Smith Machine Squats – Form Guide, Tips, Mistakes, and Variations

Fit woman performing smith machine squats at the gym. logo.

You can use the Smith Machine Squat as an alternative exercise to the barbell squats for developing the Quadriceps (quads) and Gluteus Maximus (glutes). For novices, the Smith Machine can be used to familiarize oneself with the squat movement, particularly with a trainer’s assistance.

For more advanced weight trainers, you can implement the Smith Machine after barbell squats have become stale, and you do not see gains as you did before.

By performing the squat within the Smith Machine form can be controlled. You will be using less supporting muscle to balance the weight, and you are constricted in your forward and back movement. But, by performing the squat movement within the Smith Machine you can improve your form. You should also use a spotter if you are lifting to near failure. These facts may be part of why several studies have shown that the Smith Machine can be a safe replacement for barbell squats to help build your legs.

Quadriceps or Rectus Femoris is one of the largest muscle groups in your body which makes up the front of your thigh. Your quads primary role is extending the leg outwards. When you have weakened your quadriceps you will see negative effects on leg posture and the correct movement and positioning of your knee. Smith Machine Squats will strengthen your quadriceps to prevent these negative effects from occurring.

Quadriceps Muscle Physiology Summary

Quadriceps is made up of four major muscle groups. (1) Rectus Femoris originates on the outside front of the pelvis, ends in the quadriceps tendon with the main purpose for hip flexion and knee extension. (2) Vastus Lateralis is located on outside front of the thigh and is partially responsible for knee extension. (3) Vastus Medialis, common name teardrop, is inside of femur; thick near the bottom above the knee, and is partially responsible for knee extension. (4) Vastus Intermedius is found underneath the Lateralis and Medialis and also supports knee extension.

Smith Machine Squat Summary 

  • Main Muscle(s) Worked: Quadriceps
  • Other Muscles (Secondary) Worked: Hamstrings, Lower Back, Glutes
  • Equipment: Smith Machine
  • Mechanics Type: Compound (When two or more joint movements are involved).
  • Force: Push
  • Utility: Basic

Target Muscles Used for Smith Machine Squats

  • Quadriceps

Synergist Muscles Worked When Performing Smith Machine Squats

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Soleus

Stabilizers Worked When Performing Smith Machine Squats

  • Hamstrings
  • Gastrocnemius

Antagonist Stabilizers Worked When Performing Smith Machine Squats 

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Obliques

Correct Exercise Procedure Use for Smith Machine Squats

  • Rest the bar on lower traps and rear shoulders, stand with your feet shoulder width-apart.
  • Grasp the bar with a wide evenly spaced grip and un-rack the weight by pushing up and twisting the hooks off their resting post.
  • With your head up and lower back arched by tightening your abs. Begin the movement by bending at the knees and squatting towards the ground.
  • Continue to lower, while inhaling, until your thighs are just below parallel to the floor.
  • Drive the weight, while exhaling, back up until you are in the standing position without locking your knees.
  • Repeat the movement until the desired number of reps are completed, then re-rack the bar by twisting the hooks and putting them back on their post.

Caution Needed When Performing Smith Machine Squats

Many doctors say that squatting beyond where your calves and thighs form a 90-degree angle is harmful to the knees. Since much of the work is done getting to and from that 90-degree position, it is best to be conservative and not to lower yourself further. Extra caution is needed to avoid putting more weight on either the ball on heel of your foot. The weight should be evenly distributed on the bottom of your feet to avoid possible injuries.

Tips for Performing Smith Machine Squats

By using the tips mentioned below will help for the muscle(s) full development by incorporating more muscle fibers per rep, thus increasing the muscle’s size and strength. Also, by incorporating the tips mention below, they will help in preventing injuries. If you are performing squats correctly, you should not fill any pain in your lower back. Lower back pain is a likely sign that you are not using correct form and you need to strengthen your core.

  • Practice proper form. Always maintain proper form throughout this exercise by keeping your back straight or slightly arched, head up, eyes forward, abs tight and feet flat on the floor. If you get sloppy with your form you put yourself at risk for injury.
  • Squatting deep enough. To use squats to their full potential requires squatting down until your thighs are at least around parallel to the floor.
  • Do not lock your knees. When you are in standing position do not lock your knees. Locking your knees will keep full tension on your quads at all times and will also prevent stress to the knee joints.
  • Do not let knees come too far forward. Whenin squatting position do not let your knees move forward beyond toes. When you squat down to drop your hips straight down, do not move your hips forward.
  • Do not take to total failure. If you are not using a spotter do not take this exercise to failure, since it will be challenging to safely re-rack the weight. Continue the exercise until you are one rep short of failure then stop.

Frequent Mistakes Made While Performing Smith Machine Squats 

Performing the exercise improperly, often referred to as cheating, will not allow for the muscle and muscle fibers to be use their fullest potential, resulting in not achieving desired development of the muscle.

  • Movement performed too fast. If movement is performed too fast, it will not allow full usage of all muscle fibers.
  • Using too much weight. A mistake for many lifters is trying to lift too much weight. Make sure to use a correct weight that will allow you to use proper form and the full range of motion.
  • Rounding the lower back. It is crucially important that you keep a straight back when you squat to prevent injury. To ensure your back is straight, keep eyes forward, chest out, shoulder blades back and back arched. Keep your core muscle tensed throughout the movement to help hold your back in place.
  • Pushing from the balls of your feet. This puts unnecessary strain on joints and tendons. Always push through your heels. Curling your toes can help in getting this technique correct.
  • Limiting the range of motion. Many lifters do not use the full range of motion and go all the way down; therefore, not using the squats to their full potential. To use squats to their full potential, make sure you squat down to at least where your thighs nearly parallel with the ground.
  • Leaning forward. This happens when your hips move faster than your shoulders. To prevent possible injury, keep rep timing slow and controlled, stick your butt out as you go down.
  • Knees in or out. Do not point your knees in or out while lowering or pushing the weight. Maintaining your knees neutral will not put unnecessary strain on your knee joints.
  • Looking down. As soon as you look down your back rounds, it is as simple as that. Keep your head up and eyes forward.
  • Knees come too far forward. To prevent knees from coming too far forward and preventing possible knee joint and tendon injuries, your hips should drop straight down as you squat.

Variations of Exercise or Equipment Use for Smith Machine Squats

A variation of a specific exercise is that it utilizes a different subgroup of muscles or the same muscles in slightly different ways. There are many exercise variations to this strength exercise. Some of the variations use for the Smith Machine Squats:

  • Smith Split Squat. This has an auxiliary utility allowing you to concentrate on one quadriceps at a time. You can either alternate legs during a set or one leg at a time then switching. Flexible hip flexors are important in keeping the torso upright during the movement.
  • Smith Front Squat. This excellent optional exercise (auxiliary utility) incorporates additional stabilizers when performing.
  • Smith Single Leg Squat. This has an auxiliary utility allowing you to concentrate on one quadriceps at a time, similar to the split squat. One of the differences with single leg squat when compared to the split squat, you are using additional stabilizers with the addition of antagonist stabilizers.
  • Smith Rear Lunge. Similar to the split squat, except by using a lunging movement you incorporate additional stabilizers.
  • Smith Hack Squat. This is an excellent alternative exercise to Smith Machine Squats with using additional stabilizers.

Other Exercises to Compliment Smith Machine Squats

  • Smith Good-Morning. This is an isolated movement for developing the hamstrings which will aid when performing squat exercises.
  • Smith Straight Leg Dead Lift. This is another hamstring exercise with additional stabilizers that will aid in performing squats.
  • Leg Press. The leg press exercise is great for strengthening the gluts for helping with the squat exercises.
  • Hyperextensions. Hyperextensions will strengthen the lower back which is being use when performing squat exercises.

Bottom Line 

The Smith Machine Squat can be a great addition to your workout routine. With the suspended barbell, that moves on steel runners with safety pegs, makes the Smith Machine a great tool for those who want to lift heavy but do not have any spotters handy.

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