Smith Machine Squat – How to do, Variations, And Benefits

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A fitness enthusiast is doing smith machine squats in a gym

How to do | Muscles worked | Who Should/Should Not | Add to routine | Safety Tips | Benefits | Variations | Smith vs Barbell Squats

Smith machine squat is a machine-based squat variation that targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously. It is performed using a Smith machine in which the barbell moves along a fixed vertical path. This makes it easier for beginners to perform weighted squats on a Smith machine. 

How to do a Smith machine squat?

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to set up and perform the Smith machine squats.

Equipment required: Smith machine

Setup

  1. Position the Smith machine bar around your shoulder height.
  2. Now, stand with your back towards the smith machine.
  3. Step under the bar and place your feet hip-width apart.
  4. Rest the bar on your upper back and traps.
  5. Grasp the smith machine bar with an overhand grip. Your hands must be a little more than shoulder-width apart.

Execution:

  1. Keeping your head up and back straight, bend your knees and lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  2. Return to the starting position by extending your hips and knees until your legs are straight.
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Muscles worked in Smith machine squats

Although the Smith machine squat looks like a simple machine-based workout, it works the same muscles as the standard free-weight barbell squat. Here is a detailed split up of the primary and secondary muscles worked in a Smith machine squat.

Primary muscles worked

Quadricepsrectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis
Glutesgluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus
Hip adductorsadductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, pectineus and gracilis
Back muscleserector spinae muscles, latissimus dorsi, thoracolumbar fascia, and multifidus muscles

Secondary muscles activated

Core abdominal musclesrectus abdominis and transverse abdominis
Calvesgastrocnemius and soleus
Hamstringsbiceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus

Who should and should not do?

A Smith machine squat is an ideal way to learn how to lift weights. However, performing smith machine squats can be beneficial to some and risky for others. Here is a list of people who should and should not do Smith machine squats.

Who should do the Smith machine squat?

  1. Smith machine squatting is ideal for beginners who are new to lifting weights. It is a great way to build strength and confidence before moving on to the standard barbell squat.
  2. Experienced lifters can use this machine to target specific muscle groups or perform high-intensity workouts.

Who should not do Smith machine squats?

  1. If you want to increase your squatting performance, this exercise is not for you. Smith machine squat limits your range of motion and puts your body in a fixed position. This decreases the power output and affects your squatting numbers.
  2. People with lower back pain or knee joint issues should also avoid this exercise as it can aggravate the condition.

Adding it to your routine

You can incorporate the Smith machine squat into your workout routine based on your fitness level and goals. We have created two Smith machine squat workout routines for beginner-level and intermediate/advanced-level fitness enthusiasts. 

A sample workout routine for beginners:

Beginner Level ExercisesReps
Warm-up (Jumping jacks)1-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Air squat3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
Lateral lunges3-4 sets of 12-15 reps
Smith machine squat3-4 sets of 6-8 reps 
Side lying stretch (Cooldown stretch)1-2 minutes

A sample workout routine for intermediate and advanced fitness enthusiasts: 

Intermediate/ Advanced Level ExercisesReps
Warm-up (Jumping jacks) 1-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Goblet squat4-5 sets of 10-15 reps 
Pistol squat3-4 sets of 10-15 reps
Smith machine squat3-4 sets of 10-15 reps
Side lying stretch (Cooldown stretch)1-2 minutes

Safety measures to follow

Smith squats are the safest and easiest way to perform weighted squats. Depending on the amount of weight you load and the number of reps you perform, this squat can be ideal for both beginners and intermediate-level fitness enthusiasts. However, you must follow a few safety measures to master Smith machine squats.

1. Maintain proper form

Ensure that your back is straight and your knees are in line with your toes as you squat. Rounding your back and caving your knees inside will place unnecessary stress on your spine and knees.

2. Squat slowly

When using the Smith machine, always squat slowly and in a controlled manner. Do not use momentum to move the weight up and down, as this can place unnecessary stress on your joints and muscles. 

3. Use training gear

Use training gear like knee sleeves and weightlifting shoes to maintain proper form and improve stability. This will help you avoid any potential injuries.

Benefits of doing Smith machine squat

Although Smith machine squat exercises may not provide the same effects as much as traditional barbell squats offer, they are still beneficial for beginners.

1. Increases muscle isolation

Performing squats using a Smith machine requires you to place your feet slightly in front of, rather than directly under, the machine. This tiny displacement actually allows for higher engagement of the quadriceps. In fact, you can increase the quad activity even more by performing the same squat with narrower foot placement.

2. Less risk of injury

Smith machine squat is an excellent exercise for beginners who are new to lifting weights and squats. The machine ensures that the weight moves along a fixed path, reducing the risk of uneven weight distribution or imbalance.

However, this doesn’t mean that there is no chance of injury when you perform Smith squats. You still need to maintain good form to avoid injuries.

3. Improves squat depth

The Smith machine allows you to squat deep without any risk of injury. This is because it provides support and stability to the upper body, which allows you to focus on your lower body movement. 

Note: A study [1]PubMed: Effect of squat depth and barbell load on relative muscular effort in squatting on squat depth and barbell load suggests that lower body muscles can be trained with relatively low intensities but requires a deep squat depth. Smith machine squats are ideal in this case. 

Variations of the Smith squat

The versatile nature of the Smith machine allows you to try numerous squat variations using this machine. Here are a few squat variations you can try using a Smith machine.

1. Smith machine front squat

A front squat on a Smith machine is an effective lower-body exercise to build leg muscles. Free-weight barbell front squats can be challenging for beginners and may cause an injury if not done correctly. Thus, the Smith machine front squat eliminates this risk by providing support to the barbell.

2. Smith machine hack squat

Hack squat is an effective lower body workout. Despite the benefits of this squat variation, a hack squat machine is not generally available in most gyms. In that case, you can try the Smith machine hack squat. This exercise works for the same muscle groups as a hack squat machine.

3. Smith machine sumo squat

If you want to progress to weighted sumo squats with assistance, then you can use a Smith machine. This variation of the sumo squat will help you focus more on your thighs and glutes while providing support to your back.

4. Smith machine box squat

While a box squat is usually performed with a free-weight barbell, using a Smith machine provides additional stability and support. This is an excellent exercise for beginners who want to start lifting weights with assistance. The machine stabilizes the weight, while the placement of a box helps you perfect your squat depth.

Smith machine squat vs. free weight barbell squats

Smith machine squat and free barbell weight squat are both effective exercises for building lower body strength.

However, a study on the comparison [2]PubMed: A comparison of free weight squat to Smith machine squat using electromyography of free-weight squats to Smith machine squats using electromyography claims that the electromyographic activity was higher in the bicep femoris, gastrocnemius, and vastus medialis during free-weight squats.

Nevertheless, there was no significant difference in the activation of other muscle groups.

Another research [3]PubMed: Comparison of muscle force production using the Smith machine and free weights for bench press and squat exercises on the comparison of muscle force production using a Smith machine and free weights for squats suggests that both exercises are effective in developing lower body muscle strength. However, free-weight squats allow you to develop more power.

Here are some key differences between the Smith squats and free weights squats.

Free weight barbell squatSmith machine squat
You need a spotter Allows you to lift weights without a spotter 
Allows natural movementNo freedom of movement 
More accessible in gymsComparatively less accessible 
Good for people with intermediate and advanced fitness levelsGreat for beginners 

Conclusion

Smith machine squats are an effective way to add weights, but they are not an adequate alternative to standard free-weight squats. Use a Smith machine till you master squatting with loads. Once you get comfortable, alternate between Smith machine squats and barbell squats. Consult your personal fitness trainer or a doctor before adding weights to your squats.

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