Smith Machine Row Guide

Trainer’s Tips for Beginner & Advanced Lifters

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: August 25, 2021

The bent over barbell row is a staple exercise in any resistance training program. But it can be intimidating to learn as a beginner. And your gym might not have barbells.

In that case, a Smith machine row is a great alternative that combines the benefits of free weights and the safety of a machine. Even if you’re an advanced lifter, it has advantages.

Keep scrolling down to see how this exercise is different from other rowing movements. And learn how to do a Smith machine row with a short video and step-by-step guide.

Smith Machine Row

What Is A Smith Machine Row?

A Smith machine row is a variation of a bent over barbell row. The main difference is that the Smith machine bar moves on guide rails that give it a fixed movement pattern.

With the Smith machine, you don’t have to stabilize the bar or balance your body as much. So you can focus on contracting the target muscles in your back.

Smith Machine Row Muscles Worked

As with any rowing movement, the Smith machine row is a back exercise. The primary muscle group worked is the latissimus dorsi or lats.

In addition, there is some activation of the smaller muscles of the back. Like the rhomboids, teres major, and teres minor. Along with a little rear delt and biceps.

Smith Machine Row Muscles Worked

Smith Machine Row Benefits & Limitations

The Smith machine row is a good option if you’re trying bent over rows for the first time. With the guide rails dictating the path of the bar, it gives you one less thing to think about as you learn the movement.

Also, Smith machine rows put more of the load directly on the lats. So it’s great for advanced lifters trying to build a bigger back.

Of course, there are downsides as well. The fixed path means the movement is not as natural as it would be with free weights. Although it’s better on an angled Smith machine.


  • Requires less balance and stability
  • Simpler movement pattern for beginners
  • More lat isolation
  • Don’t have to pick up the bar off the floor


  • Must have a Smith machine
  • The movement path is not as natural as free weights

How To Do A Smith Machine Row

Before you begin the lift, step up to the bar with your feet about shoulder-width apart. The bar should be touching the front of your legs. Then grab the bar with a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width.

Next, stand up with the bar before bending forward at the hips. Lower the bar back to your knees while keeping your back flat and knees slightly bent.

Smith Machine Row Starting Position

Some Smith machines have safety stops that prevent the bar from going all the way down. In this case, you may need to stand on a box. I use an aerobics step to get my knees to the same height as the bar.

From here, pull the bar up and back towards your stomach. Then lower it back to the starting position and repeat.

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

  1. Stand in front of the bar with feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Grab the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width
  3. Bend forward so the bar is at about knee level
  4. Pull the bar up and back toward your stomach
  5. Lower the bar and repeat for the desired number of reps

Smith Machine Row Form

Here are some additional tips to help you use proper form on this exercise.

  • Do not bounce or push through your legs
  • Do not round or excessively arch your back
  • Keep your back flat at about a 45-degree angle
  • Only your arms should be moving
  • Drive elbows up and back
  • At the bottom, the bar should be about knee level
  • Squeeze your lats at the top

When you’re just starting out, the bent over position may feel unnatural. And you could find that your back ends up in a more upright position.

But keep in mind, the more upright your torso, the less you’re using your lats to pull the weight. An upright row is actually an exercise for targeting your traps and rear delts, not your back.

So remember to maintain the bent over position by pushing your hips back and bending slightly at the knees.

It may take practice with lighter weights. But it gets easier once your find the right balance between your body and the bar.

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Smith Machine Row Variations & Alternatives

The Smith machine row demonstrated above is the most common version. However, there are a couple of other ways you can perform this exercise.

As well as some variations you can use if you don’t have a Smith machine. Or just to mix it up from one workout to the next.

Reverse Grip Smith Machine Row

Usually, a bent over row using a bar is performed with an overhand or pronated grip. This hand position incorporates a little less bicep during the movement.

On the other hand, an underhand or reverse grip puts your biceps in a stronger position. With a supinated grip, you can sometimes pull a little more weight.

Single Arm Smith Machine Row

Another option is to perform the exercise with one arm at a time. By isolating a single arm, you can prevent a dominant hand from taking over.

To do a single arm Smith machine row, start by standing with the bar on either your left or right side. Then grab the bar with the hand closest to it and perform a one hand row.

Bent Over Barbell Row

Now if you don’t have a Smith machine, the next closest exercise is the bent over barbell row. The form is exactly the same, the only difference is the bar is not on rails.

With the barbell version, the movement path is more natural. And the bar travels slightly back as you pull it up.

Bent Over Dumbbell Row

You can also do bent over rows using dumbbells. One way is to use the same body position as the Smith machine row. With a dumbbell in each hand, pull up and back simultaneously.

Another way is to bend over a bench and perform a single arm dumbbell row. Whichever you choose, you’ll generally use a neutral grip when performing a dumbbell row.

Landmine Row

A landmine row is another back exercise that uses a barbell. But this variation involves a special piece of equipment that anchors one end of the bar to the floor and allows it to pivot.

To do a landmine row, you attach a handle to the free end of the bar. Then straddle the barbell and perform the bent over row movement.

Resistance Band Row

Finally, if you don’t have a Smith machine or free weights, you can do a banded row. Simply stand in the center of the band and perform the rowing movement similar to how you would with two dumbbells.

10 Best At-Home Resistance Band Back Exercises

Hypertrophy Training Program

The Smith machine row is a great addition to your back day workout whether you’re a beginner or advanced lifter. But if you really want to reach your fitness goals, you need a complete resistance training plan designed for muscle gain.

In order to maximize muscle growth (aka hypertrophy), you should adjust 10 specific training variables. Check out my free hypertrophy training program to see how to optimize your workouts.

With this information, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your fitness goals. And if you found this exercise tutorial helpful, click on the articles below for more workout tips!

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By |August 25, 2021|Workouts|0 Comments
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