Smith Machine Squat can be used as an alternative exercise to the barbell squats for developing the Quadriceps (quads) and Gluteus Maximus (glutes). For novices, the Smith Machine can be use to familiarize oneself with the squat movement, particularly with a trainer’s assistance.
For more advanced weight trainers, Smith Machine can be implemented periodically after the squat has become stale (yielding less progress as when originally performed).
By performing the squat within the Smith Machine form can be controlled. While there may be less supporting muscle used to balance the weight, by performing the squat movement within the Smith Machine better form can be used, and the exercise can be done without a spotter if desired. These facts may be part of why several studies have shown that the Smith Machine can be a safe alternative to regular squats to help build the legs.
Quadriceps or Rectus Femoris is one of the largest muscle groups in your body which makes up the front of your thigh. Quadriceps primary role is extending the leg outwards. Weakened quadriceps can have negative effects on leg posture and the correct movement and positioning of the knee. Smith Machine Squats will strengthen your quadriceps to prevent these negative effects from occurring.
Quadriceps Muscle Physiology Summary
Quadriceps is made up of four major muscle groups. (1) Rectus Femoris originates on the outside front of the pelvis, ends in the quadriceps tendon with the main purpose for hip flexion and knee extension. (2) Vastus Lateralis is located on outside front of thigh and is partially responsible for knee extension. (3) Vastus Medialis, common name tear drop, is inside of femur; thick near the bottom above the knee, and is partially responsible for knee extension. (4) Vastus Intermedius lies beneath the Lateralis and Medialis and is partially responsible for knee extension.
Smith Machine Squat Summary
- Main Muscle(s) Worked: Quadriceps
- Other Muscles (Secondary) Worked: Hamstrings, Lower Back, Glutes
- Equipment: Smith Machine
- Mechanics Type: Compound (When two or more joint movements are involved).
- Force: Push (Concentric contraction of the target muscle when movement is away from center of body).
- Utility: Basic (A main exercise that can place greater absolute intensity on muscles used relative to auxiliary exercises. Basic exercises have a tendency to be gravity dependent, have an inclusion or shift of resistance through multiple muscle group throughout the range of motion (e.g. bench press: front deltoid to pectoralis major to triceps) and have a natural transfer of torsion force to compression force (e.g., lockout on squat, bench press, etc.) or tension force (e.g. extension of arm curl) to the bone(s) and joint(s) during full range of motion.
Target Muscles Used for Smith Machine Squats
Synergist Muscles Worked When Performing Smith Machine Squats
- Gluteus Maximus
- Adductor Magnus
Stabilizers Worked When Performing Smith Machine Squats
Antagonist Stabilizers Worked When Performing Smith Machine Squats
- Rectus Abdominis
Correct Exercise Procedure Use for Smith Machine Squats
- Rest the bar on lower traps and rear shoulders, stand with your feet shoulder width-apart.
- Grasp the bar with a wide evenly spaced grip and un-rack the weight by pushing up and twisting the hooks off their resting post.
- With head up, lower back arched and abs tight, begin the movement by bending at the knees and squatting towards the ground.
- Continue to lower, while inhaling, until your thighs are just below parallel to the floor.
- Drive the weight, while exhaling, back up until you are in the standing position without locking your knees.
- Repeat the movement until the desired number of reps are completed, then re-rack the bar by twisting the hooks and putting them back on their post.
Caution Needed When Performing Smith Machine Squats
Many doctors say that squatting beyond where your calves and thighs form a 90 degree angle is harmful to the knees. Since much of the work is done getting to and from that 90 degree position, it is best to be conservative and not to lower yourself further. Additional caution is needed to avoid putting more weight on either the ball on heel of your foot. The weight should be evenly distributed on the bottom of your feet to avoid possible injuries.
Tips for Performing Smith Machine Squats
By using the tips mention below will help for the muscle(s) full development by incorporating more muscle fibers per rep, thus increasing the muscle’s size and strength. Also by incorporating the tips mention below, they will help in preventing injuries. If you are performing squats correctly you should not fill any pain in your lower back. Lower back pain is usually a sign that you are not using correct form and/or your core is week.
- Practice proper form. Always maintain proper form throughout this exercise by keeping your back straight or slightly arched, head up, eyes forward, abs tight and feet flat on floor. If you get sloppy with your form you put yourself at risk for injury.
- Squatting deep enough. To use squats to their full potential requires squatting down until your thighs are at least around parallel to the floor.
- Do not lock your knees. When you are in standing position do not lock your knees. This will keep full tension on your quads at all times and will also prevent stress to the knee joints.
- Do not let knees come too far forward. When in squatting position do not let your knees move forward beyond toes. When you squat down your hips should be dropping straight down, not coming forward.
- Do not take to all-out failure. If you are not using a spotter do not take this exercise to failure, since it will be very difficult to safely re-rack the weight. Continue the exercise until you are one rep short of failure then stop.
Frequent Mistakes Made While Performing Smith Machine Squats
Performing the exercise improperly, often referred to as cheating, will not allow for the muscle and muscle fibers to be use their fullest potential, resulting in not achieving desired development of the muscle.
- Movement performed too fast. If movement is performed too fast, it will not allow full usage of all muscle fibers.
- Using too much weight. A mistake for many lifters is trying to lift too much weight. Make sure to use correct weight that will allow you to use proper form and full range of motion.
- Rounding the lower back. It is crucially important that you keep a straight back when you squat to prevent injury. To ensure your back is straight keep eyes forward, chest out, shoulder blades back and back arched. Keep your core muscle tensed throughout the movement to help hold your back in place.
- Pushing from the balls of your feet. This puts unnecessary strain on joints and tendons. Always push through your heels. Curling your toes can help in getting this technique correct.
- Limiting the range of motion. Many lifters do not go all the way down therefore not using the squats to their full potential. To use squats to their full potential make sure you squat down to at least where your thighs are around parallel to the floor.
- Leaning forward. This happens when your hips move faster than your shoulders. To prevent possible injury, keep rep timing slow and controlled, stick your butt out as you go down.
- Knees in or out. Do not point you knees in or out while lowering or pushing the weight. This puts unnecessary strain on the knee joints.
- Looking down. As soon as you look down your back rounds, it is as simple as that. Keep your head up and eyes forward.
- Knees come too far forward. To prevent knees from coming too far forward and preventing possible knee joint and tendon injuries, your hips should drop straight down as you squat.
Variations of Exercise or Equipment Use for Smith Machine Squats
A variation of a specific exercise is intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways. There are many exercise variations to this strength exercise. Some of the variations use for the Smith Machine Squats:
- Smith Split Squat. This has an auxiliary utility allowing you to concentrate on one quadriceps at a time. You can either alternate legs during a set or one leg at a time then switching. Flexible hip flexors are important in keeping the torso upright during the movement.
- Smith Front Squat. This excellent optional exercise (auxiliary utility) incorporates additional stabilizers when performing.
- Smith Single Leg Squat. This has an auxiliary utility allowing you to concentrate on one quadriceps at a time, similar to the split squat. One of the differences with single leg squat when compared to the split squat, you are using additional stabilizers with the addition of antagonist stabilizers.
- Smith Rear Lunge. Similar to the split squat, except by using a lunging movement you incorporate additional stabilizers.
- Smith Hack Squat. This is an excellent alternative exercise to Smith Machine Squats with using additional stabilizers.
Other Exercises to Compliment Smith Machine Squats
- Smith Good-Morning. This is an isolated movement for developing the hamstrings which will aid when performing squat exercises.
- Smith Straight Leg Dead Lift. This is another hamstring exercise with additional stabilizers that will aid in performing squats.
- Leg Press. The leg press exercise is great for strengthening the gluts for helping with the squat exercises.
- Hyperextensions. Hyperextensions will strengthen the lower back which is being use when performing squat exercises.
The Smith Machine Squat can be a great addition to your workout routine. With the suspended barbell, that moves on steel runners with safety pegs, makes the Smith Machine a great choice for those who want to lift heavy but do not have any spotters handy.
About the Author
Lynn Glenn is a 61 year old natural athlete who started training at the ripe young age of 48. Lynn Glenn is also an avid weightlifter who enjoys writing about hot topics in the areas of health, and fitness and developing further knowledge in the areas of disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and personal training. Lynn Glenn lives and trains in Southern California, and serves as a tremendous inspiration for many “mature” weightlifters in the gym that are trying to look better, feel better, and beat father time! To contact Lynn, visit Lynn at http://www.musclemagfitness.ning.com/