Mastering The Smith Machine: FAQs and Sample Workout

The Smith Machine is a versatile piece of gym equipment with many benefits for those looking to switch up their fitness regime. 

At FitKit, we certainly know our way around a Smith Machine and, over the years, have collated all of the questions we’ve been asked about this particular type of strength machine. From the types of exercises to the weight of the bar – we have all the answers you could possibly need. 

Keep reading to get clued up on how to best incorporate the Smith machine into your regime and the best exercises to complete – we’ve even thrown in a workout or two for you to follow!


Man leaning on Smith Machine

What is a Smith machine?

Found in most gyms, the Smith Machine is comprised of a barbell that is fixed in position to a squat rack. This structure limits the movement of the barbell to a single trajectory, and many Smith machines have safety catches where users can clip the bar at their desired point. This safety feature ensures that you don’t need a spotter and helps improve the safety of gym-goers who may be increasing their weight when lifting. 

How much does a Smith machine bar weigh?

The weight of a Smith machine bar in the UK depends on the model you choose. However, on average, the bar weight on a Smith machine is around 10-15kg. When calculating the weight you aim to load onto the machine, you should consider that the barbell will be around 10-15kg. 

Which way do you face on a Smith machine? 

As the barbell on a Smith machine travels in a fixed vertical direction, the way you face depends on the exercise you are completing and your personal preference. 

We recommend facing inwards toward the machine for exercises involving your arms, as you will have a stronger overarm grip than underarm. A stronger grip will ensure you remain in control of the Smith machine and operate the strength machine safely. It will also allow you to turn the barbell onto the safety catch quickly.

Woman squatting using smith machine

Advantages and disadvantages of using a Smith machine

The Smith machine is a divisive piece of equipment. Some gym-goers advocate for the Smith machine as a transitional way to develop their weight-loading progressions. Others believe it can be bad for technique and cause unnecessary injuries. Here is our breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of using a Smith machine.

Advantages of using a Smith machineDisadvantages of using a Smith machine 
Increased stability and safetyBarbell is fixed in a vertical path
You don’t need a spotterSome exercises can’t be performed in a fixed vertical path
Good for beginnersThe barbell can be uncomfortable on the back of the neck
It can be used to work a wide range of muscle groupsIt can take up a large surface area

How to use a Smith machine

How you should set up the Smith Machine depends on the exercise you want to complete.  However, there are some general guidelines on how to use the Smith machine effectively and safely. 

  1. For standing exercises, keep your legs hip-width apart for a stable stance. 
  2. If you are using the machine with the barbell at a raised height for exercises such as squats, place the barbell on the lock at the desired height and then load the weight. 
  3. Only load weight you are comfortable carrying. 
  4. Make sure that the weight is always locked onto the safety catch. 

We will inform you of the best ways to operate the Smith machine per body part in the following segment, so keep reading if you want to know how to build your legs, back and chest. 

How to use the Smith machine for leg workouts

The Smith machine is an important piece of equipment for those just starting their journey to build their legs to the size of tree trunks. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the Smith machine and leg workouts. 

How to squat on Smith machine

Ensuring you squat with the correct form is vital for muscle development and preventing injury. Here is how to complete a squat on the Smith machine:

  • Place your feet a little further forward in front of your body. When bending your knees, they shouldn’t go past your toes. They should be placed around 3-6 inches in front of the barbell, but make sure to find a comfortable, happy medium.
  • Release the bar from the safety catch so that it sits on your shoulders. 
  • Bend your knees and lower yourself to the bottom of the squat position. 
  • Drive your feet into the floor and return to the starting position. 
Woman on a Smith Machine

Are Smith machine squats bad?

It is a common debate that gym-goers often argue about at the water fountain, but are Smith machine squats really that bad? As the Smith machine has a fixed plane of motion, users don’t experience the natural movement they would if they performed a free-standing squat. 

That said, the muscles usually activated are limited on the Smith machine when squatting. One positive of the Smith machine is the pressure on your knees and spine can be reduced if your feet are placed forwards, so make sure you act on the basics of the form so the exercise doesn’t cause injury. 

The machine can benefit users who are learning the basics of squatting and want to increase the weight they are lifting or those struggling with back or knee issues. 

Woman performing split squat on smith machine

How to do split squats on a Smith machine

The split squat is a great exercise for the quads and glutes and can be performed on the Smith machine for added stability due to the balance needed when standing on one leg. Here is how to perform a split squat on a Smith machine: 

  • Place the fixed barbell at shoulder height with your desired weight. 
  • Get under the barbell and place it on your shoulders and set your feet apart as if you were about to perform a lunge. 
  • Take the barbell from the safety catch so the weight is on your shoulders. 
  • Drop your back knee towards the floor, stopping a few inches before it hits the ground. 
  • Drive back up to your starting position and repeat. 
  • Swap your position and place your other foot in front.

Leg workout on the Smith Machine 

What exercises can I perform for legs on the Smith machine?

You can perform a few exercises on the Smith machine to help build your legs. Try out the following Smith machine workout for results. 

  1. Squats (10 reps for 3 sets) 
  2. Split Squats (5 reps on each side for 3 sets)
  3. Hip Thrusters (10 reps for 3 sets) 
  4. Front Squats (10 reps for 3 sets)
  5. Romanian Deadlifts (8 reps for 3 sets) 

How to use a Smith machine for a back workout

If you want to build a back that The Rock would be jealous of, you can train certain back exercises on the Smith machine to help it grow. Keep reading to find the recommended exercises and a back workout designed for the Smith machine. 

Can you deadlift on a Smith machine?

Deadlifts are an important exercise that works a range of muscles and should be incorporated into every gym-goers routine in some capacity. But can you perform a deadlift on a Smith machine? Is it safe, and can you still perform a deadlift with good form on a Smith machine? 

The answers to these questions will vary depending on who you ask. Many professionals believe a deadlift is best performed using free weights, but others believe a Smith machine can be useful for those attempting deadlifts. 

Woman deadlifting on smith machine

How to deadlift on a Smith machine

Follow these directions to perform a deadlift on a Smith machine safely and effectively. 

  • Place the fixed barbell on the lowest safety catch and load your desired weight. 
  • Stand behind the bar with your feet hip-width apart, and grip the bar just outside your shins. 
  • Keep your chest up and your head forwards. 

TOP TIP: Don’t let your shoulder round, as this can cause injury and activate the wrong muscles.

  • Push your heels into the floor and lift upwards, extending from your knees. 
  • When the bar reaches your knees, push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes.
  • Don’t lock out at the top position, and keep your core and glutes engaged throughout. 
  • Slowly lower back to the original position and then repeat.   

Are Smith machine deadlifts effective?

Deadlifts are an effective exercise for muscle development in the hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves and more. Some of these muscles may not be worked to their full potential on a Smith machine as the equipment provides stability and guidance that doesn’t activate the muscles as well as a free weight variation would.

How to perform a machine row on a Smith machine

  • Set the Smith machine at a low height, ideally just below the waist. 
  • Add your weight to the machine; start with the weight you would usually perform a bent-over row with. 
  • Stand in front of the Smith machine and grab the barbell in an overhand grip shoulder-width apart. 
  • From here, bend your knees slightly and engage your core whilst keeping your spine neutral.
  • Release the bar from the safety catch and pull the bar towards your stomach. 
  • Your elbows should come out just behind your back.
  • Slowly lower the barbell to the original position and repeat.

Back workout on the Smith Machine 

What exercises can I perform for my back on a Smith machine?

You can add a few exercises to your back day workout that can be performed on the Smith machine. Add this workout segment to your back routine and watch how it grows. 

  1. Bent over Smith machine rows (10 reps x 3 sets) 
  2. Smith machine deadlifts (10 reps x 3 sets)
  3. Good morning (12 reps x 3 sets)

How to use the Smith machine for a chest workout

Man performing bench press on smith machine

How to bench press on a Smith machine

You will probably need to be horizontal to use the Smith machine for a chest workout. So make sure you have a bench you can place under the barbell of the Smith machine. 

How to set up for incline bench press on Smith machine

  • Place an adjustable bench under a Smith machine and raise the backrest to an inclined angle. 
  • Sit on the bench and move the barbell to a height that feels comfortable to push from. 
  • Add your desired weight to the machine and get into position. 
  • Push the bar from the safety catch and continue upwards.
  • Once you reach the top position of the movement, don’t lock out your elbows. Make sure there is still some bend in the elbow. 
  • Slowly return to the original position and repeat. 
Bench press on smith machine

How to bench press on a Smith machine

The bench press on the Smith machine follows the same steps as the incline bench press. Just make sure you set up the bench at a horizontal position and complete the process mentioned above.

Are Smith machines good for bench presses?

If you want to increase your bench press weight but don’t have a spotter to help you, the Smith machine can be your best friend. The machine allows you to train your chest press movement without supervision, and the fixed movement of the machine provides the stability you wouldn’t have performing the free-weight version. 

Chest workout on the Smith Machine 

You can build your chest on the Smith machine with a small range of focused exercises. Try the following combinations on the Smith machine if you want to switch up your workout style or lift slightly heavier but don’t have a spotter. This workout will help target all areas of the chest and help you achieve a fuller and well-built chest. 

  1. Bench press (10 reps x  sets)
  2. Incline bench press (10 reps x 3 sets) 
  3. Decline bench press (10 reps x 3 sets)

Where can I buy a Smith machine? 

If you are a commercial gym looking to enhance your offering for clients, or you have a home gym and are looking for a versatile piece of equipment for your space – you are in the right place. 

At FitKit, we have a range of Smith machines for you, including new, used and ex-demo equipment pieces. With the ability to hold large weights, a smooth running track and the ability for commercial use, you will surely find a Smith machine that hits every checkpoint on your list at FitKit. 

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