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Effectiveness of Smith Machine Squats

author image Kim Nunley
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.
Effectiveness of Smith Machine Squats
A woman is squatting in the gym. Photo Credit megaflopp/iStock/Getty Images

Squats are a popular weight training exercise. They are used to develop lower body strength by professional athletes and those interested in general fitness. While they’re usually done with dumbbells and barbells, they can also be completed on a Smith Machine. While doing them on the machine develops the same muscle groups, it can place your joints in susceptible and dangerous positions.


Squats are strength training exercises that develop the core muscles, glutes, quadriceps and calves. It requires those muscle groups to eccentrically contract as you lower down into a squat, and concentrically contract as you come up out of the squat. To complete the squat, place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with your toes pointed forward or slightly outwards. Simultaneously bend your knees and push your butt back, so that you lower down into a squat. Do not allow your knees to come forward beyond the line of your toes. Continue down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, and then extend your knees and hips and return to starting position. Squats can be completed using your own body weight, dumbbells or barbells for resistance.

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Smith Machine

Completing squats on a Smith Machine involves using the barbell on the machine as resistance. Instead of you controlling the pathway of the barbell, the machine works in a fixed pathway. Stand in the middle of the machine and in front of the barbell with the bar resting on your shoulders. Place your feet about a foot further forward than you would in a regular squat. Make sure that they’re slightly wider than shoulder width apart with toes pointed forward or slightly out. Unhook the bar so that the weight is on your shoulders. Bend your knees so that you lower into a squat. Continue until your thighs are parallel with the floor and then extend your knees to return to starting position.


The farther apart that you place your feet when you’re doing squats on a Smith Machine, the more your glutes and the less that your quadriceps are recruited. If you move your feet back directly under the bar, your quads take on more of the responsibility while your glute muscle fibers are receiving less activation.


Doing squats on a Smith Machine removes any need to maintain balance. When you’re using free weights, your core and other assisting muscles must work to keep yourself upright and on balance. To develop your quadriceps and glutes, you must move your feet back and closer to underneath the bar, which then puts your knee joints in the susceptible position of extending further beyond your toes during the squat. If you place your feet forward, your lower back is put in a susceptible position and is likely to be forced into a rounding position.


Whether you’re an athlete looking to improve your performance or a person just interested in improving your fitness level and lower body strength, completing squats using your body weight or free weights is more effective. All of the muscle groups must work together in a manner that mimics the movements involved in sports and daily life. Work with a personal trainer to determine whether working with a Smith Machine is for you; especially if you already suffer from knee and lower back problems.

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