12 Best Smith Machine Leg Exercises + Workouts – Fitness Volt (2023)

If there is one training machine that’s guaranteed to cause an argument, it’s the Smith machine. Almost every gym has at least one, so they’re very popular. But, according to many people, they’re also ineffective, dangerous, or, worst of all, not functional!

The truth is that the Smith machine is just one of the many tools you can use to build the body of your dreams. It’s neither inherently good nor automatically bad. It has its uses and can be more or less effective than freeweights depending on your training goal.

For example, if you are a powerlifter training for your next meet, bench pressing on a Smith machine won’t help much. After all, you’ll be doing the barbell freeweight bench press in competition.

However, if you’re a bodybuilder trying to stimulate and exhaust as many pec fibers as possible, benching on the Smith machine offers several obvious advantages.

Like barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and every other type of training equipment, Smith machines are just tools. They aren’t good or bad – they just are! Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Smith machine is here to stay, and in this article, we’re going to reveal the most effective leg exercises you can do with this gym staple.

Smith Machine Basics

12 Best Smith Machine Leg Exercises + Workouts – Fitness Volt (1)

The Smith Machine was invented in the 1950s by golden-era fitness guru Jack LaLanne. His original design was then developed by engineer Paul Martin for gym owner Rudy Smith, which is where the Smith machine gets its name.

A Smith machine is basically a barbell on rails. Rotating the bar engages locking hooks so you can safely spot yourself. Most Smith machines also have adjustable safety stoppers to prevent the bar from descending below a predetermined height, which is handy when squatting and bench pressing.

Smith machines also allow you to train hard and heavy on your own. Because the weight is guided, you’re free to focus on your workout, with no need to waste energy on balancing the bar. Plus, if you train to failure and cannot complete your final rep, you simply flip your wrists, lock the bar in place, and escape unscathed.

Depending on the model, the bar may be counterbalanced, so it weighs less than a standard Olympic barbell. This can be useful when doing unilateral (single-limb) exercises, and beginners often appreciate this, too.

The Smith machine is a very versatile tool that you can use to train almost any muscle group. However, some exercises are more popular than others, and the Smith machine squat and bench press are bodybuilding staples.

The 12 Best Smith Machine Leg Exercises

You can use a Smith machine to train pretty much any muscle you want, but they’re especially good for leg training. With no fear of getting crushed under a heavy bar and no balance issues, you can push your legs to their limit.

Here are 12 of the best Smith machine leg exercises.

  • Smith machine squat
  • Smith machine hack squat
  • Smith machine split squat
  • Smith machine reverse lunge
  • Smith machine good morning
  • Smith machine Romanian deadlift
  • Smith machine donkey kick
  • Smith machine hip thrust
  • Smith machine deadlift
  • Smith machine pistol squat
  • Smith machine sissy squat
  • Smith machine vertical leg press

1. Smith machine squat

Target muscles: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

The squat is the king of exercises, but it can also be dangerous. Getting stuck at the bottom of a squat with a heavy barbell on your back is no laughing matter. Some people also find the movement awkward and hard to master. Smith machine squats are much more forgiving and easier to learn and master.

Steps:

  1. Adjust the barbell to shoulder height.
  2. Duck under the bar so it’s resting across your upper back/traps. Then, grab the bar with your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart.
  3. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly outward. Your feet should be slightly in front of your hips.
  4. Brace your abs and unrack the weight.
  5. Bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Keep your heels pressed into the floor and your lower back straight.
  6. Drive your feet into the floor, stand back up, and repeat.

Tips:

  • Raise your heels on blocks/weight plates to increase quadriceps engagement.
  • Use a narrower stance to emphasize your quads or a wider stance to work your glutes more.
  • You can also do Smith machine front squats.

2. Smith machine hack squat

Target muscles: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

Hack squats are a popular exercise. The position of your feet and the angle of your torso means that hack squats are more quads-centric than regular squats. However, you will need a hack squat machine to do this exercise.

No hack squat? No problem! You can replicate this exercise using your trusty Smith machine.

Steps:

  1. Adjust the barbell to shoulder height.
  2. Duck under the bar so it’s resting across your upper back/traps. Then, grab the bar with your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart.
  3. Move your feet forward, so they’re extended in front of you. Ensure your hips remain below your shoulders and your body is upright. Your feet should be about hip-width apart.
  4. Bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Do not allow your lower back to round or your hips to move forward or backward.
  5. Stand back up and repeat.

Tips:

  • Push your weight forward into your toes to maximize quadriceps engagement.
  • Imagine you are sitting in a chair at the bottom of each rep. For this reason, Smith machine hack squats are sometimes called chair squats.
  • Use a bar pad to protect your upper back.

3. Smith machine split squat

Target muscles: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

(Video) 5 Smith Machine Exercises to Build Legs (NO JOKE)

Split squats allow you to emphasize one leg at a time. This can be useful for fixing left-to-right strength and size imbalances. However, doing split squats in a Smith machine means that balancing is easy, so you can focus more on the muscles you want to develop and less on controlling the weight.

Steps:

  1. Duck under the Smith machine barbell and rest it across your upper back. Stand with your feet together and your core braced.
  2. Move your front foot forward and your rear leg back so you are in a split stance. The weight should be directly over your hips.
  3. Bend your legs and lower your rear knee to just above the floor. Keep your front shin vertical and your knee behind your toes.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.
  5. Rest a moment and then switch legs. Do the same number of reps on both sides.

Tips:

  • Lean forward slightly to increase glute and hamstring engagement.
  • Use a shorter stance to emphasize your quadriceps or a longer stance to hit your glutes more.
  • You can also do this exercise with your rear foot elevated, i.e., Bulgarian Smith machine split squats, like this:

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4. Smith machine reverse lunge

Target muscles: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

Lunges are one of the best lower body exercises you can do. With lunges, you work one leg at a time, which is a convenient way to spot left-to-right strength imbalances. There are many different lunges to choose from, including forward, lateral, and walking.

Smith machine reverse lunges are an excellent exercise. Like all lunges, they work your quads, but this variation is especially challenging for your glutes and hamstrings. It’s also very knee-friendly.

Steps:

  1. Duck under the Smith machine barbell and rest it across your upper back. Stand with your feet together and your core braced.
  2. Take a large step back and place the ball of your foot on the floor.
  3. Bend both legs and descend until your rear knee is an inch above the floor.
  4. Stand up and bring your feet back together.
  5. Step back with your other leg and repeat.
  6. Alternate legs for the duration of your set.

Tips:

  • Make this exercise more glute-centric by standing on a bumper plate and doing deficit reverse Smith machine lunges.
  • Try to use your rear leg as little as possible. Your front leg should be doing the majority of the work.
  • Use a shorter stance to emphasize your quadriceps or a longer stance to hit your glutes more.

5. Smith machine good morning

Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back.

Good mornings are so-called because, when you do them, it looks a little like you are bowing to greet someone. Cutesy names aside, this exercise is actually pretty brutal, especially when you do it with a barbell. Smith machine good mornings are safer and more comfortable than regular good mornings and potentially more effective, too.

Steps:

  1. Adjust the barbell to shoulder height.
  2. Duck under the bar so it’s resting across your upper back/traps. Then, grab the bar with your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bend your knees slightly, but then keep them rigid throughout your set.
  4. Push your hips backward and lean forward as far as possible without rounding your lower back.
  5. Drive your hips forward, stand back up, and repeat.

Tips:

  • The more you push your hips back, the more intense and effective this exercise becomes.
  • Place your toes on weight plates to push your weight onto your heels and increase glute and hamstring engagement.
  • Experiment with a narrow, medium, and wide stance to see which you prefer.

6. Smith machine Romanian deadlift

Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back.

While there is no denying the effectiveness of the good morning exercise, it can be hard on your lower back. Resting the bar on your shoulders means there is a long lever, and you may feel it more in your lumbar spine than your glutes and hammies. Smith machine Romanian deadlifts are more lower back-friendly, and you’ll probably feel it more in your muscles and less in your spine.

Steps:

  1. Set the bar on your Smith machine to around mid-thigh height. Stand with your feet about shoulder to hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. Unrack the bar, brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
  3. Keeping your arms straight, push your butt back, hinge forward from the hips, and lower the bar down the front of your legs. Descend as far as possible without rounding your lower back.
  4. Drive your hips forward, stand back up, and repeat.
(Video) How To Make Gains on the Smith Machine | Top 10 Exercises

Tips:

  • Use a mixed grip if your hands fatigue before your posterior chain.
  • Pause with the bar resting on the safety stoppers to break up the lowering/lifting phases and make each rep a little more challenging and effective.
  • You can also do this exercise using one leg at a time, like this:

7. Smith machine donkey kick

Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back.

Most Smith machine exercises are compound, meaning they involve several joints and muscles working together. Smith machine donkey kicks are more of an isolation exercise, mainly targeting your glutes. The hamstrings are also involved, but you should feel this exercise mostly in your butt.

Steps:

  1. Kneel on all fours beneath the Smith machine bar. Brace your abs.
  2. Bend one leg and place the underside of your foot against the bottom of the bar.
  3. Drive your foot up and lift the bar, taking care not to hyperextend your lumbar spine or twist your hips.
  4. Lower the weight and repeat.
  5. Switch legs and do the same number of reps on the other side.

Tips:

  • Kneel on a folded exercise mat for comfort.
  • Beginners should do this exercise with an empty barbell.
  • Do not lean over onto your supporting leg during this exercise, as this will make it less effective.

8. Smith machine hip thrust

Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back.

The barbell hip thrust is one of the best ways to isolate your glutes. This popular exercise is usually done with a freeweight barbell but actually works even better with a Smith machine. Use this exercise to build rock-hard, superhero glutes while being kind to your lower back.

Steps:

  1. Place a bench lengthways across your Smith machine.
  2. Sit with your back against the bench, legs bent, and feet flat. Lower the Smith machine barbell across your hips.
  3. Drive your feet into the floor and lift your hips up, so they form a straight line with your knees and shoulders.
  4. Lower your butt back down to the floor and repeat.

Tips:

  • Use a stable bench that won’t tip over during your workout.
  • You can also do this exercise using one leg at a time.
  • No bench? No problem! You can also do this exercise while lying on the floor or using a stability ball in place of the bench.

9. Smith machine deadlift

Target muscles: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, lower back.

While it may seem blasphemous to do deadlifts with anything other than a freeweight barbell, some people prefer to use a Smith machine. Smith machine deadlifts are a little more lower back-friendly than conventional deadlifts, and you’ll probably feel them more in your glutes and hamstrings, too.

Steps:

  1. Set your Smith machine bar to its lowest position.
  2. Stand behind it, so your shins are about one inch away. Your feet should be between hip and shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lean forward and grip the bar with an overhand or mixed shoulder-width grip.
  4. Lift your chest, lower your hips, pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your core.
  5. Keeping your arms straight, drive your feet into the floor, push your hips forward, and stand up straight.
  6. Lower the weight back down and repeat.
(Video) How To Get "BIG" Legs with the Smith Machine

Tips:

  • Use chalk or a mixed grip if your hands fatigue before your legs and back.
  • Adjust the height of your starting position to reflect your mobility and lower back health.
  • Experiment with a narrow, medium, and wide stance to see which you prefer.

10. Smith machine pistol squat

Target muscles: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

Pistol squats are a popular bodyweight unilateral leg exercise, but boy, are they tough! Doing pistols requires strength, flexibility, and plenty of balance, which is why so few people can actually do them. Using a Smith machine makes pistols much more accessible as they remove the balance demand of this exercise.

Steps:

  1. Adjust the barbell to shoulder height.
  2. Duck under the bar so it’s resting across your upper back/traps. Then, grab the bar with your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart.
  3. Shift your weight over onto one leg.
  4. Extending your supporting leg out in front of you, bend your other knee and descend as deeply as possible. Keep your torso upright throughout.
  5. Drive your foot into the floor and stand up.
  6. Reset your core and repeat.
  7. Rest a moment, switch legs, and then do the same number of reps on the other side.

Tips:

  • Keep your shoulders and hips level and square throughout.
  • Use an empty bar at first – use the Smith machine for balance rather than overloading your muscles.
  • Place a bench behind you and descend until your butt touches it if full pistol squats are too demanding.

11. Smith machine sissy squat

Target muscles: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

Sissy squats are an old-school bodybuilding leg exercise. They can be done with just body weight for resistance, but some people also like to do them with weights. Using a Smith machine is a great way to overload your muscles while making balance less of an ordeal. This leaves you free to hammer your quadriceps into submission. There is nothing sissy about sissy squats!

Steps:

  1. Adjust the barbell to shoulder height.
  2. Duck under the bar so it’s resting across your upper back/traps. Then, grab the bar with your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bring your feet in so they’re together and directly under your hips.
  4. Bend your legs and push your knees and hips forward. Try to lower your knees to the floor in front of you.
  5. Drive the balls of your feet into the floor and stand back up.

Tips:

  • Use an empty bar at first – use the Smith machine for balance rather than overloading your muscles.
  • Push your hips forward rather than backward to maximize rectus femoris engagement.
  • Pause at the bottom of each rep to fully stretch your quads and increase the intensity of this already challenging exercise.

12. Smith machine vertical leg press

Target muscles: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings.

The Smith machine vertical leg press is a very old-school exercise. It’s how golden-era bodybuilders did leg presses before the angled sled-type leg press was invented. Despite being pretty old-fashioned, Smith machine leg presses are still an effective exercise, but they must be performed carefully.

Steps:

  1. Set your Smith machine bar to around hip height. Place the bar on the safety catches, ensuring it’s rotated, so the hooks are not engaged.
  2. Lie on your back so your hips are directly below the bar.
  3. Push the soles of your feet against the underside of the bar, about shoulder to hip-width apart. Brace your core.
  4. Without rounding your lower back, push the bar up until your legs are straight but not locked.
  5. Lower the bar back down to the stoppers and repeat.

Tips:

  • You can also do this exercise while lying on a bench instead of on the floor.
  • Do this exercise using one leg at a time, like this:

Three Smith Machine Leg Workouts to Try

Here are THREE Smith machine-only leg workouts to try!

Workout 1

#Exercise SetsRepsRecovery
1Smith machine squat36-82 minutes
2Smith machine Romanian deadlift36-82 minutes
3Smith machine reverse lunge38-12 per leg90 seconds
4Smith machine hip thrust312-1560 seconds
5Smith machine vertical leg press312-1560 seconds

Workout 2

#Exercise SetsRepsRecovery
1Smith machine pistol squat46-8 per leg2 minutes
2Smith machine good morning412-1560 seconds
3Smith machine sissy squat412-1560 seconds
4Smith machine deadlift46-82 minutes

Workout 3

#Exercise SetsRepsRecovery
1Smith machine donkey kick28-12 per leg90 seconds
2Smith machine reverse lunge28-12 per leg90 seconds
3Smith machine hack squat212-1560 seconds
4Smith machine hip thrust212-1560 seconds
5Smith machine split squat28-12 per leg90 seconds

More on Smith Machine:

  • Smith Machine vs. Free Weight Power Rack
  • How Much Does a Smith Machine Bar Weigh?
  • The 18 Best Smith Machine Exercises

FAQs

Do you have a question about Smith machine leg exercises? No worries because we’ve got the answers!

(Video) Smith Machine Glutes and Legs Workout

1. Are Smith machine leg exercises safe?

Some people believe that Smith machine leg exercises are more dangerous than their freeweight counterparts. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, in many instances, Smith machine leg exercises are safer because there is less danger of getting pinned under a heavy bar, and you’re less likely to lose your balance or lose control of the weight.

Smith machine exercises DO involve repeating the same movement over and over, which could conceivably lead to overuse injuries. Still, this criticism can also be leveled at every other resistance machine exercise. Avoid this problem by slightly altering your stance from set to set, and not using the Smith machine for all your leg workouts.

So, simply put, Smith machine exercises are probably no more dangerous and are in some ways safer than most freeweight leg exercises.

2. How much does the bar on a Smith machine weigh?

Olympic weightlifting bars weigh a standard 20kg or 45 pounds. This makes it easy to work out how much weight you are lifting, even if you are training in a new gym. Unfortunately, there is no such standardized weight for Smith machine bars, and they can weigh from as little as 15 pounds to over 50. Also, some machines have counterweights and angled guide rods, both of which affect the weight of the bar.

Because of this, it’s impossible to say how much the Smith machine bar at your gym weighs. However, there are several ways you can determine this information for yourself.

Read more about this topic in our in-depth article.

3. Isn’t doing squats with a Smith machine cheating?

While using a Smith machine for squats or bench presses WOULD be cheating in an official powerlifting meet, it can’t really be called cheating in any other situation. It’s not like you are trying to set a world record or compare your performance to someone squatting or benching with a barbell.

After all, cheating implies that rules have been broken, but what are the rules for Smith machine squats or bench presses? There are none! The only way to cheat with a Smith machine is to use fake weights.

These calls of cheating are unwarranted unless the lifter in question is suggesting their lift is better than a legitimate barbell lift. Barbell and Smith machine lifts are two very different things – apples and oranges – and cannot really be compared.

4. Are Smith machine leg exercises good for building muscle?

There are some excellent muscle-building Smith machine leg exercises that bodybuilders rely on to build their massive quads, glutes, and hamstrings. For safety, many bodybuilders actually prefer Smith machine squats, lunges, split squats, good mornings, etc., over their freeweight equivalents.

A smith machine allows you to train to failure in relative safety and leaves you free to focus on your mind-muscle connection as the weights balance themselves.

Bodybuilders have been using the Smith machine for over half a century, which strongly suggests it’s an effective way to build muscle.

5. Are Smith machine leg exercises good for athletes?

With very few exceptions, athletes don’t just move forward and back or up and down. Rather, they have to move in several directions at once, often while contending with the actions of their opponents. Because of this, most Smith machine exercises will be of limited use when training for sports.

Most athletes will get better results by training with freeweights and other unguided forms of resistance.

Closing Thoughts

Barbell back squats might be the crowned king of exercises, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only or even the best way to build an impressive set of wheels. Smith machine leg exercises can be every bit as effective and, for hypertrophy training, offer several advantages over barbells and dumbbells.

For starters, Smith machine leg exercises make it much easier to focus all your attention on the muscles you’re training. Balance is also a non-issue, and you can train to failure in relative safety. Plus, there are lots of different exercises to choose from, so your workouts need never be boring.

Are Smith machine exercises as functional as their freeweight counterparts? Probably not. But unless you are an athlete, functionality isn’t really much of a concern.

Like dumbbells, kettlebells, and resistance bands, Smith machines are merely tools we can utilize to build muscle and get stronger. So, use the Smith machine or don’t – it’s up to you!

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