Smith Machine Shoulder Press

Exercise Setup, Benefits, & Limitations Explained by Trainer

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: November 27, 2021

Most shoulder workouts consist of lots of pressing and raising movements. After a few weeks that can get old and your results may start to plateau.

That’s when it’s time to change up your routine and try some different exercise variations. And the Smith machine shoulder press is an excellent option to spice up your shoulder day.

I will show you how to set up the Smith machine for the shoulder press. As well as how to perform the Smith machine shoulder press with proper form.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press

What Is A Shoulder Press?

A shoulder press is an exercise where you lift a weight from shoulder level until your arms are extended above your head. Another name for this exercise is the military press.

Most often, you do a shoulder press with a barbell, dumbbells, or on a specialized machine. But you can also do the shoulder press on a Smith machine.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

Any upright pressing movement works the shoulder muscles. Specifically, the front part of the shoulder or the anterior deltoid. But you will use some lateral delt and traps as well.

With the Smith machine shoulder press, you can isolate the front delt more because you don’t have to balance the bar.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Benefits & Limitations

The Smith machine shoulder press tends to be safer because it requires less balance. Plus, you can use the safety stops or rack the weight if you get stuck.

However, the fixed bar path can also be a bit unnatural for shoulder joints. And free weights are still better for overall power and strength.


  • Easier to balance the bar
  • Puts more load on the anterior deltoid
  • Can rack the weight if you get stuck


  • Not the best strength-building exercise
  • Fixed movement path can be unnatural for shoulder joint

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Set-Up

It’s important to set up the bench and Smith machine to create the right movement path. This ensures you work the target muscles without stressing your shoulders.

First, set the Smith machine bar at a height where you can lift it off the rack from the seated position. Also, adjust the safety stops as needed.

Second, position an upright bench inside the Smith machine so the bar comes down just in front of your face as you lower the weight.

Before you put weight on the bar, test the bar path to make sure it’s not too close or too far away.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Set Up

How To Do A Smith Machine Shoulder Press

After setting up the Smith machine and bench, you’re ready to add weight and perform the exercise.

To start, sit on the bench with your feet firmly on the foot rests or floor. Then lift the bar off and rotate the hooks off the safety stops.

Next, lower the bar until it reaches at least the level of your chin. But you can go all the way down to your shoulders to increase the range of motion.

Then press the weight back up until your arms are nearly fully extended. Repeat for the desired number of reps before racking the bar on the safety stops.

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

  1. Set up the Smith machine with an upright bench inside
  2. Sit on the bench and lift the bar off the safety stops
  3. Lower the bar in front of your body to at least chin level
  4. Press the bar back up until your arms are almost fully extended
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps

Seated Smith Machine Shoulder Press Video

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Smith Machine Shoulder Press Form

The Smith machine makes it easy to maintain the correct movement path, but it’s still possible to cheat or use poor form on this exercise.

One of the most common mistakes is using a partial range of motion. This issue usually happens when trying to go too fast or lift too much weight.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Form Top
Smith Machine Shoulder Press Form Bottom

Instead, use a weight you can control through the entire range of motion. And lower the bar until you reach no higher than your chin.

Along with the correct range of motion, make sure you don’t sit too far away from the bar. If the bar is several inches away from your body, you could end up straining your shoulder joint.

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Smith Machine Shoulder Press Variations

So far, I’ve shown you how to do the shoulder press on a Smith machine in the seated position where you press the weight in front of you. But there are a few other ways to do this exercise.

Rear Smith Machine Shoulder Press

This shoulder press variation involves lowering the bar behind your head. While this may sound precarious, it’s very safe when using a weight you can handle with good form.

One benefit of the behind the head Smith machine shoulder press is that it isolates your anterior delt by reducing the involvement of your upper chest.

Standing Smith Machine Shoulder Press

Another option is to perform the shoulder press while standing instead of seated. You remove the bench and stand under the Smith machine bar while performing the exercise with this variation.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Alternatives

If you don’t have a Smith machine at your gym, or it’s just hard to get on, you can use these alternative shoulder press exercises instead.

Barbell Shoulder Press

The barbell shoulder press is the free weight equivalent of the Smith machine shoulder press. You can perform this exercise, seated, standing, to the front, or the back.

Barbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Another good alternative is the dumbbell shoulder press. With this exercise, each arm works independently from the other, so you use more stabilizing muscles.

Machine Shoulder Press

Last but not least is the shoulder press machine. Most gyms have specialized equipment designed to replicate the shoulder press without free weights.

Smith Machine Shoulder Workout

When you get on a Smith machine at a crowded gym, you may want to use it for multiple shoulder exercises while you have the chance. And you could even do a complete shoulder workout on the Smith machine.

For example, you can target your traps with the Smith machine shrug. Or hit your rear delts with the Smith machine upright row.

Click below to see another Smith machine shoulder exercise tutorial.

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better body and shoulders. So if you found this article helpful, make sure you check out some of the other great workout and nutrition tips below!

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By |November 27, 2021|Workouts|0 Comments
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