There are certain exercises and machines that weightlifters sometimes overlook as legitimate movements for gaining strength and mass. Smith machine squats sometimes fall into this questionable category for many dedicated weightlifters.
To most, barbell squats will always be considered the superior form of squats as they are known to build the most muscle and strength. However, you need other exercises to balance out your workout routine, and this is where Smith machine squats come into play.
Regular Smith machine squats alter the focus of the barbell squat movement by emphasizing the quads over the glutes due to the upright torso and knees over ankles positioning. Improving quad strength is crucial for leg drive, especially during the squat motion. The advantage of Smith machine squats is also its biggest disadvantage. The fixed range of motion eliminates the need for balance and stability, allowing for more muscle activation in the quads and glutes.
However, the fixed range of motion can be problematic for some individuals whose joints do not appreciate the lack of variability. When programmed correctly as an accessory exercise, Smith machine squats can be a valuable tool for improving regular squats and building massive glutes and quads.
Regular Smith machine squats are effective. However, this variation introduced by John Prather, a personal trainer and fitness model with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, offers both beauty and intelligence with a variation that will target your quads.
The Sideways Smith Machine Squat
“The Sideways Smith Machine squat takes advantage of the Smith Machine’s vertical energy expenditure. The fixed range of motion eliminates the need for extra energy spent on balancing the load.
Turning sideways eliminates the disadvantage of the fixed range of motion by allowing the hips to be in an optimal position relative to the bar. Each individual can adjust their feet to the correct position based on their unique torso and limb length, ensuring an optimal movement pattern. This variation combines the leg-press motion with the benefits of the squat, such as glute activation, hip power, range of motion, and core strength,” explains Prather.
Barbell squats require good hip and shoulder mobility, and if you lack either, this Smith machine squat can help. Barbell squats also require good balance and engage your body’s stabilizer muscles to maintain an upright position.
The sideways Smith machine squat reduces these requirements, allowing you to focus on proper form and building muscle and strength in your glutes and quads. This variation also addresses strength imbalances between sides and eliminates the need for unilateral leg exercises.
Sideways Smith Machine Squat Form Tip
Sideways Smith machine squats, unlike the regular variation, are offset exercises because the load is outside your center of mass. Therefore, ensure that your hips and core are strong enough to evenly move the weight with both legs. If not, reduce the weight and prioritize proper form on each side.
Take the time to position the bar on your traps (close to where they meet your neck) to prevent injury and minimize unnecessary movement during the lift. Adjust the bar for comfort if necessary, and consider using a squat pad for additional comfort.
Position your feet at a distance that allows your hips to drop below knee level at the bottom of the squat. This will activate your glutes and enable you to generate power in your hips when rising from the squat position.
Maintain an upright torso as much as possible, with your shoulders back and chest up, to protect your lower back and keep your spine neutral throughout the movement. This allows your lower body to effectively move the weight vertically.
Sets and Reps
Prather recommends performing three to five sets with six to eight reps on each side, with minimal rest between sides. Start with a manageable weight that allows you to maintain proper form before increasing the load.