Deadlifts are one of the most popular (and badass) exercises of all time. There is something inherently sexy about lifting heavy stuff off the floor and being able to do that multiple times.
It goes without saying that an individual that can deadlift heavy weights is strong as a bull. Plus, they low-key have the respect of everyone around them.
However, barbell deadlifts are an advanced exercise and have a steep learning curve attached to them. Deadlifting with an incorrect form can lead to injuries and keep you out of the gym for an extended period.
Enter the Smith machine deadlift. The exercise is great for beginners, lifters who do not have access to a deadlift area in their gym, folks who train during rush hours, or people who train at gyms that do not permit using free-weight barbells for deadlifts like Planet Fitness.
The deadlift variation involves performing the lift on a Smith machine. Although the Smith machine deadlift is a compound (multi-joint) exercise, it reduces the risk of injury by limiting the moving parts involved.
Unlike the conventional barbell deadlift, the deadlift on a Smith machine follows a fixed movement path, making the exercise easier on your core stabilizers.
In this article, you’ll learn the correct way of performing the Smith machine deadlift, its benefits, target muscles, common mistakes, and the best variations and alternatives.
In This Exercise:
The Smith machine deadlift is a functional exercise and works the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, erector spinae, trapezius, rhomboids, abdominals, and forearms.
Notably, Smith machines come in different shapes and sizes, and using different versions can work your muscles differently. For example, performing the lift on a non-angled Smith machine will primarily target your lower back, and using an angled Smith machine can put more emphasis on your mid and upper back.
How To Deadlift on a Smith Machine
This is how to perform the Smith machine deadlift:
- Unlatch the Smith machine barbell, set it on the floor or the lowest setting, and load it with an appropriate weight.
- Stand upright in front of the bar with a shoulder wide stance so that your shins touch it.
- Your feet should be pointed forward and parallel to each other or at a slight angle, whichever feels comfortable.
- Bend over and grab the barbell with an overhand or mixed grip just outside shoulder width.
- Get into the starting position by dropping your hips and lowering yourself towards the floor.
- Make sure you maintain a neutral spine. Your torso, neck, and head will remain in a straight line throughout the movement.
- While pushing through your heels, extend at your knees to stand up straight.
- As the bar rises above your knees, thrust your hips forward.
- Pause at the top and contract your back by bringing your shoulder blades together.
- Return to the starting position by lowering the bar to the starting position by hinging at your hips and bending your knees.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
- You could use lifting straps to lift heavier and get the most out of the exercise. However, make sure you’re not compromising on your form.
- If you are performing the exercise on an angled bar, face the machine with the angled bar path coming towards your face rather than away. Standing on the other side will cause the bar to drift away from you, putting unnecessary stress on your lower back.
- Make sure you do not round your back while performing the exercise.
- Focus on standing up while holding onto the barbell and not pulling the barbell off the floor by hinging at your hips. The latter will result in a greater lower back recruitment.
- If the Smith machine bar doesn’t go all the way down to the floor, you can stand on weight plates or an elevated platform to make up for the deficit.
The most common mistakes people make while performing the Smith machine deadlift include:
1. Arching or Rounding Your Back
These two are arguably the most common mistakes people make while deadlifting. You need to ensure you maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.
Many people like to overextend their back at the top and hold it for a few seconds. However, it can put your lower back under unnecessary stress and increase the odds of injury.
On the other hand, most people end up rounding their back and shoulders while lifting the bar off the floor. If you find yourself making any of these mistakes, lower the weight on the bar and try again, adhering to the steps mentioned above.
2. Leading with Your Hips
While performing a deadlift, some people lead with their hips, meaning they lift their hips before extending at their knees and driving through the heels.
During a Smith machine deadlift, you need to lead with your head. Focus on standing up while holding onto the bar and not lifting the bar off the floor by hinging at your hips.
If you’re unsure if you make this mistake, ask a spotter to notice your form or film yourself while performing the exercise.
3. Standing on the Wrong End
This issue is unique to the Smith machine variations of the deadlift, especially the angled machines. Standing on the wrong end will lead the bar away from you as you pull the barbell towards the top, putting unnecessary tension on your lower back. If you’re using an angled Smith machine, the bar should move towards you as you lift it.
Although it doesn’t matter which end you stand on while using a non-angled Smith machine, the bar should be unlatched and placed at its lowest setting before beginning the exercise.
4. Shrugging the Bar
Do you want to know a well-guarded secret of lifting heavier instantly without additional equipment or “tools?” Limit the exercise’s range of motion.
Many people let their egos take over and shrug their shoulders to lift the bar off the floor while performing the Smith machine deadlift. On the other hand, some folks bend their elbows and do not lock out their knees at the top to make movement easier.
5. Bouncing the Bar off the Safety Catches
If a lifter is banging weights too hard or grunting like a bear going into labor, they are probably ego lifting. Many folks load the bar with more weight than they can handle and use momentum by bouncing the bar off the safety catches to complete recommended number of reps.
They are not only leaving gains on the table by jerking the barbell but are also putting themselves at a higher risk of injury. You need to ensure that you are in total control of the weight while performing the lift.
6. Standing Too Far Away From the Bar
If your shins are not touching the Smith machine barbell at the bottom of the movement or if you’re standing too far away from it, you are putting your lower back under unnecessary stress.
Benefits of Smith Machine Deadlift
These are the benefits of adding the Smith machine deadlift to your exercise arsenal:
1. Great for People with Limited Mobility
Mobility is one of the most underrated aspects of performing a deadlift. If you have stiff lower back, hamstrings, glutes, quads, or lower legs, you’ll have a hard time pulling the conventional barbell deadlift.
However, since you can adjust the range of motion (ROM) of a Smith machine deadlift by adjusting the safety catches, you can add it to your training regimen and improve your flexibility and mobility. Plus, the option to limit the ROM makes it a great fit for people recovering from an injury.
2. Good for Beginners
The conventional barbell deadlift involves several moving pieces, which can make the movement overwhelming for a newbie. However, since the Smith machine deadlift has a set path of motion and does not require the same core engagement as the traditional variation, it is easier to master.
3. Builds Muscle Mass and Strength
The deadlift is one of the three big powerlifting moves. It is known for its strength and muscle-building capabilities.
If your goal is to build muscle mass, you should prioritize achieving muscle hypertrophy by performing eight to 12 reps in a set. On the other hand, you can focus on building strength by performing three to five reps per set.
4. Boosts Natural Testosterone Levels
Per a study, compound exercises like the deadlift can help boost your natural testosterone levels. 
Testosterone is the male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. It plays a key role in the development of male reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics such as increased muscle and bone mass and body hair growth.
Smith Machine Deadlift Variations and Alternatives
Here are a few Smith machine deadlift variations worth trying:
1. Sumo Smith Machine Deadlift
Sumo Smith machine deadlift variation is similar to the conventional Smith machine deadlift, the only difference being your foot placement. In a Sumo Smith machine deadlift, you stand with a wider-than shoulder-width stance, with your feet pointing outwards.
2. Deficit Smith Machine Deadlift
Using an elevated platform on a Smith Machine deadlift can bring the barbell closer to your feet at the starting position. It leads to an increased range of motion and greater muscle recruitment.
3. Smith Machine Romanian Deadlift
- Stand in front of a Smith machine bar stacked at waist height with a shoulder-width stance.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside your thighs.
- Unlatch the bar and stand upright with the bar resting against your quads.
- Push your hips back, and bend your knees slightly to lower the bar until it is in front of your lower legs.
- Keep your back flat as you lower the bar just past your knees.
- Squeeze your hamstrings and drive your hips forward to raise the bar to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
4. Smith Machine Rack Pull
Smith machine rack pull is a great deadlift alternative, especially if your goal is to focus on your upper and middle back.
- Set the safety catches to just below knee height.
- Stand in front of the bar with a hip-width stance.
- Grab the bar with a double overhand grip just outside your thighs.
- Pull the bar up by simultaneously driving your hips forwards and pushing your chest up. Keep the bar as close to your body as possible throughout the exercise.
- Finish the rep by squeezing your glutes and upper back.
- Lower the weight with a slow and controlled motion.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
5. Good Mornings
- Set the Smith machine bar to armpit height.
- Set the safety catches to waist height.
- Assume a hip-width stance, bend your knees slightly and place the barbell across your rear delts.
- Lower your torso towards the floor by slowly driving your hips backward until your back is almost parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position by thrusting your hips forwards.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
Read our detailed guide on Good Mornings.
The Smith machine deadlift can be an incredibly effective exercise for beginners learning the basics of the compound lift, people with a limited range of motion, or folks who don’t have excess to a barbell at their gym.
However, while the Smith machine deadlift is a great exercise, you shouldn’t omit the conventional barbell deadlift from your training routine. The orthodox deadlift is one of the best ways to build muscle mass, strength, and functionality.
- Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Sports Med. 2005;35(4):339-61. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200535040-00004. PMID: 15831061.