In gyms all around the world the Smith machine (a barbell fixed between steel rails, for vertical or off-vertical plane only movements) is an undervalued and misunderstood piece of equipment, especially when compared to its more revered elder-sibling; the barbell. However with a few minor adjustments and tweaks the Smith machine can become extremely useful, particularly in localising hypertrophy on stubborn muscle groups. Read on for our 5 Top Smith Machine Exercises!
1. Smith Machine Shoulder Press
While the standing barbell shoulder press is most certainly the king of overhead presses in terms of building strength, in my own experience the seated Smith machine shoulder press can be more effective as a direct muscle builder. The anterior (front) head of the shoulder which is the primary mover in overhead pressing movements, responds best to higher rep ranges and extended time under tension. Thus in comparison to the standing barbell press in which the lower back may give out before the shoulders, the Smith machine’s fixed plane of motion is particularly beneficial in allowing you to isolate the anterior head for longer under tension.
2. Reverse Grip Bench Press
Although this compound movement for the chest and triceps can also be done using a barbell, unracking the bar without a spotter makes it extremely difficult to get into optimum position. It also puts additional pressure on the wrists. The Smith machine version allows you to target the desired muscles in a much better fashion as it is significantly easier to create a stable bar path. You are also able to turn the wrists out further to avoid the aforementioned strain.
3. Deadstop Row
The deadstop row on the Smith machine is an excellent way to add thickness to the back, in addition to being a more explosive movement than traditional rows. The lack of momentum available at the bottom end of the movement forces you to generate force at the start of every rep. Be sure to keep your back straight and drive through the elbows as opposed to the arms in order to reap maximum benefits. The Smith machine deadstop row also creates significantly less stress on the lower back than its freestanding alternative.
4. Shrugs Behind The Back
An exercise made famous by 7-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, this Smith machine alternative permits you to create more distance between yourself and the bar. Subsequently this allows you to pull significantly higher and squeeze harder at the top end of the movement. This exercise offers an excellent change for those who are not getting the desired results from traditional dumbbell/barbell shrugs.
5. Smith Machine Squats
Smith machine squats are an exercise that seems to only be mentioned in hushed tones. While not nearly as beneficial as conventional squats as a primary mass builder, it can be used as the second or third exercise in a workout in order to target specific areas of the lower body that are lagging. By playing around with your foot placement and stance width you can target different muscles. For example a wider stance engages the glutes and hamstrings more while a narrower stance with the feet placed out in front of you can be used to target the quads.
So there you have it. The Smith machine is a great way to isolate a particular muscle and train around injuries. It can also be used to add some much needed variety to stimulate you beyond the plateaus of stale workouts you might be experiencing right now!