When it comes to getting great definition in your legs, you’ll want to make sure that you are using the right equipment. That’s why a Smith machine is your one-stop-shop for your arms, shoulders, chest, core and, of course, legs. So what are the best Smith Machine workouts?
A Smith machine is a large frame that integrated a barbell into the main body. This means that your barbell will be always locked in, making it much easier to self-spot and much safer for you to use by yourself.
But how can you bulk up your legs with a Smith machine? What are the best exercises for this machine to really isolate the various muscles in your legs?
Well, we’re going to look at 12 of the best exercises for this part of your body and how to execute them properly.
Why Should You Work On Your Legs?
If you are working on your upper body rather than your legs, then you’ll certainly start to notice some imbalance. If you are working out purely for cosmetic purposes, then the last thing you’ll want is a jacked upper body sitting on top of skinny legs.
Another reason that you should work on your legs is stability. If you are doing exercises like curl and shoulder press or lat pulldowns, then you’ll need your lower half to be as stable as possible so that you don’t fall over.
With weaker legs, it will be harder to achieve the stability that you’ll need.
If you are doing cardio, then you’ll also want to work on maintaining your legs. This is because it will simply be much easier to run with stronger glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles. You’ll ideally want to mix up your cardio with some decent weight exercises.
What Is A Smith Machine?
A Smith machine is an all-in-one machine, which you can use for many different types of exercises, most of which are lateral in movements.
This comes with a barbell that is integrated into the machine, locking at various levels automatically, so if the barbell is released suddenly, then it will not drop to the floor in much the same manner as a free weight would.
You can also get a Smith machine that comes with a three-dimensional movement, allowing you to go forward and back as well as up and down. This makes the movements a lot more ‘realistic’ and natural.
However, there are a lot of sports experts that really frown upon this type of exercise, as it involves only a repeated up and down motion. This means that it will be putting far more stress on your knees and your elbows.
If you are an experienced lifter, then you can also use the Smith machine to increase the amount of weight that you are lifting. More weight equals more gains, which is why this machine is great for increasing your gains.
This is known to really have great effects on the legs, with a lot of Smith machine advocates really praising how soon they notice gains after doing shoulder shrugs and calf lifts on this machine.
But if you are going to be using this machine for leg exercises, then you’ll need to make sure that you know how the mechanics of your exercises work as well as how to move your machine properly.
12 Great Smith Machine Exercises For Your Legs
1. Smith Machine Squat
If you are ever trying to develop an exercise that will improve the gains in your legs, squats will be the first place to go. Not only will this exercise help you to tone your thighs and glutes, but it will also strengthen the muscles in your abdomen and core.
The fact that you can squat heavy lifts without the need for a spotter will really appeal to the solo lifter. You’ll need to make sure that the safety pins are in if you are going to be squatting with heavy weights on your own.
The great thing about doing a weighted squat on a Smith machine is the fact that you can actually take more of a step forward, which will help you to maximize the gains in your glutes and hamstrings.
Here’s how you can do this exercise properly without suffering from any injuries:
- Stand underneath the barbell with the bar resting on the back of your neck and across your shoulders. Clutch the bar in each hand with your wrists facing upwards.
- Twist the bar to release it from the housing. Make sure that your chest is out, your head is facing forward, your back is slightly curved inwards and your arms are outside your shoulders.
- Breathe in deeply as you lower yourself into a squat. Make sure that you are keeping your core tight and your legs tense as you descend as low as you possibly can. You should feel a tightening in your glutes and hamstrings.
- Once you have reached your lowest point, tense your glutes and calves and push yourself upwards, exhaling as you do so. Do this until you are in a fully standing position.
Repeat this movement for as many reps as you want. You should make sure that this weight is light enough for you to handle. If you start with something too heavy, then you might cause yourself some serious injury.
2. Smith Front Squat
This front squat works in much the same manner as the one we have just listed previously. However, with this exercise, you’ll emphasize more on the glutes and the hamstrings.
It will also help you to activate more stabilizing muscles, including the back muscles, the shoulder blades and the triceps.
This squat will also help you to focus on the outer thigh, which is a crucial component of getting your squats just right.
- Place the bar in front of you so it is right under your neck and resting on your chest.
- Once you are comfortable that this is balanced, then cross your hands across the weight so that each hand is on the opposite shoulder.
- Rotate the bar so that it is unlocked from the housing of the Smith machine.
- Keeping your head face forward, thrusting your hips downward and emphasizing the natural arc in your back, lower yourself to the ground until you feel a tightening in your glutes and hamstring.
- Once you have reached the lowest point of the exercise, tense your legs and push yourself upwards until you have reached the start of the exercise once again.
With this exercise, make sure that you are starting out with a lighter weight and then increasing it gradually. You’ll want to avoid any serious injury when you are doing any squats.
3. Smith Machine Stiff-Legged Deadlift
This is a great leg lift that you can use to increase the muscle mass and definition of your leg, especially the upper portion of the leg. This will also help you to strengthen the lower portion of your back.
Here is a step-by-step guide for performing that exercise:
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart, facing the barbell, which should be set to around thigh level.
- Bend forward and pronate your spine into its natural arch. Engage with your core. Wrap your hands in a downward grip over the barbell.
- Lower the barbell to the floor slowly until you feel some tension in your hamstrings. As you come to the lowest point that your hamstrings will allow you to go, engage them to pull the barbell up to the starting position.
You can do this exercise with as many reps as you need to. Make sure that the bar is pushed close to your body during the entirety of this exercise. Your shoulders should also be pushed back as you lift.
4. Smith Leg Press
This next move is a little bit unorthodox, and some fitness experts have claimed that it is dangerous to push the press up with your legs, but if you have the bar locked into the safety housing, then you should be fine.
Here is how to perform this move:
- Lying on your back under the barbell, place the midfoot of both feet underneath the barbell. Test it to see if it is stable.
- Unrack the bar slowly using your feet. Keep your arms on the floor on either side of you. Make sure that your thighs are at a 90-degree angle to your body.
- Engaging your core and your glutes, lower the bar slowly with your legs until your knees are in contact with your chest. Make sure that you breathe on this movement.
- Once you have held this position for a few seconds, push the bar back upwards until you have reached the starting position again.
Make sure that the weight is extremely light for this move, otherwise, the bar might slip from under you and cause you serious injury.
5. Smith Machine Lunge
This next exercise is great for strengthening your thighs and calves but without putting too much tension on your knees.
Depending on how far you lunge forward, this exercise will focus on different areas of the legs. If you go further, it will hit the glutes and the hamstrings.
Here’s how to can execute the Smith Machine Lunge:
- Hold the barbell so that it is resting on your upper shoulders, gripping it in both of your hands just outside your shoulders.
- Make sure that you keep your back dead straight as you unhook the barbell from the safety housing. Lunge forward and lower the barbell downwards as you do.
- Keep moving forward so that the knee is moving directly over the foot.
- Once you have reached the limit of what your knee is capable of, then push back and extend the knee until you are in the original position.
Make sure that you come forward as much as you possibly can, but do not bend your back and keep your head looking straight forward.
6. Smith Machine Reverse Lunge
This is a great exercise for you to build your glutes and hamstrings, allowing you to lower into the exercise. This is a great workout if you want to get that nice and toned butt.
You’ll have to make sure that you keep your balance with this movement, so make sure that you start with a light weight. Here’s a guide to achieving this lunge:
- Much like the previous exercise, rest the barbell across your shoulder, holding the bar with each hand just outside your shoulders.
- With a straight back, step backward and lower the barbell at the same time. Lower yourself until your back knee is touching the floor.
- Once you have held this position for a second or two, raise yourself back up using the forward leg, thrusting your hips forward and raising the barbell.
Keep repeating this movement, alternating your legs as you do so. This is a great way of correcting any mechanical weaknesses that you might have in one side of your body.
7. Smith Machine Step Up
This next exercise will target multiple parts of your legs including the hip flexors, the glutes, the quads and the hamstrings. This will require a bench and a good amount of upper and lower body strength.
As you’ll be stepping up onto a bench, balance will be very important for this exercise. You’ll need to make sure that the bench is in the right position to get this move right. The bench will need to be right under your body.
Here is how you can perform this move properly:
- Take your bench and place it lengthways right underneath the center of the barbell.
- Place the barbell behind your shoulders, resting on your traps and gripping hard with your hands just outside your shoulders.
- Stepping with one foot on the bench, driving yourself upwards with one leg until your other leg is resting on the bench beside it.
- Take a pause as you are standing on top of the bench. Make sure that your back is straight during the entirety of the exercise.
- Then lower yourself to the other side of the bench using the other leg.
This is one completion of the move. Keep alternating hopping up onto the bench, raising and lowering the weight as you go, switching between your raising and lowering the leg.
8. Smith Machine Hip Thrust
Sometimes you’ll want to isolate one muscle to make it as strong as the others, which is why exercises such as the hip thrust will really come in handy.
You should always ensure that this exercise is completed to the full range of motion so that you can achieve that continual tension that grows muscle.
Here is how to achieve this movement successfully:
Here is how to achieve this movement successfully:
- Sit on a bench that is placed directly underneath the barbell. Lie on the bench and lower the barbell until it is nestled in the dip of your abdomen.
- With the barbell unlocked, raise up your hips and clench your butt. You should feel tension only in the glutes.
- Lower yourself again until you have returned to the sitting position.
Repeat this movement for however many reps you think are appropriate. If you feel the barbell pressing into your hips too much, then find some padding to cushion the weight. Make sure the barbell doesn’t touch the floor at any point.
9. Smith Machine Donkey Kickback
This is a slightly more gymnastic move that will also target your glutes. This will require you to kick back, so it will stretch your muscles and help increase your core area.
This targets the upper part of the leg muscle including the hamstring, the glute and the quad.
Here is how you can achieve that move successfully:
- Take a bench and place it under the barbell. Get on all fours and kick your leg back until the midfoot of your left leg is underneath the bar. Make sure that the barbell is not set too high, as this will cause it to come crashing down.
- Unhook the barbell from the Smith machine and hold it up with one leg.
- Breathing outwards, push the barbell upwards with the back of your leg. You should feel a squeezing tension in the back and the sides of your thighs.
- Raise and lower the bar with the back of your foot. Once you have done this for several reps, then switch feet.
You should start off with a lighter weight and gradually increase it. Make sure that you do not start too heavy, as this could result in spraining your thigh.
10. Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squat
This exercise you could consider one of the hardcore exercises that really should only be attempted by expert bodybuilders. This will really place tension on your glutes and hamstrings, activating the adductors as supporting muscles.
Here is how you can do a proper Bulgarian Split Squat using a Smith Machine:
- Place a bench in the middle of the Smith machine, slightly behind the barbell.
- Stand underneath the barbell with the bar itself resting across your shoulders. Hold the bar like this with both of your hands.
- Place one foot on the bench behind you.
- Unhook the barbell from the safety harness and lower your standing leg towards the floor, bending at the knee.
- Try not to go down too far, as this might cause your knee to buckle.
- Once you have lowered as far as you can go, push yourself back up to the starting position.
Repeat this exercise for as many reps as you need to. Then switch legs. This is a great exercise for getting symmetry in both legs or correcting any mechanical weaknesses that you are suffering.
11. Smith Machine Standing Calf Rise
This exercise is very intensive, even though it does not require that much movement. All you need to do is place the weight across your shoulders and raise yourself up on your tip toes.
This will cause your calves to strain and develop. You might even be limping after you do this exercise:
- Set the bar to your Smith machine at shoulder height, resting them across your traps and holding the bar in each hand.
- Take a small block and stand on it with the balls of your feet hanging over the edge.
- Unlock the weight and allow the balls of your feet to lower. You should feel deep stretching in the backs of your legs.
- Once you have reached the lowest part, lift up the balls of your feet to the highest point. You should feel extreme tension in your calf as it takes on the whole weight of your body.
This is a great exercise for isolating those calf muscles. It is designed to be performed at a very high rep volume. You should aim to do somewhere between 12 and 20 reps.
Make sure that you are not piling on too much weight with this exercise, as you run the risk of tearing your calf muscle, which will render you unable to do exercise for a few weeks or even months.
12. Smith Machine Standing One Leg Calf Raise
This exercise is just like the last one, except that it will require even more exertion on the part of your calf muscle. This one also doesn’t require you to use a platform, as you can do the raise straight from the floor.
Here is how you can properly execute a standing one-leg calf raise with a Smith machine:
- Stand underneath the barbell with the bar resting across your traps.
- Lift one leg up and keep the other one planted on the floor.
- With your standing leg, lift up onto your tiptoes and back down again with the barbell unlocked from the safety housing.
- Squeeze your calf as you raise up to your heel’s full extension. Hold in this position for a few seconds.
- Gently lower yourself back down so that the flat of your foot is completely on the floor. Make sure you lower yourself gradually, otherwise you’ll injure your foot.
Repeat this exercise with each long for however long that you feel is necessary, switching legs for the same number of reps. This is a great exercise for rectifying any imbalances in the left and right sides of your body.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to work on your legs?
Legs not only provide stability when you are doing exercises, but they look better. You should always try and work your upper and lower body at the same time to gain that symmetry.
Why is a Smith machine good for leg exercises?
This will help you achieve compound exercises on your legs, working both your legs as well as secondary muscles in your back and shoulders.
This is also better than working with free weights, as it will lock the weight in a static position, meaning that if your legs buckle the weight will not drop and cause you injury.
Will a Smith machine cause me harm?
There are some people who think that the Smith machine is most taxing on the joints as it mainly specializes in vertical movement. You should try varying this movement with running and horizontal movements that will target more muscles.
Using a Smith machine might not be for everyone, but it is a very effective method of getting gains in your leg muscles.
We hope that some of these exercises have given you a better idea of what is possible with a Smith machine and how you can use it to target specific parts of your leg.