Are Smith Machine Squats Bad or Good? Amazing Case Study

When it comes to workout on the Smith machine, many fitness geeks discourage squats on Smith machine. It raises a burning question “Are Smith machine squats bad or good?”

Smith’s machine can be excellent and questionable in some scenarios as well. It has its benefits and disadvantages. Disadvantages aren’t the right word for it; you can say some cases don’t require a Smith machine if you want to train harder. We’ll connect the dots and paint a logical picture here instead of ruling out the Smith machine as a lousy option for squats.

Are Smith Machine Squats Bad?

What makes the Smith machine a controversial debate that you shouldn’t go for squats on the Smith machine? Most gym trainers say that machine was designed for upper-body exercises, so it wasn’t invented for lower-body exercises like squats. OR you can put it this way, the entire focus of the machine was to create a safe environment and eliminate the dependency on a spotter. 

Still, you can opt for the Smith machine if your gym doesn’t have a squat rack (free-weight barbell) like life fitness gyms. In such a situation, you gotta adopt the proper technique to do your squats right. If done correctly, then Smith’s machine squats aren’t bad. 

Are Smith Machine Squats Bad or Good?

Which Mistakes Make Squats On Smith Machine Bad?

We will walk you through different situations when squats on this machine have more cons than benefits. 

Drawback Of Smith Machine Squat

Smith machine squats are far easier than free weight because bar is aligned on a straight bar, preventing your body from moving in a natural plane. It doesn’t give you that core strength as Freeweight will. It doesn’t let you master core stabilization and coordination skills.

Feet Too Narrow or Too Wide

It’s up to you to set your feet narrower or wider, but Smith machine squats can be bad if you put your feet too narrower or wider. You can quickly identify whether feet are placed in a good position. When you lose the ability to produce much force due to instability, like when you are not feeling stable coming up. Also, your joints hurt, or you can not go to the proper depth.

Bad Choice if You Aim To Build All Leg Muscles

The impact of Smith machine squats can be positive and negative, depending on your fitness goals. For beginners, these assisted weight squats, such as the Smith machine squats, can be beneficial as they offer support. However, if you aim to develop your entire leg muscles, solely relying on Smith machine squats might not yield the desired results. The machine can focus on quads and glutes only. 

Smith Machine Weight Don’t Translate To Free-weight Barbell

Transitioning from Smith machine squats to free weights can be challenging, as it requires building stamina to engage & stabilize muscles. Additionally, the weight you were lifting on the Smith machine may not directly translate to the same performance on a free-weight barbell, adding more difficulty to the shift.

Unnatural Squatting Movement

Due to a fixed bar path, the Smith machine is only suitable for some movements. This unnatural squatting movement makes this machine a bad option compared to a free-weight barbell. But it can benefit you if you’re training for calf raises. 

It is not for the overall development of your legs. If you want to squat for primary movements, use free-weight squats. Freeweight squats are good for building more strength because your whole body is performing a range of motion, which demands coordination of your core and glutes. 

Hurting Lower Back

Setting your foot position as you do in the regular free-weight barbell squats can hurt your lower back. To avoid trouble in an angled smith machine, you should Face the hooks while squatting. Do not face the rear of the machine, you can grip the bar better that way, but your lower back can be hurt.

Not Hitting Your Quads Right

You can’t stand right under the bar. If you make this mistake, you may hit gluteals instead of quads. While carrying the bar, you should go down to an extent so that your quads are parallel to the ground.

In the Vertical Smith machine, your feet position will be same as free weight squats.


  1. Feet under bar, close foot position hits quads.
  2. Feet a little farther(6-8 inches) from the bar; wider foot position hits glutes.

Foot Position in Angled Smith machine 

Appropriate foot position is crucial while doing squats on an angled Smith machine.


  1. 6 Inches forward, close foot position, hits quads
  2. 12-18 inches foot forward wider foot position hits glutes.

Due to unnatural squatting movement, Smith’s machine squats can prove bad. If done right, then it can be very good. Let’s explore how to take advantage of it. 

Are Smith machine squats good?

Less Limiting Factors

Yes, smith machine squats are good because You are allowed to go deeper with more stability and let more knee flexion, more lengthening of quads. You face fewer limiting factors like low back strength, core strength and balance.

Safer than Barbell Free Squats 

The squats on Smith machine allow you to keep your spine more upright, so it minimizes the stress & tension created by the weight on lower back. You feel more of that tension in your quads and glutes.

Beneficial for Hypertrophy Goals

It can be helpful for people with injuries from hypertrophy(enlargement of focused muscles, i.e., quads, glutes) purposes they can be beneficial if you’re trying to add volume and you don’t want to break down as many muscles because free weight tends to be more damaging to body as they demand a lot of skill of core stabilization. 

Case Study Smith Machine vs Free Weight Squats

are smith machine squat good or bad case study resuluts

There was a study conducted by Schwanbeck et al. 2020 on free weights vs machines.

Let’s debrief this study to neutralize this debate about whether Smith’s machine squats are bad or good compared to free-weight!

The study was overall focused on several muscle groups. There were two types of exercise, benchpress(for chest, biceps and triceps) and squats(for quadriceps) for both free-weight and machine groups. But we’ll only analyze the results for quadriceps gains.

They randomly selected 15 men and 21 women and assigned each to the machine or free-weight groups. For Both groups, training consisted of two days of workouts, one day of rest, and the same routine for eight weeks.

They measured the EMG of the quad muscles of both groups who did squats on the Smith machine and free-weight barbell. They asked both groups to perform eight reps of squats. The athletes were allowed to have 1-minute rest in between. Each group did specific muscle exercises twice a week.

Final Results of Case Study

Both groups were tested before and after exercises. The results were quite opposite of what one can traditionally think. The muscle gain for both groups was almost same. The free-weight group experienced a 5.4% increase in quadriceps thickness, while the machine group experienced a 5.1% increase.

Now, after results, both groups seem to have the same hypertrophy(muscle gain) results.

So, according to the study, all people’s opinions are null and void in terms that Smith machine squats are bad. But it is admittable that free-weight squats allow you to do a wider range of motion of whole body(i.e., you have to take more care of upper body posture, position of your feet etc.) as explained earlier in the article.


When it comes to training effects, things aren’t necessarily as black and white. If your goal is to squat a ton of weight using a free barbell, then you need to practice with a free barbell. Could Smith machine squats act as an accessory lifting part of your training? Sure, but most of your leg and squat training should be done with a free-weight barbell. 

On the other hand, when it comes to building huge quads and glutes, very much of the difference vanishes. Your muscles don’t know if they are contracting against resistance from a free barbell or some Smith machine. The only thing muscles care about is whether they contract hard enough for a sufficient amount of reps and through a long enough range of motion.

In fact, too unstable exercises are less effective for building muscle as they can force you to terminate the set because your balance starts to give out. You don’t have enough muscle force. And machines don’t have that balance aspect. However, regular free barbell squats are generally stable enough that this isn’t a problem.


Why do some people discourage Smith machine squats?

Fitness enthusiasts who are against this say it fails to deliver the quality of the workout that we can get otherwise in free-weight squats(i.e., core strength and stability factors).

Is doing 95 lbs on the Smith machine and free-weight the same?

No, you can’t do that. Doing a 95lbs Smith machine squat isn’t the same as of a 95lbs free-weight barbell squat. Freeweight squat offers more resistance and are ultimately challenging. In a Smith machine, it is assisted weight, and you get a straight range of motion which is easier than free-weight. 

Are Smith machine squats safe/worth it?

If you’re beginner or recovering from an injury then Smith machine is absolutely safe for you. Because it’s definitely the case that you don’t want to hurt your back and other muscles as Smith machine allows you to do assisted squats.

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