Alternatives to Smith Machine Overhead Presses

The Smith machine overhead press works your shoulders and triceps. A substantial piece of equipment, the Smith machine is not available in every fitness facility or home gym. If your workout calls for Smith machine overhead presses, you can perform barbell or dumbbell shoulder presses instead.

Dumbbells Credit: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

About the Smith Machine

The Smith machine consists of a barbell fixed on two vertical steel rails. The barbell slides along these rails, providing more control than you get with an unfixed barbell. The Smith machine can be used for most barbell exercises, including squats and chest presses. You might use the Smith machine to perform overhead presses, especially if you are trying to lift very heavy weight without a spotter. The fixed nature of the barbell makes heavier weight easier to control than dumbbells or a barbell.

Muscles Worked

An overhead press targets your shoulders, particularly the deltoids, and the triceps. The exercise also involves several secondary muscles that work as stabilizers, including the trapezius, latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. You can target these muscles with exercises that don't include the Smith machine. Any movement that involves pushing weight overhead also targets these muscle groups. In fact, using free weights will stimulate the secondary muscles even more than the Smith machine because you must hold the weights in a fixed plane without the machine's assistance.

Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press is identical to the Smith machine overhead press, except the barbell is not fixed. Choose a weighted barbell that will fatigue your muscles in eight to 12 repetitions. Stand in a staggered stance – one foot forward the other slightly back – and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and point them down toward the floor and hoist the bar so that it is parallel to your collarbone. Engage your abdominal muscles and keep the shoulders pulled down your back as you press the bar up and overhead, extending the elbows fully. Keep your wrists straight and your back firm, preventing any arch in the low spine. Lower the bar back to the starting position, parallel to the collarbone, to complete one repetition.

Seated Dumbbell Press

The Smith machine overhead press can be done from a standing or seated position. A seated position, even when using free weights, affords you more control. Choose dumbbells that are heavy enough to fatigue you in eight to 12 repetitions. Sit on a workout bench with a vertical backrest, holding one dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Raise your arms up and out to the side so your elbows form 90-degree angles and your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Press the dumbbells up until your elbows are fully extended, keeping your wrists straight and your back pressing into the bench. Return to the bent-elbow position with the upper arms parallel to the floor to complete one repetition.

Additional Alternatives

If your workout facility has other shoulder press machines, you could use these as an alternative to a Smith machine overhead press as well. Look for cable or plate-loaded machines that put you in a seated position with bars or handles to press overhead. These machines keep you in a fixed plane of motion, which is helpful for beginners trying to learn proper form and control.

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