7 Best Smith Machine Squat Alternatives

Smith machine squat alternativesDoing squats on a Smith machine are popular in the fitness community, but they might not be the best exercise for muscle size and strength growth. Below are 5 of the best Smith machine squat alternatives.

Barbell Back Squat

Yes, the most obvious alternative to Smith machine squats is the classic barbell back squat. This is superior to the Smith machine option for several reasons.

By using free weights, you aren’t letting your core strength off easy. When you use a machine, the balancing is all handle for you. For some, this can be the most challenging part of a squat. With traditional back squats, your entire core has to be engaged and strong on each rep. Free weight squats are one of the best exercises you can do to strengthen your lower back and the rest of your core.

If you are new to this exercise, you should be aware that you likely won’t be able to do as much weight as you could when using a machine. This is normal. The extra demands on your core and changing ability make it a more difficult movement, especially if it is new to you.

Leg Press Machine

For people who are used to using a machine to work their legs, a leg press machine could be a good substitute for the Smith machine. These tend to work the quadriceps and hamstrings in a similar manner. They just place your body in a different position.

You can see what machine leg presses look like in the video below. This is one of the most basic exercise machines available, as you simple press the weight out with your legs. The only part that could be tricky to figure out is the safety. Some fitness centers have horizontal leg presses, while others are vertical.

You can vary the resistance in this a couple of ways. Obviously, whether the equipment is plate loaded or machine resistance, you can quickly change the resistance. You can also change how close you sit to the foot pad and where you place your feet on the pad to hit your muscles in different ways.

Hack Squat Machine

A hack squat machine can have many good benefits if you like working your lower body on a machine. It really challenges the quads and hamstrings by isolating this muscle groups.

This is another machine that comes in many variations depending on what gym or fitness center you use. You can see a demonstration of proper technique in the video below.

Barbell Front Squat

Like back squats, barbell front squats are one of the best Smith machine squat alternatives. The technique is similar, but the bar is placed in front of your body rather than your back.

This presents many of the same challenges to your core strength and balancing ability as back squats and even more. Because of this, you will need to use much less weight as resistance to get the same training benefits.

Hex Bar Deadlifts

Trap, shrug, or hex bar deadlifts – whatever you want to call them – are one of the most underrated exercises out there for building lower body strength and muscle mass. These require a special kind of bar, but they are certainly worth adding to your training routine.

You can see what hex car deadlifts look like in the video below. You simple step inside the bar with a good stand, grab the special handles, and stand straight up with the weight, using good posture. These very closely mimic the positions your legs are in during a Smith machine squat.

You can get creative with these to get body into lower positions than usual. For instance, you could use only short weight plates so the bar is closer to the ground. You could also try standing on a sturdy plate, box, or something else to increase your range of motion.

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian Split Squat may be a rare exercise for some athletes, but that doesn’t mean it should be. This exercise is done with one leg at a time and allows you to really focus on the quadriceps muscle.

The single leg aspect is great for athletes who may be used to only doing double leg exercises in the weight room. Much of athletics is done on a single leg, but that is often neglected in training programs. This exercise can help to remedy that.

With some creativity, the Bulgarian Split Squat can be done with several different variations. Adding dumbbells, and eventually a barbell on your back, can greatly increase the resistance and add to the stress on your quadriceps.

Leg Extension Machine

The leg extension machine is hardly the most exciting machine for leg training, but it isn’t without benefit. It is a mor common to find in gyms and fitness centers than a Smith machine, and can be very useful in isolating the quadriceps muscles.

Most of the exercises listed above have more benefits to athletes, including working secondary muscles, the core, and stabilization. Leg extensions, though, are able to directly isolate the quadriceps and can really allow you to pack on the resistance. They can make a good secondary exercise to mix into your programs.


Smith Machine squats can certainly have value in your training program, but they are hardly the only leg exercise you can do to target the quadriceps. Many gyms, espcially home gyms, might not have a Smith Machine. The above exercises can add variety to your leg routine, and also can be used when a Smith Machine just isn’t available.

Any of these Smith machine squat alternatives could make a great choice to put into your lifting program. While many are comforted by being able to use a machine to perform squats, trying something new comes with a whole host of strength and fitness benefits.

Trying any of the above exercises will take your strength and muscle growth to another level. Adding variety to your programs is key to continuous strength and muscle gains.

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