Smith Machine Front Squat

Exercise Setup, Proper Form, and Muscles Worked

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: July 3, 2023

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 work out at a gym like Planet Fitness, you might not even have a free weight barbell.

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

So I will 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.

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 strongly emphasizes the quads.

Smith Machine Front Squat Muscles Worked

Smith Machine Front Squat vs. Barbell

The bar tends to roll forward off your shoulders with traditional front squats. But the Smith machine front squat’s fixed path helps 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.

How Much Does a Smith Machine Bar Weigh?

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

Of course, the Smith machine also has drawbacks, like foot placement is more critical. And the lack of stabilizer muscle recruitment means it’s not as good for building overall strength and coordination.


  • More comfortable bar position
  • Easier for beginners
  • Increases quad activation


  • Foot placement is critical
  • Not the best for overall strength or functionality

How to Front Squat on Smith Machine

Let’s delve into the proper technique for executing front squats using the Smith machine. First, I will guide you through the setup and demonstrate how to position the bar on your shoulders.

Then I will walk you through the steps involved in performing the exercise, accompanied by a brief video tutorial. Lastly, I will provide some tips and advice on maintaining proper form.

Smith Machine Front Squat Set Up

Before beginning the front squat, adjust the bar to just below shoulder height and set the safety stops at the bottom of the range of motion. When approaching the bar, place it against the front of your neck while raising your elbows to create a shelf on your shoulders.

Next, position your hands on the bar to hold it in place. There are a couple of different grip options you can use depending on your flexibility and experience.

Finger Tip (Clean Grip)

Many experienced weightlifters use the fingertip grip that 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 wrist flexibility.

Crossed Arm Grip

Another option is to cross your arms like a genie with each hand on the opposite shoulder. This arm position takes the strain off your hands and wrists while creating a shelf for the bar on the anterior deltoids.

But the downside to this grip is that the bar can still slide off your shoulders, causing the tendency to roll your back forward.

Smith Machine Front Squat Grip

Steps to do a Smith Machine Front Squat

First, lift the bar and rotate it off the safety hooks. Then assume the fingertip or cross-arm position and 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 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 your hips forward
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps and rerack the bar

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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 parallel to the floor. This deep squat results in a knee bend of less than 90 degrees, activating more quads.

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.

Front Squat Form

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.

Smith Machine Front Squat FAQ

There seems to be some stigma in the weightlifting world about squatting on the Smith machine. So I’d like to answer some of the most common questions people ask about Smith machine front squats.

Is it OK to squat with a Smith machine?

Performing squats on the Smith machine offers various benefits, such as targeting larger muscle groups like the quads and glutes and adjusting your foot position to focus on specific muscles.

Some argue against using the Smith machine for squats, stating that it doesn’t activate as many muscles throughout the body as barbell squats. Additionally, some people associate the Smith machine with being less effective than using free weights.

However, these statements are generalizations that don’t consider individual body proportions and workout goals. While the Smith machine shouldn’t replace free weights entirely, it is perfectly acceptable to use it for squatting.

Are Smith machine front squats worth doing?

Smith machine front squats are worth adding to your workout routine, at least sometimes. This is especially true if you have a quad-focused leg day or back squats cause lower back pain.

How do you front squat on an angled Smith machine?

While many Smith machines have vertical guide rails, some have bars that travel on angled rails. The angle generally results in a more natural movement path, but it can be confusing about which direction to face in some exercises.

For Smith machine front squats, it’s best to face the direction where the bar travels forward or away from you as you lower it. This replicates your body’s natural movement path during a free-weight front squat.

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Smith Machine Front Squat Alternatives

Remember that 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.

Barbell Front Squat

Once you have become proficient with the Smith machine, you may want to challenge yourself by attempting barbell front squats. This particular variation demands greater balance and engagement of stabilizer muscles, resulting in an overall enhancement of total body strength.

Smith Machine Hack Squat

If you’d rather stick with the Smith machine, you can also perform a hack squat variation to target the quads. The Smith machine hack squat involves placing the bar on your back and standing with your feet forward in the rack.

This foot placement keeps your back in a more upright posture, which increases knee flexion and quad activation.

Smith Machine Split Squat

The Smith machine split squat is like a hybrid between the squat and lunge movements where you stagger your feet and squat down to one knee. Also, you can use this exercise to target your quads by using a shorter stride length with your rear foot elevated.

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. Elevate your heels on a box or plate to blast your quads.

Cannonball Squat

Cannonball squats are an exercise variation that involves standing with your feet very close or even touching. This super narrow stance squat results in a more upright position and deeper knee bend like front squats. 

More Leg Day Exercises & Workouts

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 include exercises in your leg training that also focus on the glutes and hamstrings. So here are some additional articles to help you design your ultimate leg day workout.

7 More Smith Machine Squat Variations

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squats: Which Is Right For You?

Mr. Olympia Chris Bumstead Leg Workout

Best Barbell Hamstring Exercises

When to Use Heel-Elevated Squats

Leg Press Foot Placement for Glutes vs Quads

Old School Tom Platz Leg Workout Tips

Top 10 Landmine Leg Exercises & Example Workout

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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