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Smith Machine Bench Press: Is It Right for You?

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a male model is doing bench press on smith machine_Smith Machine Bench Press
David J. Sautter post Reviewer David J. Sautter post Reviewer
Verified by David J. Sautter
NASM Personal Trainer, NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Sports Conditioning Specialist, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist

Table of Contents

If you are looking to grow your pecs, then the smith machine bench press is the right addition to your chest workout, especially if you are not keen on working out using free weights. 

This article will discuss which muscles you can target with this exercise, how to perform it, how it can benefit you, and its different variations.

Is Smith Machine Bench Press Effective?

First, let’s talk about what a smith machine is and how it works.

The smith machine bench press is the assisted equivalent of a barbell bench press. The bar is attached to the rack and slides up and down, which keeps it in place and enables you to lift weights more efficiently. 

Because of its design, the smith machine allows you to perform heavier lifts without the need for a spotter behind you. 

The bench press on a smith machine is ideal for beginners, but anyone can do it and see progress in strength and muscle size if they perform it consistently and utilize the system of progressive overload. 

Doing the bench press exercise on the smith machine allows you to lift heavier as it takes away the extra work required to stabilize the bar, and hence it can also help more experienced lifters who have hit a plateau in their training.

Smith Machine Bench Press vs. Regular Bench Press

If you compare the bench press on the smith machine versus the bench press with a traditional barbell, the first thing that stands out is the perceived weight difference during the execution of the exercise. 

Starting Weight

Olympic barbells, those that you find in most commercial gyms, usually weigh 45 pounds. The smith machine takes off between 10 and 20 pounds worth of weight. 

Bar Path

Furthermore, the smith machine allows you to perform an assisted version of the bench press, as the smith machine rack is designed to make the weight slide on a vertical stand, which removes the need to stabilize the bar to perform controlled reps. [1]


The smith machine also provides locking pins as well as safety spotter arms that stop the bar in case of a failed rep, taking away the need for a spotter when lifting very heavy. [1]

Weight Load You Can Use

Due to the lower perceived weight, the increased safety provided by the safety pins, and the lack of need to stabilize the bar, the smith machine allows you to lift heavier loads than the regular barbell bench press.

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Smith Machine Bench Press: Muscles Worked

a male model with muscles worked during smith machine bench press worked

The smith machine bench press is a compound exercise that works the chest and arms muscles, which primarily include the pectoralis major and the anterior deltoids, and, to a lesser extent, the triceps brachii, just like its more traditional counterpart performed with a barbell. 

However, due to the design of the smith machine rack, the stabilizing muscles are less engaged as less muscular assistance is required when performing this move. These include the posterior deltoids, the back muscles, the biceps, and the core muscles. [2] 

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Setup & Technique

Before getting onto the proper execution of the bench press at the smith machine, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration about the rack arrangement.

Here you can find the main precautions for a suitable smith machine setup:

  • Place the bench flat in the middle of the smith machine and place the bar in a way that you need to extend your arms to un-rack it
  • Set the safety spotter arms so that you can stay safe when lifting weights, especially if doing it without a spotter. This means placing the safety pins at a point slightly above chest level
  • If using a straight track, simply place the bench underneath the bar in a way that it is in line with your nipple line, and your arms and wrists move comfortably when unracking the bar
  • If using an angled track, ideally, you should place the bench in a way that when you lift the weight, the arms are not moving away from your face. This can be achieved by lining the bar with your middle-upper chest before unracking it.

Below, we provide a step-by-step guide for the correct execution of the bench press on the smith machine. 

If you want to grow your chest, you should combine this exercise with others that target the same areas. Use a workout app to design targeted chest workouts and see your progress as you get stronger. 

Smith Machine Bench Press: Technique

a male model is performing smith machine bench press

Here’s how to perform the exercise.

  1. Ensure you’ve set up the station correctly.
  2. Lie on the bench with the chest aligned with the bar.
  3. Extend your arms to reach the bar and grip it with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Lightly press the bar to take it off the rack.
  5. Bend the elbows to bring the bar to your chest.
  6. Once you reach your chest, or once you are just a few centimeters away from it, push through your chest to move the bar up to the starting position. This is one repetition.

Smith Machine Bench Press Variations

Below, you can find a few variations of this exercise to provide yourself with variety and challenge.

Incline Smith Machine Bench Press

a male model is performing incline smith machine bench press

This variation involves using an inclined bench, which allows for targeting the upper pectorals and the anterior deltoids. Positioning the inclined bench leads to lifting less heavy than the regular version, but it can be a great way to isolate the inner chest. [3] [4]

Decline Smith Machine Bench Press

a male model is performing decline smith machine bench press

Opposite to the inclined version, we find the declined one, where the bench is lowered down. This variation enables you to target the lower part of the pectoral muscles and the triceps while reducing the impact on your back and shoulders. [3] 

Grip Variations

You can also spice up your smith machine bench press by implementing different grips, depending on what you are aiming to work on.

  • Close Grip: This variation targets the triceps more by placing the hands closer to each other. [3]
  • Wide Grip: Placing your hands wider than shoulder width allows you to target the lower pectoral muscles more, enabling you to lift heavier loads.
  • Reverse Grip: In this variation, the palms are placed facing backward. Using the reverse grip will take away some load from the shoulders and engage the triceps more. 

Benefits & Drawbacks Of Bench Press On Smith Machine

This section outlines the benefits and drawbacks of performing the bench press exercise at the smith machine. 


  • Lift heavier weights and break through plateaus
  • Removes the need to have a spotter in most cases
  • Lower risk of incurring injuries


  • Reduced proprioception due to the fixed motion of the bar
  • Lower muscle activation and decreased engagement of stabilizing muscles
  • Longer set-up times, especially if using an angled track

Common Mistakes

The smith machine is a great piece of equipment. However, its use can be somewhat technical and can lead to some use mistakes. Below we outline the main ones.

Not Keeping Your Feet On The Floor

Your feet should be placed flat on the floor, as this increases stabilization during the lift. Keeping contact with the floor also helps you exert more force when pressing the weights. 

Keeping The Elbows Parallel To Your Shoulders

This can add unwanted stress to the shoulder joint. Instead, position your arms to create a 45-degree angle between your elbows and your ribcage so as to lift heavier and decrease the likelihood of strains. 

Keeping Your Back Flat

Bench press while keeping a flat back is not wrong within itself. However, it can decrease the amount of weight lifted. If you want to lift heavier, arching your back will decrease the range of motion and enable you to sustain greater loads. [5]

Wrapping Up

Bench pressing at the smith machine can significantly aid your chest workout, even if you choose fast workout programs. Below, we outline the key points of this exercise:

  • Bench pressing at the smith machine allows you to lift heavier than the regular version with a barbell and removes the need to have a spotter.
  • Both beginners and more advanced lifters can benefit from the smith machine bench press, especially when they need to break through a training plateau.
  • The main muscles worked with this variation are the pectoralis major, the anterior deltoids, and, to some extent, the triceps.
  • Make sure you position yourself correctly under the bar, especially if using an angled track.
  • Once the station has been set up, always remember to set the safety spotter arms for extra safety.
  • Use different bench inclinations to target different parts of the pectoral muscles.
  • Use different grips to solicit more or less strain on the shoulders and the triceps.
  • To lift heavier and injury-free, ensure to keep your feet well-grounded on the floor, arch your back, and create a 45-degree angle between your elbows and your ribs.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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