There are some exercises and machines lifters sometimes discount as legitimate strength- and mass-gaining movements. Smith machine squats sometimes fall into this dubious category by many hardcore ironheads.
To most, barbell squats will always be the king of the squats as they build the most muscle and strength. But you need other exercises (and animals) to balance out the exercise ecosystem, and this is how Smith machine squats come in.
Regular Smith machine squats change the focus of barbell squat movement because the upright torso and knees over ankles emphasize quads over glutes. Improving quad strength is essential for leg drive, especially from the squat hole. The beauty of the Smith Machine squat is also its biggest knockback. The fixed range of motion means all your energy will be channeled vertically because the balance and stability requirements are removed.
This fact means more muscle activation is driven to your quads and glutes.
But the fixed ROM means the body must adjust; for some, their joints don’t enjoy the lack of variability in the range of motion. But when Smith machine squats are programmed correctly as an accessory exercise, they are another tool in the toolbox to improve your regular squats and build massive glutes and quads.
Regular Smith machine squats are great. But this variation brought to you by John Prather, personal trainer and fitness model with a bachelor’s in exercise science, brings beauty and brains with a variation that will rock your quads.
The Sideways Smith Machine Squat
“The Sideways Smith Machine squat takes advantage of the Smith Machine by utilizing the fact that all the energy is spent vertically. The fixed range of motion eliminates any need for extra energy spent balancing the load.
Turning sideways removes the disadvantage of the fixed ROM by allowing the hips to be in a perfect position relative to the bar. The feet can be moved to the correct position for each individual’s unique torso and limb length so each lifter’s movement pattern is optimal. It allows for a leg-press-type motion with the additional benefits of the squat, such as glute activation, hip power, range of motion, and core strength,” explains Prather.
Barbell squats are great, but they require good hip and shoulder mobility, and if you lack either, this Smith machine squat will help. As mentioned, barbell squats require good balance and increase your body stabilizer muscle use to stay upright.
The sideways Smith machine squat reduces both requirements, so you can focus on good form and building muscle and strength in your glutes and quads. The offset nature of this squat variation with strength imbalances between sides with the need to balance on one leg. If you dislike unilateral leg exercises, this is the variation for you.
Sideways Smith Machine Squat Form Tip
Sideways Smith machine squats, unlike the regular variation, is an offset exercise because the load is outside your center of mass. So, ensure your hips and core are strong enough to move the weight evenly with both legs. If not, drop the weight and aim for proper form on each side.
Take time to put the bar in a position on your traps (close to where they meet your neck) to prevent injury and eliminate unnecessary movement during the lift from adjusting the bar position. Adjust for comfort if necessary, or add a squat pad for extra comfort.
Adjust your foot position to a distance that allows your hips to drop below knee level at the bottom. Doing so will activate the glutes and allow you to build and generate power in your hips when rising from the hole.
Keep your torso upright as possible, with your shoulders back and your chest up, to protect your lower back and to keep your spine neutral for the entire movement. This allows the lower body to do the necessary work to keep the weight moving vertically.
Sets and Reps
Prather recommends three to five sets with repetitions of six to eight on each side with little to no rest between sides. Start with a manageable weight that lets you maintain proper form before going heavy.