squeeze your glutes when you reach the top of the squat. Doing this will help to build that jiggly butt that everybody so desires.

Step 8:

Rinse and repeat for three sets of 12 reps.

Here is a video Illustrating the Smith Machine Squat:

Smith Machine Squat Video Illustration

Tips

  • If you're having trouble lifting heavy weights, use a lighter load. You'll eventually get better and build enough strength to use heavier weights.
  • Prioritize your form and motion over the weight of the load. Having proper form will ensure maximum efficiency.
  • Ensure your back stays straight, and your feet remain flat on the ground when you lift the bar.
  • As you're lifting the bar, spread the weight to your knees and lower back.
  • Smith machine squats when light weight is used require a minimum standard of fitness. It isn't too demanding to get into. Still, I recommend checking with your trainer, if you have one, and inquiring whether you're fit enough for the exercise.

Smith Machine Squat Variations

Feet Forward Squat Using the Smith Machine

  1. Adjust the bar to be at your shoulders' height, and load the weight plates you intend on using.
  2. Stand right under the bar and position your legs at shoulder-width apart.
  3. Maintain a straight back and keep your eyes facing forward as you take the plates off the rack.
  4. Step forward and position your feet in from of you.
  5. Keeping facing forward and make sure your back stays straight. Slowly squat down and stop when your thighs become parallel to the ground.
  6. Raise the bar back to the initial position.
  7. Rinse and repeat until you finish your set.

Feet Forward Squat Using the Smith Machine Video Illustration


Squat to Bench Using the Smith Machine

  1. Adjust the bar on the smith machine to be at your shoulders' height, and load the weight you intend on using.
  2. Place a flat adjustable weight bench behind your legs in the smith machine. You can use any raised platform instead of a bench.
  3. With your legs at shoulder-width apart, stand underneath the bar.
  4. Grasp the bar with a wide grip. The bar should be positioned on top of your back muscles. Avoid setting the bar on your neck.
  5. Maintain a straight back and keep your eyes facing forward as you take the weight off the rack. Slightly step forward.
  6. Make sure your eyes are facing forward, and your back remains straight as you squat down slowly. Stop when your butt touches the bench and your thighs become parallel to the ground.
  7. Raise the bar back to the initial position.
  8. Rinse and repeat until you finish your set.

Squat to Bench Using the Smith Machine Video Illustration


Smith Machine Squat Muscles Worked

Not unlike the barbell squat, the smith machine squat works the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and even the calves to some extent. However, the smith machines aim to stabilize the bar as you squat so the stabilizer muscles won't be getting the same workout as with the barbell squat.

With that said, the smith machine still works all the muscles that the barbell squat works, just to different extents. Each squat variation has its own use and goals.

Glutes

Glutes are highly impacted by the Smith Machine Squat

One of the many great things about using the smith machine is that you can choose to either target your quads or glutes just by switching your foot position.

If you want to work your glutes efficiently, position your feet out in front of you. Then, perform a wide stance squat. This position will put more tension at your hips and reduce the risk of injury since your knees will be exposed to less pressure.


Quads

the Smith Machine Squat helps greatly in working the quads

If you want to properly target your quads when using a smith machine, keep your legs close to your center of gravity. This will widen your knee’s range of motion, which will mean more stretching of the muscle fibers of your quads.

In fact, smith machine squats are the best way to build your quads as they allow you to purely isolate which muscles are getting worked on.


Erectors

the Erectors is greatly impacted and worked by the Smith Machine Squat

The deeper you squat is, the more active your spinal erectors will be. With that said, they're still not involved that much when doing smith machine squats as opposed to free-weight squats.

This is mainly because the smith machine will take care of most of the stabilization, giving you the opportunity to focus on your legs more.


Hamstrings

the Smith Machine Squat helps greatly in working the Hamstrings

What I'm about to say might trigger some people, but it's still important to know. Contrary to popular belief, squats are not a good exercise for building hamstring muscles.

After all, for a muscle to grow, it must be maximally lengthened.

When you're performing a squat, the hamstrings are never really fully lengthened or shortened since they're a biarticulate muscle, which means that they cross a couple of joints, which are the hip and knee.

Since the hams do not stretch throughout the exercise, you won't really get any results if you're looking to build some muscle.

If you are looking to build these muscles, smith machine deadlifts are your go to exercise.


Calves

the Smith Machine Squat works the calves immensely

Even though smith machine squats won't grant you enormous calves, they will still grow thanks to the exercise, but if you are somebody with smaller calves then you can definitely expect some nice growth. They play an important role in stabilization, which means that you'll get to use them quite a bit during the exercise.


Benefits of Smith Machine Squats

Focus on Form

One of the benefits of the Smith Machine Squat is focusing on form

One of the main benefits of using a Smith machine is that you can focus less on stabilizing the bar and more on your form and the overall motion.

By working on optimizing the motion and perfecting your form, you'll start to get a lot more out of squats. Furthermore, it can even translate to other squat variations, which is yet another reason the smith machine squats are so good.

Another great thing that's worth mentioning is that the smith machine allows you to isolate your muscles in a much more efficient way. You can choose to only focus on your quads, or you can opt to focus on your glutes instead. All of this can be determined by how you position your feet, and it can add a whole new layer of depth to the exercise.

One last thing is that due to the smith machine's design, less tension is put on your shoulders. As a result, your hamstrings and glutes will be more involved in the exercise.


Reduce the Likelihood of Injury

Reducing the Likelihood of Injury is a great benefit of the Smith Machine Squat

Since the Smith machine does most of the stabilization, you'll be much less likely to get injured when you're doing a smith machine squat than you would doing a free weight squat. There's also the fact that the smith machine protects your back, shoulders, legs, and knees from injury.


Stay Safer Without a Spotter

Given how the Smith Machine uses rods to keep the barbells stable, you won't have to worry about runaway barbells. This means that you won't need to have a spotter with you at all times since the machine will be doing more of the work and will keep you safe.


More Confidence

When you're doing smith machine squats, not only will you build your confidence by having jacked up legs, you'll also feel much more confident when you're actually doing the squats. Knowing that you're safe and that you can experiment with different weights and loads will encourage you to improve faster and work harder.

The fear of injury is often a big factor that keeps people from stepping up their game. With the smith machine, that fear is diminished, and you can take your time to build your confidence and work on perfecting your form too.


Common Beginner Mistakes

Listed below are the most common mistakes that beginners and newbies make when first performing this exercise.

Shortcutting the Range of Motion

It might be tempting for some people to just go full in with the weight plates in the gym just so they can have bragging rights or something. In most cases I've seen, these people are usually shortcutting and the range of motion by only doing half squats.

Don't be one of those people who do that. You'd be shooting yourself in the foot by doing half squats. In fact, research has shown that when you do deep squats, as in you hip break parallel, you'll see 7% extra muscle growth in just 12 weeks!


Allowing Too Much Forward Knee Travel

You're bound to have a certain degree of forward knee travel whenever you're doing a quadricep-focused Smith machine back squat. That said, you always have to keep yourself in check and not allow too much forward knee travel. Never ever force your knees over your toes as it can cause long term knee damage.

What I recommend doing is that you increase the range of motion at your hips. You can do this by taking a step away from the smith machine so that you only allow a moderate amount of forwarding knee travel. This approach is much safer and more efficient.


Rounding Your Lower Back

This has to be one of the most common mistakes I see when I'm at the gym. What's even worse is that it's also among the most detrimental and risky mistakes you can make. If you round your lower back as it takes almost all of the tension off your quads.

Pay close attention to your posture and especially your back whenever you're doing squats as they're the most commonplace of injury.


Letting Your Knees Cave In

Yet another common mistake I see among beginners is having their knees rotated in a weird way. It's referred to as knee valgus, or when your knees are rotated internally. If you find yourself experiencing it, then you're probably using weights that are too heavy for your knees to handle.

This type of mistake is extremely dangerous and can lead to very harmful things. Not only will it cause you severe knee pain, but you might even need a knee replacement if it gets really bad.

To avoid this mistake, open up your hips and flare out your feet at around 15-30 degrees. I also recommend wearing some knee sleeves if you can get them as they can add a lot of stability to your patella.


Frequently Asked Question about the Smith Machine Squat

These are the most commonly asked questions that beginners have when performing this exercise.

Smith Machine Squat Vs. Barbell Squats – Which Is the Best? Which is Safer

comparing the Smith Machine Squat to Barbell Squats

Both exercises are great and serve different purposes. I recommend incorporating both of them into your leg workout routine. The great thing about the smith machine squat is that it helps you focus less on stabilization and more on perfecting your form.

However, you won't be engaging your stabilizer muscles. This is where Barbell Squats come in to save the day.

Don't stick to only one type of squat as each squat variation focuses on certain muscles. For instance, if you want to focus on the hamstrings, smith machines squats are the way to go. If you want to engage your stabilizer muscles more, go for weighted barbell squats.

Of course, you shouldn't leave out any of these muscles out of the equation during your workout, which is why you need to alternate between both variations. 


Leg Press Vs. Smith Machine Squat– Which Is the Better for What?

comparing the Smith Machine Squat to the Leg Press

The smith machine squat is the more versatile exercise in this situation as it works the muscles of the entire body. Of course, the main focus will be on the lower body muscles such as the glutes, hamstrings, and especially the quads. Your hips, torso, and abs will also be engaged in the exercise. This makes the smith machine squat a great exercise that works the entire body.

On the other hand, the leg press is a more focused exercise. Not unlike the smith machine squat, it works out the glutes, hamstring, and the quads. However, since the range of the motion is shorter than that of the smith machine squats, your quads will be working harder in this exercise.

With that said, it's also worth noting that the leg press is less safe than the smith machine squat, so I recommend getting clear instruction from the gym staff before you start or if you are using a home gym with a leg press be sure to double check that your using the correct form when performing this exercise.


Are Smith Machine Squats Good for Building a Bigger Butt?

Are Smith Machine Squats Good for Building a Bigger Butt

Since the smith machine can give better balance and stability, it can definitely be a good addition to any butt workout.

The smith machine allows you to focus on your glute muscles rather than your balance and upper body, which is why it's good for building a bigger bubble butt. But even if you were doing smith machine squats everyday of the week you still should be incorporating other exercises into the your workouts to grow your butt. 

For those looking for other exercises that are not weight lifting i just recently wrote a post on how to grow your butt bigger through running for those that like to cardio train as well.


Smith Machine Squat Alternative Exercise

Smith Machine Lunges

  1. Position yourself in the smith machine in a split stance with the bar on your trapezius muscles.
  2. Flex both knees at the same time while descending until your back knee touches the ground right under the hip.
  3. Return to the starting position by driving through your front foot and extending your knee.
  4. Rinse and repeat until you finish the set.

Smith Machine Lunge Video Illustration


Smith Machine Leg Press

  1. Position the bar 3 feet off the ground and get into a supine position with your feet hip-width apart on the bar.
  2. Unrack the safeties with your legs extended to lockout. Then, bend your knees and flex your hips to allow the bar to descend.
  3. Push your feet into the bar and breathe out as you extend your knees and hips.
  4. Slowly get back into the starting position.
  5. Rinse and repeat until you finish the set.

Smith Machine Leg Press Video Illustration


Front Foot Elevated Smith Machine Split Squat

  1. Set up a one or two-inch riser in from of your foot and get in the smith machine in a split stance position with the bar on your trapezius muscles.
  2. Flex your knees at the same time as you descend until your back knee reaches the ground under your hip.
  3. Extend your knee and drive through your front foot as you get back into the starting position.
  4. Rinse and repeat until you finish the set.

Front Foot Elevated Smith Machine Split Squat Video Illustration

Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. 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