5 Best Smith Machine Back Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 25, 2022

Smith machines are usually used for building and toning muscles of the posterior chain, arms, and legs. It is a barbell that is attached to steel rails, which allows for up-and-down movement but not side-to-side. 

The Smith machine is usually used for squatting and bench pressing exercises, but it can also be used as an exercise tool for building back muscles. Exercises for the back using the Smith machine include bent-over rows, rack pulls, and Smith machine pull-ups among others.

Several exercises require specific equipment to be able to perform the activity, but a lot of these exercises are modifiable to accommodate the inaccessibility of the equipment. Most back exercises done on the Smith machine can also be done using other equipment but may offer different results due to differences in the resistance that is provided.

What is a Smith Machine?

The Smith machine is a fixed-weight, multi-station exercise machine that allows the execution of certain exercises without needing a spotter. It is especially useful for training the muscles in the upper back and core, which are often neglected by many people who don't have access to free weights or machines at their gym.

smith machine

The machine has a barbell attached to it, also known as a fixed barbell, as the design of the Smith machine only permits the barbell to move only up and down. It has a set weight stack that is adjustable to create a variety of exercises to help work out the entire body.

The bar can be adjusted to any height, and the plates are attached directly to it. This machine is used in an array of exercises, including squats and bench presses. Furthermore, it allows the performance of more complex movements accompanied by greater control and safety. 

Back Exercises with the Smith Machine

Exercises to build the back muscles using the Smith machine are not exclusive to making use of the weights as resistance. The exercises below demonstrate how the smith machine can be used in multiple ways to develop the back muscles.

1. Smith Machine Bent Over Row

The bent-over row is one of the best exercises for the back muscles, but it’s also one of the most challenging. The exercise works the latissimus dorsi muscle, the posterior deltoid, the scapular retractors, specifically the lower and middle trapezius, and the rhomboids.

smith machine bent over row

To perform this, get into position behind the barbell. Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart then hold the barbell with the palms facing the torso. The elbows must be extended while holding on to the barbell. Slightly bend the knees, then bend the torso until the upper body is somewhat parallel to the floor. 

Lift the barbell by bending at the elbows, and ensure that the elbows stay close to the body at all times. Squeeze the back muscles once the barbell has been fully lifted and hold the position for a brief pause before lowering it down again. Repeat for the desired number of reps to complete a set. 

2. Smith Machine Rack Pulls

Modified forms of routinely performed exercises are frequently utilized to supplement other areas of training when training for strength. Rack pulls are a high-intensity deadlift alternative that rapidly develops pulling power, which applies well to a variety of athletics.

smith machine rack pull

This exercise is often performed with the use of a power rack or blocks, but a Smith machine can be utilized in its place. With the use of a Smith machine, the spinal erectors are engaged less as compared to using free weights. This allows for the overloading of the trapezius muscle with the heaviest weight possible.

To begin, the safety stoppers are set just below the knee. Stand with the feet hip-width apart in front of the bar with the toes pointing straight ahead. Grasp the bar with both hands using an overhand grip, with the hands positioned just outside the thighs. Draw the hips back with a slight bend in the knees while keeping the chest up to get in position for the lift.

Upon assuming the starting position, pull the bar up the thighs by bringing the hips forward until they are fully extended. While doing this, keep the bar as near to the body as possible. In a slow, controlled manner, return the bar to its starting position, being careful not to drop it on the supports. Repeat the exercise for the appropriate repetitions and sets.

3. Smith Machine Inverted Pulls Ups

Pull-ups are a great way to build and develop the upper back muscles, but it requires a tremendous amount of effort and muscle power to do one. Smith machine pull-ups aid in strengthening the upper back muscles and would help in the progression toward performing standard pull-ups.

inverted row

One must set up in the proper starting position to perform pull-ups on a Smith machine. Set the Smith machine bar so the bar will be below the chest height and above the belly button. Position the upper body below the bar of the Smith machine, gripping the bar a bit wider than shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip.

Position the feet on the floor in a wide stance in front of the Smith machine. Hang from the bar with the arms fully stretched and only the heels touching the floor while maintaining a straight body.

Lift the upper body from the starting position by pulling on the bar until the chest hits the bar. Maintain good posture by retracting the shoulder blades down and back and opening the chest to stimulate the lower and middle traps. The body must remain straight throughout the exercise. Reverse the action and lower the body until the starting position is assumed.

4. Smith Machine Single-arm Row

Single-arm rows are the dumbbell rows of the Smith machine. It works the same muscles as dumbbell rows, with the machine providing additional support for those who have a hard time performing it with free weights. The unilaterality of the activity helps with muscle imbalances and the support allows for heavier weights to be lifted.

smith machine single arm row

To perform, stand at the side of the smith machine where the bar is situated at one side of the body. Take a staggered stance where the feet are spread to the width of the hips and the toe of one foot is on a line behind the heel of the other foot. Bend the torso at a 45-degree angle while maintaining the spine in neutral extension.

Grab the bar with a neutral grip and support yourself with the other hand on the Smith machine frame. Unrack the bar and completely extend the elbows, enabling the weight to stretch the muscles in your back.

Row the bar until the hand is at the side of the torso. Hold the contraction for a second, then slowly drop the bar. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions to complete a set.

5. Smith Machine Shrug

Shrug exercises on the Smith machine are done to develop the trapezius muscle. However, unlike rows where the focal point is on the middle and lower trapezius, shrugs primarily work the upper trapezius to add height to the back.

smith machine shrug

Set the bar to mid-thigh height and grasp the bar using an overhand grip with the hands positioned shoulder-width apart. Unrack the bar and fully extend the elbows, letting the weight stretch the upper trapezius.

Squeeze the traps as hard as possible while shrugging the shoulders up. Hold the position for a second before finishing the exercise by slowly lowering the bar until the trapezius is stretched once more.

Benefits of Smith Machines

Smith machines are a great way to tone the muscles and burn calories at the same time. This machine is very effective and has a variety of benefits that it can offer. This machine is also great for people who desire to focus on weight loss but are not motivated to run outside due to multiple factors.

Multiple Position Workouts

The main benefit of Smith machines is that they allow the individual to work out in various positions. This means that the individual can maximize the range of motion and get the most out of every session. A variety of different exercises can be chosen, making it a piece of versatile equipment that works out multiple muscle groups. 

Variance in Weight

The Smith machine helps the individual build muscle by using body weight in addition to resistance from the machine itself. This helps the individual work harder in less time needed, which means that the individual can build more muscle and get stronger faster when compared to using free weights such as dumbbells, etc.

Injury Prevention

The Smith machine is already known to increase speed and improve form, but it can also prevent injuries by strengthening the muscles and evening out imbalances, as strengthening improves the quality of the muscles, tendons, and even the ligaments and bones of the individual. 

Furthermore, Smith machines are also ideal for individuals with injuries or joint issues that prevent the performance of traditional weight training exercises. This machine allows the performance exercises with less risk of injury due to the support it offers, while also engaging more muscles than other weight lifting methods. 

Disadvantages of Smith Machines

Smith machines are not perfect. It has its disadvantages and is not ideal for every workout. The design of the Smith machine may be uncomfortable for some individuals while doing the activities.

Fixed Path

The barbell attached to the Smith machine is designed to have a fixed path that is up and down. Discomfort may be felt due to the restriction that this provides although it was made to ensure safety and proper form for the technique.

Additionally, because the bar is fixed, it does not allow accessory side to side, or forward and backward movements. Since many compound exercises don’t usually happen in one plane of motion, this makes the Smith machine a fairly difficult machine to master.

Initial Higher Risk of Injury

Before being accustomed to the Smith machine, most people have bodies that are accustomed to movement with the use of free weights. With the Smith machine, the lifter is forced to move in a fixed path due to the affixed barbell on the rails of the machine. With this sudden change of mechanics, the body may not be able to adjust properly thus causing an error in the technique leading to injury. 

Unremovable Bar

The barbell attached to the Smith machine is locked onto the rails deeming it impossible for it to be removed. Consequently, buying this machine for personal use may not be practical as the bar can not be used for any other activities that require it to be removed from the machine.

Final Thoughts

Smith machines provide a variety of workouts that target the back muscles. Furthermore, it may also serve as a piece of alternative equipment when the primary equipment for a specific workout is inaccessible. 

Although a Smith machine is a good idea for some people, it's not necessarily the most effective way to build the muscles of the back. it's possible that using a Smith machine could be harmful in some cases. Everyone should always consult with a professional before starting any new exercise program and make sure there are no underlying conditions that may affect their workout programs.

References

1. Ronai, Peter MS, CSCS-D, NSCA-CPT-D, CSPS; Scibek, Eric MS, ATC, CSCS. The Inverted Row. Strength and Conditioning Journal: August 2014 - Volume 36 - Issue 4 - p 94-97
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000070 

2. Ronai, Peter MS, RCEP, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D; Scibek, Eric MS, ATC, CSCS. The Pull-up. Strength and Conditioning Journal: June 2014 - Volume 36 - Issue 3 - p 88-90
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000052 

3. Wages NP, Beck TW, Ye X et al: Resting mechanomyographic amplitude for the erector spinae and trapezius muscles following resistance exercise in a healthy population. Physiol Meas 2013;34:1343-1350.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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