Smith Machine Squat Guide

Trainer Shows How to Do Smith Machine Squat Variations

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: November 1, 2022

If there’s one exercise I think everyone should be doing, it’s the barbell squat. But there are some situations where you might not be able to include it in your routine.

Whether you’re just starting and aren’t comfortable under a free weight barbell or work out at a gym like Planet Fitness, where there are no squat racks.

Whatever the reason, the Smith machine squat can be a viable alternative or addition to traditional squats. So I will show you how to do squats on a Smith machine to build your lower body.

Smith Machine Squat

What Is A Smith Machine Squat?

The Smith machine is a standard piece of equipment at modern commercial gyms. And it is popular among new weightlifters transitioning from machines to free weights.

A Smith machine squat is simply a barbell squat where the bar travels on guide rails. The fixed path helps when developing your balance and coordination.

But the Smith machine squat can also benefit intermediate and advanced lifters because it allows for varied foot placement, which helps target specific muscle groups.

Smith Machine Squat Muscles Worked

Like any squat movement, Smith machine squats work almost every lower body muscle. Including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

But unlike regular barbell squats, you can move your feet forward or back relative to the bar. And this is how you can target more glutes or more quads.

Smith Machine Squat Muscles Worked

Smith Machine Squat For Glutes

Standing with your feet directly under the bar helps target the glutes. With this foot placement, your back leans forward as you squat.

In addition, your rear end pushes backward, and your hips bend more than your knees. And the increased hip flexion recruits more glutes and hamstrings in the squat.

Related: Leg Press for Glutes

Smith Machine Squat For Quads

To target more quadriceps, you should stand about 12” in front of the bar with your feet forward. This foot placement means your back stays upright as you squat.

Also, your rear end drops straight down, and your knees bend more than your hips. The increased knee flexion is what recruits more quads in the squat.

Related: Heel Elevated Squats for Quads

Smith Machine Squat For Glutes vs Quads

Smith Machine Squat Benefits & Limitations

One of the main benefits of the Smith machine is that you can change your foot placement, as mentioned above. You can’t do this without falling over on free-weight squats!

Another benefit is that you don’t have to use as many stabilizer muscles. So you end up using more of the major muscle group you’re trying to target.

However, the Smith machine squat is not the top dog. Traditional barbell squats are still king regarding overall power and strength development.


  • Able to change foot placement to target specific muscles
  • Easier to balance than free weights
  • Good for isolating major muscle groups


  • Not as good for overall power and strength

How To Do Squats On A Smith Machine

Now let me explain exactly how to do squats on the Smith machine safely and effectively. I’ve included a short video tutorial and some additional form tips.

Step-by-Step Directions

To do squats on a Smith machine, start by adjusting the bar to about shoulder level. Also, check that the safety stops are positioned at the bottom of the range of motion.

Next, place the bar on your shoulders and lift it off the safety hooks. Then position your feet under the bar or slightly forward, depending on the muscles you want to target.

Lower the weight by pushing your hips back and bending at the knees. Then lift the bar back up by extending your knees and driving your hips forward.

To recap, here are the bullet points:

  1. Set the bar and safety stops to the appropriate height
  2. Put the bar on your shoulders and lift it off the safety stops
  3. Squat down by pushing your hips back and bending at the knees
  4. Lift the bar by extending your knees and driving your hips forward
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps and rerack the bar

Smith Machine Squat Video

In this video, I demonstrate how to do a Smith machine squat with my feet pretty much right under the bar. This technique is excellent for maximizing glute and hamstring activation with some help from the quads.

Smith Machine Squat Form

When doing Smith machine squats to replicate the traditional barbell squat, you should keep your feet directly under you or slightly forward. This foot placement results in body mechanics similar to free weights.

Also, I recommend using the low bar squat technique. Putting the bar lower on your shoulders facilitates hinging at the hips. And it will keep the bar from sliding if you move your feet forward.

Smith Machine Squat Starting Position
Smith Machine Squat Bottom

As you get set up, position your feet far enough back that the bar ends up directly over your ankles or at your heels. At the bottom of the squat, your thighs should be about parallel with the floor.

Smith Machine Squat Form

Smith Machine Squat Variations

By now, you’re aware of the versatility of the Smith machine when it comes to squatting. Here are some additional variations of the Smith leg exercises in no particular order.

1. Angled Smith Machine Squat

In the video and pictures above, the Smith machine has guide rails that travel straight up and down. But some gyms have Smith machines with angled rails.

The purpose of the angle is to replicate the natural movement path of the bar during free-weight movements. And on some exercises, the angled Smith machine feels more comfortable. But it requires the right setup.

When doing squats on an angled Smith machine, it’s essential to consider the angle’s direction. I recommend facing the direction where the bar comes forward as you squat down.

2. Smith Machine Front Squat

A front squat is where you place the bar on the front of your shoulders instead of across your back, which shifts your center of gravity forward.

The Smith machine front squat results in more knee bend, so they’re better for targeting your quads.

3. Smith Machine Hack Squat

As discussed above, another way to target your quads is by placing your feet forward while keeping your back upright. This body position is very similar to another exercise called hack squats.

With the Smith machine hack squat, you replicate the body mechanics of the hack squat machine to target your quads.

4. Smith Machine Sissy Squat

Sissy squats are a bodyweight leg exercise where you squat down with little to no hip bend. Therefore, your knees and quads do all the work.

You can also do sissy squats on a Smith machine by placing your feet forward. Then squat down by bending at the knees and keeping your hips relatively straight.

I recommend doing this exercise with the bar only because you do not need heavy weight with this much quad isolation.

5. Smith Machine Split Squat

A Bulgarian split squat is a leg exercise similar to a lunge. Except with this movement, you put your back leg on a bench.

One advantage of split squats is that you can change the muscles used depending on how big of a step you take.

Furthermore, Smith machine split squats are an excellent way to add resistance without making it harder to balance.

My YouTube channel has dozens of videos showing you how to do a variety of bodybuilding exercises. You’ll learn how to target and build specific muscle groups in 90 seconds or less. Click HERE to subscribe, or click on the button below!

6. Smith Machine Sumo Squat

A sumo squat is like a standard barbell squat with a very wide stance and your toes pointed out. It looks similar to the pose that sumo wrestlers strike before a match.

Smith machine sumo squats help you target your upper and inner thighs.

Related: Hip Adductor Stretches to Loosen Inner Thighs

7. Smith Machine Leg Press

Lastly is an exercise called the Smith machine leg press. For this variation, you actually lie on the floor and push the Smith machine bar with your feet.

While it is an unusual exercise, the body position is good for targeting the glutes and hamstrings. Similar to a leg press machine.

Related: Leg Press vs Squat Mechanics & Muscle Activation

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Smith Machine Squat FAQ

Now you know all the different ways to squat on a Smith machine. But you still might have some hesitations or reservations about trying them. So this section aims to answer the most common questions.

Are Smith machine squats safe?

Recently, a video of a woman dying during Smith machine squats when viral. And there has been at least one other case of a Smith machine squat death.

As tragic as these events are, they are considered freak accidents rather than common risks. Moreover, in both cases, the safety stops were not in place, resulting in the bar coming all the way down on the person.

Generally speaking, Smith machine squats are as safe or safer than free weight squats. And they are extremely low risk when you use the safety equipment and lift within your capabilities.

Is it OK to squat with a Smith machine?

Despite what some old-school hardcore lifters contest, it’s perfectly fine to squat on a Smith machine. In fact, Smith machine squats have some advantages over traditional squats.

First, you have the fixed movement path and safety stops. These devices make Smith machine squats more approachable to beginners and intermediate lifters.

Second, Smith machine squats offer greater foot placement and body position variation than regular squats.

Why do bodybuilders squat on Smith machine?

Today’s bodybuilders often use Smith machine and barbell squats together in their leg training routines. The main reason is that the Smith machine hits the leg muscles differently than free-weight squats.

In addition, Smith machine squats may elicit more muscle hypertrophy when appropriately done with heavy weights.

Can you get big legs with Smith machine?

Smith machine squats can help you build bigger leg muscles in several ways. First, the fixed movement path reduces the need for stabilizers and puts more load on the larger leg muscles.

Second, variations in foot placement make it possible to target specific muscles in the front and back of your thighs. Therefore, you have better control over target muscle growth than barbell squats.

Are Smith machine squats better than regular squats?

Smith machine squats are not better than regular squats, they are just different!

For example, barbell squats are better for maximum total body strength and muscle gains. However, Smith machine squats make workouts more challenging and can target specific leg muscles.

So there is a place for both types of squats in your workout program.

Smith Machine Squat vs Barbell Squat

In summary, the Smith machine squat can be a viable alternative to traditional squats in some situations. And you can get most of the results and benefits that you get from barbell squats.

That said, squatting with free weights has proven to be superior to machines. Click here to learn 21 science-backed benefits of squats for men and women.

Benefits of Squats
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 useful, I hope you’ll check out some of my other informative content below!

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By |November 1, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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