Smith Machine Front Squat

Front squats are an awesome leg exercise for building your quads. But it can be tricky to learn using a traditional Olympic barbell. And if you workout at a gym like Planet Fitness, you might not even have a barbell to use.

That’s where the Smith machine front squat comes in handy. With this exercise variation, it’s easier to keep the bar in position. And you don’t need a complete gym setup.

So I’m going to show you how to do front squats on a Smith machine. Including multiple grips and variations to fit your abilities and equipment.

Smith Machine Front Squat

What Is A Smith Machine Front Squat?

The front squat is a leg exercise where you hold the weight on the front of your shoulders instead of on your back. And the Smith machine front squat is a variation where the barbell travels on a fixed path.

By changing the location of the weight, front squats shift your center of gravity forward. This results in different loading on the leg muscles.

Front Squat Muscles Worked

Like all squat movements, the Smith machine front squat works almost all of the muscles in your lower body. Including the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, hip flexors, and even the calves.

However, the upright body position of the front squat means that it puts a strong emphasis on the quads.

Front Squat Muscles Worked

Smith Machine Front Squat vs Barbell

With traditional front squats, the bar wants to roll forward off your shoulders. But the fixed path of the Smith machine front squat helps to keep the bar in place.

In addition, the Smith machine bar is lighter than a full-size Olympic bar. So it’s easier for beginners just starting to build up strength.

One other benefit is that the Smith machine reduces the need for you to balance your body. This stable movement means larger muscle groups like the quads do more work.

Of course, the Smith machine isn’t without drawbacks. The lack of stabilizer muscle recruitment means it’s not as good for building overall strength and coordination.

Smith Machine Front Squat Benefits & Limitations


  • Easier to balance the bar
  • Smith machine bar weighs less than Olympic bar
  • Works more quads compared to free weights


  • Not as good for overall strength & power building

Smith Machine Front Squat Bar Placement

When setting up for the Smith machine front squat, you want to place the bar right up against the front of your neck. Also, raise your elbows to create a shelf on your shoulders. Then position your hands using whatever grip works best for you.

Smith Machine Front Squat Hand Position

Most experienced weightlifters use the fingertip grip. This hand position involves putting the ends of your first two or three fingers under the bar just outside shoulder width.

However, the downside is that it can be very uncomfortable if you don’t have great hand or forearm flexibility. Another option is to cross your arms like a genie with each hand on the opposite shoulder.

Figures 1 & 2. Fingertip vs cross arm front squat grip demonstrated with a barbell.

How To Front Squat On Smith Machine

First, lift the bar and rotate it off the safety hooks. Then assume the fingertip or cross arm position. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart directly under the bar.

Next, squat down by bending at the knees and hips simultaneously. As you squat, keep your chest up and your back relatively upright.

Squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the floor. Or as low as your flexibility allows. Then stand back up by extending your knees and driving your hips forward.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Lift the bar off the stops and position it on the front of your shoulders
  2. Hold the bar with your fingertips or with the cross arm grip
  3. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart directly under the bar
  4. Squat down while keeping your back relatively upright
  5. Stand back up by extending your knees and pushing hips forward
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps and rerack the bar

Smith Machine Front Squat Video

Tip: If your Smith machine has angled rails, face in the direction where the bar moves forward as you squat down.

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Smith Machine Front Squat Form

While doing a front squat, proper form is critical to keep the bar in position and target the quads. Maintain a tall, upright posture and stand with your feet directly under you.

In addition, you should try to squat down until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor. This deep squat results in knee bend less than 90-degrees which activates more quads.

Front Squat Form

Figure 3. Proper front squat form demonstrated with a barbell. Your body position should look the exact same at the bottom of the Smith machine front squat.

At the bottom, your knees should be in front of your toes. This leg configuration is another indicator of greater knee flexion.

However, you do not want your body weight to be leaned forward on your toes. Instead, the bar should be in line with your mid-foot.

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Front Squat Alternatives

Keep in mind; you don’t have to include the Smith machine front squat in every workout. Below I give you several other quad dominant leg exercises. Feel free to substitute these in your leg day routine.

Smith Machine Hack Squat

A hack squat machine is similar to a leg press, except you push the sled with your shoulders instead of your feet. With hack squats, your back stays upright relative to your legs, just like a front squat.

The problem is, most gyms don’t have this machine. Fortunately, the Smith machine hack squat can replicate the hack squat movement without special equipment.

In the video below, I show you how to position your body for this exercise.

Smith Machine Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a lower-body exercise that’s a hybrid between the squat and lunge movements. That is, you stagger your feet and squat down to one knee.

In addition, you elevate your rear foot to increase the range of motion and transfer more weight to the front leg. A Smith machine split squat is a variation where you use the Smith machine bar for resistance.

Also, you can target more quads or glutes based on where you place your front foot. Farther forward is more glutes and hamstrings. Further back is more quads.

Heel Elevated Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a close variation of the front squat where you hold a weight in your hands at chest level. To really blast your quads, elevate your heels on a box or plate.

With your heels up, your knees have to bend even more. And that’s what results in greater quad activation.

Smith Machine Back Squat

A traditional back squat puts your center of gravity farther to the rear compared to front squats. But when you put the bar high up on your shoulders right behind your neck, you can maintain a more upright back.

Therefore, a Smith machine squat with the high bar position can be a good alternative to the Smith machine front squat.

High Bar vs Low Bar Squat: Bar Position, Form, & Benefits

High Bar vs Low Bar Squat Bar Position

Figure 4. High bar vs low bar squat body mechanics demonstrated with a barbell. Notice how the high bar position creates more knee bend similar to the front squat.

Sissy Squat

One of the best exercises for isolating the quads is called a sissy squat. But make no mistake, this exercise is way tougher than the name suggests!

What makes it so challenging is that you have to squat down without bending your hips. This body position puts all the load directly on your quads.

How Much Does A Smith Machine Bar Weigh?

Smith machine front squats provide a host of benefits over barbells. Whether you’re just starting or an advanced bodybuilder, this exercise can have a place in your leg day workouts.

But it’s important to realize that the Smith machine bar doesn’t weigh as much as an Olympic bar. And the exact weight depends on the type of Smith machine you’re using.

So check out my article on Smith machine bar weight to find out exactly how much weight you’re lifting!

How Much Does A Smith Machine Bar Weigh
Smith Machine Bar Weight

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better lower body. And if you found this article informative, check out some of my other helpful workout tips below!

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