Breaking Down Smith Machine Squats

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Apr 10,2024|13 min| 253

Is this leg exercise beneficial?

When it comes to your leg day, you probably have exercises in your training routine such as barbell squats, or Romanian deadlifts, or some machines like the leg press and the hack squat. But have you tried Smith machine squats? Many times people will stay away from the Smith machine, stating that it is for women, or people who like to lift at Planet Fitness. However, if you look at some of the biggest bodybuilders on the planet, their leg day routines often contain Smith machine squats; so what does that tell you about this piece of equipment?

Let’s take a look at Smith machine squats and the benefits that they can bring to the table.

How to Do Smith Machine Squats

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You might think that a Smith machine squat is like a barbell squat, but it is actually much different. If you take the same approach to a Smith Machine like you would with a barbell, there is a higher risk for injury, because a Smith has a fixed bar path and you need to adjust for that. So let’s look at how to do a Smith machine squat.

Equipment

When it comes to the equipment required for a Smith machine squat, it is pretty easy. You only need a Smith Machine and some plates to throw on it, and the chances are your gym has one of these pieces of equipment. 

Setting up for Smith Machine Squats

With a Smith machine squat, your feet will not be directly under the bar like they would with a classic barbell barbell squat. A Smith machine squat is somewhat like a cross between a barbell squat and a hack squat machine as your feet should be about 3-6 inches forward from what they are with a barbell squat. The best thing you can do is find the right footing with an empty barbell first.

Place the bar on your traps and shoulders, not your neck, just like a regular squat, and your feet can be placed shoulder width apart. 

From there you will unhook the bar and begin your descent, and as you descend, you’ll want to push your hips back a little as you bend at the knees (like a regular squat). Throughout the movement, keep your chest up, shoulder blades retracted, and your head facing forward with your core braced (a lifting belt is also acceptable here to help keep the core tight).

With the depth of a Smith machine squat, you still don’t want a shortcut, you want to have your glutes about in line with your calves at the bottom, which is just past parallel. Hitting good depth gives you great stretching tension in your legs as a whole (quads, glutes, hamstrings), which helps to build not only muscle mass, but also strength. If mobility is an issue, go as low as you can on a Smith machine squat. Working on ankle mobility is also something to be done in your free time.

From there, exhale and drive up from the heels of your feet, just like a regular squat. Throughout the drive, you should aim to keep your spine straight and continue to keep your core engaged during this. Then repeat.

Are Smith Machine Squats Better than Barbell Squats?

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When it comes to the argument of Smith machine squats vs. barbell squats, there certainly are some pros and cons to each. Let’s take a look.

Smith Machine Squat Pros and Cons

Smith machine squats are good for hypertrophy. They use less of the stabilizing muscles than the barbell squats, which means you can develop a great mind-muscle connection and really keep the tension on the muscles in the legs, making it great for bodybuilders

The Smith machine also offers better safety measures, meaning you can train with more intensity and volume and take sets to muscular failure much easier than a barbell squat. 

The downside to the Smith machine is the strength aspect. Though you can build some serious strength in the legs, the fixed bar path makes it so you do not need to use the stabilizing muscles. That being said, just because you are strong on the Smith machine squat does not mean your strength on the barbell squat will be the same, making the Smith machine a less optimal option for powerlifters.

Barbell Squat Pros and Cons

Now on the other hand, the barbell squat is a great exercise for building strength for powerlifting and other strength sports like Olympic Weightlifting or strongman. It is not only good for strength sports, but also bodybuilding, as the barbell squat builds some great muscle in the legs as a whole, meaning the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. 

The downside to the barbell squat compared to the Smith machine is that you are using more stabilizing muscles. This means that you will not get as good of a mind-muscle connection on the barbell squat as you would on the Smith machine squat, meaning the Smith machine is more beneficial for hypertrophy. 

Variations of the Smith Machine Squat

The Smith machine also offers many different variations for squats. Let’s take a look at a few.

  • Front Squats: The Smith machine enables you to do your front squats without worrying about the stabilizing muscles, and a bit less strain on the lower back. This enables you to move some more weight.

  • Sissy Squats: Sissy squats are great to do on the Smith machine, whether you have weight on the bar or you are just using an empty bar. This is where you would put the barbell on your shoulders and squat down with your knees over your toes, to the point where your butt almost touches your heels. These are great for the quads.

  • Heel Elevated Squats: Heel elevated Smith machine squats are another way to bias the quads a bit more, but also give a natural feel to the movement.

Are Smith Machine Squats Worth it?

When it comes down to if Smith machine squats are worth putting in your training routine or not, they absolutely are. While they may not be the best for fully replacing a barbell squat, they are good to along in your regimens. 

Where to Find Good Training Routines

When it comes to doing Smith machine squats, finding a good workout app with great programs to help you build up your muscle mass and strength and improve overall, check out the free Boostcamp App. You can find tons of different workout routines that will truly push you to the limit, and they are made by renowned evidence-based coaches. Boostcamp also lets you create your own custom routines and log your progress, which is great for tracking your progress and making linear progression.

To maximize your gains and simplify your fitness journey, consider using Boostcamp, the last lifting app you'll ever need. Boostcamp helps you track your progress, offers customizable training programs, and provides expert guidance to ensure you get the most out of your chosen workout program whether it's linear push pull legs or upper lower or whatever you choose. Start making the most of your workouts and download Boostcamp today!

Smith Machine Squats Wrap Up

Overall, Smith machine squats are great to include in your training routine as they offer some great benefits for hypertrophy and strength. 

Do you do Smith machine squats?

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