- Military Press
- Bench Press
- Upright Row
Keep reading for a step-by-step guide with pictures, videos, and descriptions of each of these exercises.
Eliminate guesswork and confusion and start seeing results.
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The other day my wife came home from the gym frustrated.
She had dialed up a killer leg day, but when she got there all the squat racks were taken.
She told me she had to come up with some alternates to some of the exercises she had wanted to do and didn’t feel like it was necessarily as effective.
I asked “were all the Smith machines being used, too?”
I felt so bad at her reply – “I don’t really know how to use them so I didn’t try.”
Have any of you ever felt this way, too?! Like a lack of knowledge kept you from fulfilling your expectations?
Well NO MORE, my friends (at least not with the Smith machine)!
Today I want to address two questions: first of all – what is a Smith machine? and second – what are some exercises I can do on a Smith machine?
I figured what better way to do this than to introduce these exercises to you in the form of a killer workout you can try the next time you’re in the gym!
Here we go!
How It Works: A Smith machine is basically a barbell on rails with a pulley system.
The bar goes up and down on guides with intermittent locking points all along the way.
To “unlock” the weight, lift the barbell and rotate the hook away from the pin.
This will allow the bar to slide up and down the guides.
When you’re done with the exercise, rotate the hook back to the pin to “rack” the weight in the locked position.
1. More controlled: Ah, the blessing the curse of Smith machine exercises. One of the biggest disadvantages and reasons why the Smith machine gets a bad rap is because you’re basically “locked in” to one plane of movement.
During most exercises your body not only moves up and down but also slightly forward and back.
The Smith machine eliminates this forward and back motion (most of the guides are on a slant trying to mimic this lateral movement).
Many people argue that this puts your body in unnatural form that can potentially cause injury.
While I agree with this statement, I would further argue that ANY exercise done with improper form has the potential to cause injury.
My recommendation is to start with a lighter weight, perform the exercise until it does feel comfortable to you, and then increase weight as appropriate. If you can’t find a “comfort zone”, don’t do it!
2. Muscles not as active: It’s actually been proven in a research study comparing Smith machines to their free weight counterparts that you work a lot harder under normal barbell squat conditions than on a Smith machine.
The guides eliminate the activation of the smaller stabilization muscles in the legs and core that would normally kick on during the forward/back movement experienced during a normal barbell exercise.
Below are the answers to some other common questions that I often get about working out on a Smith machine:
Workout machines can create different lines of pull and resistance for a great workout, and are typically thought of as easier than free weights. When using free weights your muscles have to work a lot harder to lift and stabilize the load.
With a Smith machine, the motion throughout the exercise is more controlled since there are guides to provide stabilization, this makes it typically a little easier to do exercises.
You will normally work a lot harder using free weights compared to Smith machines. The guides on the Smith machine eliminate the activation of some of the smaller stabilization muscles in the legs and core that you would normally use during some normal barbell exercises.
That being said, you can still get a great workout as long as you use a Smith machine correctly.
Smith machines can be safer than some barbell exercises, Smith machines makes the exercise easier to learn and there is less risk of injury. They are a great option for certain situations and a perfect way to mix up your workout.
Never used a Smith machine? The next time you’re in the gym try it out. Keep reading for a great total body Smith machine workout.
Newer Smith Machines usually have lighter bars than barbells. If you are completing similar types of exercises, keep the weight difference in mind when you are transitioning between the machine and the barbell. The bar will feel lighter because you are lifting less weight.
A standard barbell weighs 45 pounds, but a Smith Machine barbell usually weighs around 15 pounds. Because of the gliding action of the machine, the bar’s weight is reduced while you are lifting.
If you want to make sure you are lifting a specific amount of weight, remember to factor in the starting weight of the bar of the Smith machine.
Now that you’re familiar with how it works, let’s rock it!
Below are five of my favorite exercises to do on a Smith machine.
I’ve arranged them to make it as easy as possible to transition between the exercises to minimize the number of times you have to adjust the bar height and drag a bench in or out of the machine.
- Stand in front of the bar with feet about shoulder-width apart and toes facing slightly out.
- Get below the bar and position yourself with the bar behind your head, weight on your upper back with your shoulders just below the bar. The bar is NOT on your neck.
- Hold the bar with hands a few inches beyond shoulder-width distance apart.
- With chest and head up, bend at the hips and knees to lower down as if sitting. Don’t let your knees advance forward in front of your toes.
- Lower until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Push with your quads and glutes to return to upright.
- Position yourself under the bar, with the bar behind your head, weight on your upper back with your shoulders just below the bar. The bar is NOT on your neck.
- Lift the bar to unrack. Position your feet so one foot is forward and the other foot is back.
- Lower your back knee almost to the ground. Your front knee doesn’t advanced over your toe.
- Slowly push the weight back up and complete your reps.
- Reverse the position of your legs.
- Set an adjustable bench with the back at 90 degrees in the Smith machine. The bar is positioned just in front of your face.
- Sit down and grab the bar with hands just wider than shoulder width apart. Grip with palms facing forward.
- Unrack the bar and hold it at chin level. Slowly push the bar up over your head until you lock your arms.
- Lower the bar back down to your collarbone level slowly.
- Place a flat bench under the Smith machine. Lie flat on your back on a bench with the bar at arm’s reach.
- Unrack the bar with a medium width grip (palms facing out) and lift it until your arms are straight.
- Breathe in and come down slowly until the bar touches your chest.
- Breathe out and push the bar back up using your chest muscles.
- Set the Smith machine bar to a height around your thighs. Stand behind the bar.
- Hold the bar using a shoulder width grip, palms facing forward.
- Keep your back straight and bend your elbows and lift the barbell up to your chin. Make sure you really try to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the exercise to really maximize your back muscles.
- Lower the bar slowly to the starting position.
Make it happen,