How to Use the Smith Machine: Techniques and Tips for Success

Have you ever walked into a gym and purposefully avoided a piece of equipment because you didn’t know how to use it? Maybe it was to prevent injury from improper use—or maybe it was to avoid the embarrassment of using something wrong (seriously, we get it).

Either way, gym equipment can be intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be.

In this guide, we’re introducing you to a common piece of gym equipment that you may recognize: the Smith Machine. Make the most out of your fitness journey by learning how to incorporate the Smith Machine into your routine.

What is a Smith Machine?

The Smith Machine is a piece of equipment intended for strength training. Typically found in gyms, this machine consists of a barbell fixed between steel rails, designed for controlled, vertical movements. Unlike a traditional bench press, the Smith Machine allows for the barbell to be secured at any time with pegs along its steel rails.

The Smith Machine is intended for solo strength workouts, creating a safer barbell experience by eliminating the need for a spotter.

Smith Machine Exercises

The Smith Machine is a common favorite because it’s so versatile, and with the wide variety of workouts it offers, it can be used to work every major muscle group. Here are a few common exercises to try with the Smith Machine:

Back Squat

Squatting with the Smith Machine is an effective way of engaging the hamstrings and glutes while supporting heavier loads.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Place the barbell at a height that reaches just beneath your shoulders. If the bar is too high or low, it may require you to do more work than necessary.
  • With your feet shoulder-width apart, position yourself under the barbell so it’s resting on your shoulders and traps, then unhook it.
  • Turn your toes slightly outward, contract your core, and lower yourself down like you’re sitting in a chair. Aim for your thighs to be parallel to the floor.
  • Exhale as you stand and return to your starting position.

Make sure to keep your feet flat on the ground so the pressure is distributed evenly during each movement.

Split Squat

An alternative to a lunge, a split squat works one leg at a time, engaging the quads and glutes. In combination with the Smith Machine, you’re enhancing the stability and control of your barbell movements.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Place one foot in front of you and extend one foot behind you, either on the floor or on a bench about knee height. This back foot acts as a stabilizer while you work the front leg.
  • Set the barbell at your shoulder height once you’re in this split squat stance.
  • Grabbing the bar, squat down so your knee is aligned with your ankle. Descend as low as you can while ensuring your back is straight and your core is engaged.
  • Push back up using your working leg’s glutes and quads.

This exercise is a great option for improving balance and building your lower body muscles.

Bench Press

The bench press is a classic exercise that works the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Use it with the Smith Machine for guided movement, which allows for a safer, controlled press. The Smith Machine’s safety catches also enable you to press without requiring a spotter.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Place a bench underneath the Smith Machine. The bar should be set at arm’s length when you’re lying flat against the bench.
  • Lay back on the bench with your feet pressed firmly on the floor and the bar level with the middle of your chest.
  • Grab the bar wider than shoulder-width apart. This allows maximum muscle engagement in the chest.
  • Unrack the barbell and lower it towards your chest with a slow, controlled movement. Aim to bring the barbell to just an inch above your chest.
  • Pause, then extend your arms to bring the barbell back up to your starting position.

To prevent injury, avoid bouncing the bar off your chest or locking your elbows as you extend your arms.


Rows are an effective way to work your back, arms, and abs. Using the Smith Machine increases your stability, allowing you to lift heavier weights and maintain proper form.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Set the barbell to a height just below your waist.
  • Face the machine and grab the bar with an overhand grip, or your knuckles facing towards you. Make sure your hands are positioned wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your knees slightly. Then, bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight. This position fully engages your back muscles and can prevent lower back pain.
  • Unhook the bar and bend so the barbell is just below the knees. This is your starting position.
  • Keeping your core tight, pull the barbell back upwards until it makes contact with your abdomen.

As you perform this exercise, only your arms should move, fully working your back and biceps. If you can’t maintain the proper position, decrease the weight of the bar.

Advantages of the Smith Machine

Here are some of the many advantages of incorporating the Smith Machine into your workout:

  • It’s safer for solo workouts – When lifting weights, it’s important to have a spotter to prevent you from getting injured. The Smith Machine acts as a built-in spotter with hooks on either side of the bar that serve as a safety mechanism in case you drop it.
  • It provides stabilityBecause the barbell is attached to the machine, it can only travel in controlled, vertical movements. This allows you to focus fully on the workout instead of on maintaining your balance.
  • It allows you to lift heavier weights – Because of the enhanced stability, The Smith Machine makes it easier to control the weight of the barbell. This allows you to lift heavier weights since you aren’t spending as much energy on balance.

Each of these advantages makes the Smith Machine a supreme choice for both novice and experienced lifters, providing an enhanced gym experience for all.

How to Use Smith Machine: Our Tips

Making sure you know how to use the Smith Machine properly helps cut down setup time so that you can focus on your workout performance.

To that end, here are some helpful tips and tricks on how to use the Smith Machine effectively:

Tip #1: Adjust the Bar Height

On the Smith Machine, the barbell includes hooks on either end that can lock it in place as it slides up and down the metal rungs.

To unlock the barbell and adjust the bar height, lift the bar and rotate it so the hooks on either end release from the rungs. From there, you can raise or lower it to the height you need, and then rotate it back onto the machine.

Tip #2: Select the Appropriate Weight

Selecting the appropriate weight depends on your body weight and your lifting experience.

Beginners should aim to complete their number of desired repetitions. Select a weight that you’re able to lift for the duration of the workout while maintaining the correct form. More experienced lifters can add heavier weights for increased muscle growth.

Tip #3: Keep the Barbell Balanced

Be sure to place equal weights on either side so the barbell is balanced. If you use different weights, the bar may become wobbly and unstable, increasing the risk of injuries or accidents during your workout.

Tip #4: Use in Combination With Free Weights

While the Smith Machine alone is an effective way to build muscle, integrating your machine workouts with free weights can optimize muscle growth. This is because free weights are great for building stability and performing a wider range of movement.

Don’t Forget Your Recovery and Nutrition

The barbell isn’t the only thing that should be balanced—your workout should be, too. Recovery is just as important as the workout itself because it gives your body time to rest, repair, and rebuild muscle.

Here’s our advice to maximize your recovery:

  • Eat protein When you exercise, your muscles tear and rebuild. Eating protein after you lift jumpstarts the muscle-repairing process and results in maximized recovery.
  • Stretch Stretching after a workout helps release lactic acid buildup in your muscles, improve flexibility, and alleviate soreness. To complement your Smith Machine workouts, stretch your quads, shoulders, hamstrings, and wrists.
  • Drink water Staying hydrated is so important. Water helps regulate our body temperature, transport nutrients to our muscles, and keep our joints working smoothly.
  • Sleep Athletes need more sleep than the average person, giving muscles time to recover and rebuild after exercise. Getting more sleep can also increase reaction times, muscle memory, and coordination.

By prioritizing proper nutrition and post-workout recovery, you’re taking a holistic approach to your fitness journey.

Choose the Ultimate in Fitness with Chuze Fitness

The Smith Machine is a versatile piece of equipment that can support your fitness efforts. It offers enhanced stability, encourages a variety of different exercises, and allows heavier loads, all while providing a layer of safety to ease your mind as you lift.

Advance your workouts even further with Chuze Fitness. We foster a fitness journey that’s all about inclusivity, positivity, and zero judgment, even if you’re still learning the ropes with equipment.

Focused on cleanliness, friendliness, and affordability, Chuze isn’t just a gym—it’s a community where you belong.


Healthline. 15 Proven Tips to Maximize Muscle Recovery.

The University of Kansas Health System. How to Hydrate as an Athlete.

Reviewed By:

Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.


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