Best Smith Machine Exercises for a Full-Body Workout

by Evelyn Valdez

When you’re at the gym, you are surrounded by tons of different machines and pieces of equipment, and they all have their strengths - and even their flaws! But one machine that usually gets some hate at the gym is the Smith machine. Some think that using it is considered “cheating” by many, which really is just another way of saying that it’s beginner-friendly.

The Smith machine is essentially a barbell set on a vertical rail similar to a power rack that allows you to move it on that same vertical plane with additional stability. However, unlike a regular barbell, a Smith machine bar weighs typically between 15-25lbs. This makes it safer for those who are just beginning their strength training journey. But that’s not the only thing they’re good for!

Thanks to their added stability, Smith machines allow you to load more weight onto the bar, helping you lift heavier and train your muscles more effectively without having to worry too much about keeping your balance. Instead, your focus will be almost entirely on your muscles. This is perfect for those who have made a lot of progress and developed enough stability and want to shift their focus to solely building muscle.

On top of that, you don’t recruit stabilizing muscles as much when using the Smith machine, helping you target bigger muscles more effectively and truly make them work. So, all in all, Smith machine workouts are a great option at the gym and you shouldn’t overlook them!

Almost all barbell exercises can be done on this machine, so we’ve put together a list of the best ones so you can build a full-body workout with just the Smith machine if you want to, or just pick your favorite ones to try next time you want to train your strength safely.

Smith machine frog squat

This Smith machine squat variation is essentially a pulsing movement that mimics that of a frog - and it’s great for beginners! 

While the regular frog squat targets several lower body muscles such as the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and hip adductors, the Smith machine helps with your form and balance and makes it easier to target primarily your quads by giving you additional support when moving up and down. You can also try other squat variations with this machine, such as pistol squats and split squats.

How to do it: Place the bar on the Smith machine at a comfortable height and place your hands on the bar wider than shoulder-width apart. Step under the bar as if you were going to do a back squat. Step out with your feet around 10 inches away from the bar so that you’re not standing directly under it, and about 20 inches apart from each other, pointing slightly out. Begin the movement by descending until your thighs are below parallel, keeping your back straight. Pause for a second, then push back up and repeat.

Kaz press

This killer upper body movement is a combination of the close-grip bench press and the tricep extension. It mainly targets your triceps and pecs, and the use of the Smith machine allows for greater stability instead of having to fight against the weight. This additional balance is what makes it such a powerful exercise because you can work with heavier weights and develop strong upper body muscles while protecting your elbow joint from strain!

How to do it: After placing a flat bench under the Smith machine, lie on it and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your hands should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart and your elbows close to your body. With the bar directly above your shoulders, unrack it and begin the movement by extending your arms up. Slowly lower the bar toward your chest by bending your elbows and pushing them forward until the bar is close to your chest. Maintain this position for a moment, then push the bar back up and repeat.

Bent-over row

The back is a big area of your body with several muscle groups that need enough attention for them to grow bigger and stronger, and the bent-over row is perfect for this! 

The Smith machine allows you to lift heavier and give your back a better workout by providing you with enough stability, making it more effective than the regular barbell variation. The muscles targeted during this movement are the lats, rhomboids, and the trapezius, and it’s not as straining for your lower back as other variations.

How to do it: Stand underneath the Smith machine with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower the bar all the way down, making sure it has the appropriate weight loaded. With your hands wider than shoulder-width apart, grasp the bar with an overhand grip and lean your upper body forward at around 45 degrees. With your knees slightly bent, unrack the bar and begin the movement by pulling the bar up to your chest until it’s almost touching it. Keeping your back straight, hold this position for a couple of seconds, then slowly release the bar and repeat.

Standing calf raises

Just like the name suggests, standing calf raises give your calves a good workout by standing on a small platform and letting them lead the up-and-down movement. They can be done both with and without a machine, as well as with free weights, but the Smith machine allows for a more controlled calf raise motion while still challenging your balance!

How to do it: Find a small platform such as a box or a block that’s about 4 inches high and place it under the bar. Set the bar just above shoulder height and step under it and onto the platform with just the balls of your feet, leaving your heels in the air. The bar should be resting just under your neck and above your shoulders, and your hands grabbing the bar wider than shoulder-width apart. Begin the movement by lowering yourself toward the ground, driving your heels down, and then pushing up onto your tiptoes, holding each position for a second. Repeat without bending your legs.

Smith machine hip thrust

If there’s a staple exercise that will give you bigger and stronger glutes in no time, it’s the hip thrust

This movement challenges your lower body by creating resistance with a weight, and the Smith machine is great at this because it allows you to focus entirely on your legs, with some help from your core, since you don’t need to stabilize the bar during the movement. This allows for heavier weight to be lifted to build strong glutes, so make sure to use a barbell pad during the lift to protect your legs and help you lift heavier!

How to do it: Place a horizontal bench behind the Smith machine and rest your upper back on it, making sure the bar is close to your body and loaded with an appropriate weight. Your feet should be at a comfortable distance from your body and each other, and slightly pointing out. Center the bar on your hips, unrack it and begin the movement by thrusting upward with your hips, driving the weight up with your heels, and pushing the bar until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Squeeze in this position, then slowly go back to the floor and repeat.

Seated overhead press

Also known as the shoulder press, this killer exercise works - you guessed it - your shoulders! More specifically, the muscles targeted are the deltoid, triceps, and other smaller shoulder muscles, as well as your core and legs for additional stability. During a seated overhead press, you need to lift a bar over your head, and you can make this move easier for you by using a Smith machine. This is perfect for those who are new to overhead pressing and need to learn the movement pattern first!

How to do it: Sit on a bench with back support directly beneath the Smith machine with the bar at neck height. The back support of the bench should be at a 90-degree angle. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip and position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Unrack the bar and begin the movement by pressing it upward until your arms reach full extension, without locking your elbows. Pause for a second, then lower the bar with control above shoulder level and repeat.

Smith machine reverse lunges

Lunges work your legs one at a time, making them exceptional at spotting muscle imbalances and building functional lower-body strength. This lunge variation in particular is done with a Smith machine, which allows you to lift heavier and train your legs to the max, particularly targeting your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Additionally, the use of the machine also eases the strain on your knees when going up and down unlike the standard lunges that place a lot of tension on them.

How to do it: Load the bar in the Smith machine and step under it with your feet shoulder-width apart, so that the bar is resting on your traps. Grasp the bar with both hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Unrack the bar and begin by stepping back with your right leg, flexing both knees simultaneously, keeping your right foot firmly planted on the floor. When your left knee touches the floor and your right thigh is almost parallel to it, pause for a second, then press back up with your front leg and repeat with the other leg.

Next time you’re at the gym and you don’t know which machine to hit next, try getting out of your comfort zone and get on the Smith machine! You’ll find that it’s incredibly useful if you’re on a weight training journey, particularly if you’re starting to get comfortable with barbells or you want to solely focus on building bigger and stronger muscles.

Remember, all machines have a purpose, so try to expand your routine and add more variety by trying different machines and movements. And don’t forget to check out the UPPPER Barbell Pads if you’re looking to have a less painful, and more comfortable weightlifting session!

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