Some lifters frown upon some fitness machines and the exercises performed on it. The Smith machine is one of those underappreciated piece of strength equipment mainly due to what may be perceived as its biggest drawback: the fixed bar path. But you may be surprised by how many unique Smith machine exercises there are that fall under the training radar that can lead to larger gains.

The extra stability of the fixed range of motion makes some exercises easier and allows you to focus more on the targeted muscle. The flip side of the fixed ROM is that, for some exercises, it provides an unnatural bar path that can be uncomfortable. However, you can get bigger and stronger using the Smith Machine as part of a balanced program.

I’ll explain why these exercises made the list and the top 10 of the best Smith Machine exercises you’re not doing.

Why Should You Use the Smith Machine

Using the Smith Machine for the exercises below improves accessibility and muscle engagement and reduces injury risk. For example, the unilateral RDL, hip thrust, one-arm bench press, and the Zercher squat are easier to set up and perform than the barbell variation. Performing the 10 exercises below on the Smith machine lets you focus on the targeted muscles and not worry about balance. The increased stability leads to a safer technique for improved strength and muscle.

Man bench-presses on Smith machine

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Top 10 Smith Machine Exercises

Paring it down to 10 is difficult because of all the exercises you can do on it, but we gave it a shot anyhow—you may be pleasantly surprised. Let’s dive in.

Hack Squat

The Smith Machine Hack Squat is a variation that mimics the motion of a hack squat machine but utilizes the Smith machine’s fixed bar path. By positioning your feet forward, the Smith Machine Hack Squat emphasizes the quadriceps more while still engaging the glutes and hamstrings. This variation is an excellent alternative if your gym doesn’t have a hack squat machine, but you still want to hammer your quads.

Set & Reps: Although you can train it for strength, you’re better off training in the hypertrophy range of 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 15 reps.

Single-Leg RDL

The Smith Machine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a unilateral lower-body exercise that targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, similar to the barbell variation. Although the barbell is great, it’s a challenging exercise if your balance isn’t on point. But the Smith Machine

variation with the fixed bar path is your friend. With this increased stability, you can focus on unilateral gains of your hips and hamstrings without falling flat on your face. The Smith Machine helps maintain form throughout the exercise and reduces the risk of injury compared to the free-weight RDLs.

Set & Reps: Try 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps.

Unilateral Bench Press

Smith machine bench pressing is excellent when you want to go heavy without a spotter, but otherwise, the fixed bar path isn’t your friend here. However, it does have one advantage. The unilateral bench press on the Smith Machine allows you to go heavier on each arm than the dumbbell variation to strengthen imbalances for a bigger bilateral barbell bench press.

Set & Reps: Perform as an accessory exercise for 2 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps per side.

Zercher Squat

The Smith Machine Zercher Squat is a variation of the barbell squat in which the barbell is held in the crooks of your elbows. Using the Smith Machine for the Zercher squat offers stability and control, allowing you to go heavier than the free-weight variation. However, the most significant advantage is that it allows for more straightforward setup and safer execution. The fixed path reduces the risk of barbell deviation and helps maintain form throughout the exercise.

Set & Reps:
For strength, 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps,
For muscle, 2 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps.

Tall Kneeling Shoulder Press

Barbell overhead pressing will remain king, but the tall kneeling variation on the Smith Mchine offers a nice change of pace. This variation emphasizes core stability, hip mobility, and upper body strength, decreasing the amount of body English needed to press overhead. The guided bar path makes it easier to maintain proper form and reduces the risk of injury.

Set & Reps: Perform as an accessory exercise for 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Calf Raises

I’ve never been a fan of the calf raise machine with pads on either side of the shoulder because of the pressure it puts on them. The barbell variation is solid, but then you’re taking away the barbell from someone who wants to do squats or deadlifts. Enter the Smith Machine calf raise with the fixed ROM, offering improved stability and balance during the calf raise, allowing you to focus purely on the calf muscles without worrying about maintaining balance.

Hip Thrust

As great as the hip thrust is for the glutes, the barbell variation is not the easiest to get in and out of unless you have access to a hip thrust machine. Much like the exercises above, the Smith machine hip thrust offers ease of execution, allowing you to set up, perform, and finish the exercise without the hassle of rolling the barbell on and off your hips. The fixed path provides stability, reducing the need to balance the barbell and allowing you to focus entirely on the movement as well as your glutes

Set & Reps: Perform 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Floor Press

The barbell floor press is the ultimate exercise for improving lockout strength for the regular bench press, but the Smith machine version is a solid alternative. The fixed bar path provides improved stability and control during the floor press. This stability allows you to hone in on the chest, shoulders, and triceps without worrying about balancing the barbell. Plus, it is easier to set up and get in and out without a spotter.

Set & Reps: Perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 reps.

Bent Over Row

Similar to the floor press, the Smith Machine Bent Over Row is a solid alternative to the barbell variation and has some benefits over it. The fixed ROM offers greater stability, which helps drive more muscle action to the biceps, upper back, and lats. The increased stability allows lifters to focus more on the contraction and feel the target muscles work, and the setup and execution are easier due to the safety catches and fixed bar path.

Set & Reps: Perform as an accessory exercise for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 reps.

JM Press

The Smith Machine JM Press is a hybrid exercise that combines triceps extension and close-grip bench press to build bigger and sexier triceps. The Smith Machine’s stability and guided bar path provide a more stable environment for building triceps strength and definition. Plus, some lifters find the Smith Machine version more comfortable for their elbows than the free-weight version.

Set & Reps: Perform as an accessory exercise for a bigger bench press for 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps.