Why the Smith Machine Is Better Than Barbells For the Front Squat

cable leg extensions for quads

Smith machine front squats isolate your quads better than the free weight alternative. 

Everyone knows free weights are better, right? The age-old question between free weights and machines has been answered. The balance and muscle activation it takes to move a weight in free space makes it head and shoulders above the rest. Right, but wrong…While free weights may be better for functional movements if you want to wow the crowd, you better rethink that Smith machine, baby! Especially for the front squat. 

Barbells are great when doing front squats for football or any other functional sport. However, front squatting with a Smith machine takes the pressure off the rhomboid and back muscles. This allows you to do higher reps with higher weights. 

In a traditional front squat, holding the barbell in place for a proper squat gets harder once the rhomboids or back muscles tire. The Smith machine makes keeping the bar in rack position easier, letting you get extra reps in. Research shows that increasing your exercise volume and getting more reps leads to muscle growth (1)

Also, a machine allows you to lift higher weights as the smaller muscles used for balance don’t have to work as hard. This will enable you to use higher weight with higher reps while focusing on a specific area, allowing your legs to blow up! 

So here’s a guide on how to do the Smith machine front squat. We also discuss what muscles you can build with this routine and the many other benefits it offers. Plus, if you’re exploring exercising with the Smith Machine, we’ve included other great alternatives.

Smith Machine Front Squat Techniques and Muscles Worked

In the video above, IFBB Pro Mark Dugdale shows us this theory in action. The Smith machine front squat primarily targets your quads. Since this machine removes the need for stabilization, bigger muscles like the quads do most of the work. Smith machine front squats also recruit the glutes, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, adductors, lower back, and abs.

The Smith machine front squat is good for building your leg muscles because it ensures that your legs are the limiting factor and takes the focus off your core or back. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to use the Smith machine to do your front squats.

  1. Choose a comfortable weight and adjust the bar on the machine to be just underneath your shoulders at the collarbone level.
  2. Lift your bar off its stops and hold it before your shoulders with a cross-arm grip. Your elbows should be parallel to the floor.
  3. Position your feet shoulder-width apart and flare them out at about 15-30 degrees. 
  4. Brace your core, keep your back straight, and bend your knees slightly. This is your starting position.
  5. Bend your knees further and push your hips back to squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your chest high and your shoulders packed to keep your bar in place.
  6. Pause for a second, then drive through your entire foot to return to the starting position and complete the rep.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 


The Smith machine front squat is great for your leg muscles. Doing this exercise on the machine removes the need for stabilization, allowing you to focus on your form and directly targeting your leg muscles, especially your quadriceps. Below are other benefits of the Smith machine front squat. 

Increased Quad Activation

Doing the Smith machine front squat puts the bar in a fixed position in the front of your midline throughout the range of motion rather than the back like back squats. This keeps the tension on your quads, leading to increased activation. Keeping a slight bend in your knees will also help keep the tension on your quads constant.

Better For Mind Muscle Connection

When doing the barbell front squat, part of your actions will include stabilizing the barbell as you squat. The Smith machine front squat removes the distraction of stabilizing the barbell, which allows you to focus and use your mind-muscle connection. A solid mind-muscle connection can improve muscle growth (2).

More Reps, More Muscle Growth

The free weight front squat taxes smaller stabilizing muscles like the rhomboids and mid traps pretty quickly. As a result, your back soon gives out, and you can’t work your leg muscles as effectively as you’d like. Using the Smith machine removes the stress from these muscles, allowing you to do multiple reps to blast your legs. 

Safer For The Knees

Back squats require more weight for muscle hypertrophy than front squats. As a result, this puts a strain on your knees. Research shows that despite placing more tension on your knee extensors, front squats are safer for your knees than back squats (3).

Smith Machine Front Squat Alternatives

Do you love the Smith machine front squat’s benefits? You can do much more than front squats on this versatile equipment. Below are other great exercises to build your legs on the Smith machine.

Smith Machine Hack Squat

The Smith machine hack squat will activate your quads about the same as the Smith machine front squat. This exercise will also build your hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 

Smith Machine Split Squat

The Smith machine split squat is another good leg builder, targeting the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. This exercise is beneficial because you can use your foot placement to control whether it builds your quads or hamstrings/glutes more. 

Smith Machine Lunges

Smith machine lunges also primarily target your quads. However, you can use the width of your split during your lunges to shift this focus to your glutes and hamstrings.


Are front squats on Smith machine good?

Front squats on the Smith machine are suitable for people who want to focus on muscle growth in their legs. The machine removes the need for stabilization and focuses on your quads, leading to more growth.

Is regular front squats and Smith machine front squats good?

Regular front squats are a functional movement that builds muscles you use daily. However, you can use the Smith machine front squats to isolate the muscles in your legs better. Both routines have advantages, and combining them leads to more wholesome training.

Why are Smith machine squats better?

Smith machine squats remove activating your stabilizer muscles when squatting. This allows you to focus on your form more and puts tension on your lower body muscles, leading to more growth.

Wrapping Up

The Smith machine is versatile and offers many muscle growth benefits for training. Apply this to the front squat and any exercise you want to focus on primarily for size. Now, when you see a Smith machine, you don’t have to deflate in disappointment, take it for what it’s worth.

In truth, you should use both methods: barbell front squat to lay down the foundation and then the Smith machine to add the candy red paint. Fashion over function? Choosing is a thing of the past; incorporate both exercises into your arsenal for second looks and major gains!

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  1. Brigatto, F. A., Lima, L. E. M., Germano, M. D., Aoki, M. S., Braz, T. V., & Lopes, C. R. (2022). High Resistance-Training Volume Enhances Muscle Thickness in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 36(1), 22–30. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003413 
  2. Schoenfeld, B. J., Vigotsky, A., Contreras, B., Golden, S., Alto, A., Larson, R., Winkelman, N., & Paoli, A. (2018). Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training. European journal of sport science, 18(5), 705–712. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2018.1447020 
  3. Gullett, J. C., Tillman, M. D., Gutierrez, G. M., & Chow, J. W. (2009). A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 23(1), 284–292. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818546bb
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