Five Best Smith Machine Exercises

Woman performing incline bench press using a Smith machine
(Image credit: lunamarina / Shutterstock)

Smith machines are those giant racks with a barbell fixed to a set of rails, and they inspire mixed reactions among gym-goers. Some trainers will tell you they let you lift more weight without needing a spotter, while functional training advocates will point out that they require less stabilisation and make proper form impossible on exercises like the squat. But while Smith squats might be out, if you're looking to spice up your workout—or if the Smith's the only bit of free kit in the gym—there's still plenty you can use it for.

1. Inverted row

It's difficult to get enough horizontal pulling into your workout, but these are a great alternative to bent-over barbell rows. Set the bar at roughly chest height, lie horizontally underneath and pull your chest towards it. Start with your feet on the ground and when you find that's too easy, put them on a bench or gym ball.

2. Overhead press

Exercises such as the squat incorporate a slight arc, so carrying them out with proper form requires a barbell, but the classic shoulder press is a safe one for the Smith machine. Keep the bar in front of your face and stand up straight as you push it up.

3. Shrug

As with the shoulder press, the limited range of motion means it's difficult to go wrong with a shrug—and you don't have to worry about hauling the weight off the ground before you can do them. If you've never done them before, they're exactly like they sound. Just 'shrug' your shoulders upwards to work those difficult-to-hit trapezius muscles.

4. Incline bench press

You're better off doing your normal bench press routine with free weights and a spotter, but if your gym hasn't got an incline bench—and many haven’t—this is a great way to target your upper chest.

5. Pull-up

Many gyms have weird, angled pull-up handles that make normal pull-ups tough and close-grip variations impossible. If this sounds familiar, you can put the Smith machine's bar at its highest setting and do pull-ups on that instead.

Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.