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September 06, 2022 11 min read

Many bodybuilders agree that the most critical groups of muscles are those in the back.  

Properly developed spinal erectors, lats and traps, along with muscular rear deltoids will make your physique stand out wherever you go.

Although some refer to the Smith Machine as “a thousand-dollar coat rack,” it is ideal in many ways for intermediate and advanced lifters in their training.

One significant benefit is that you can train without a spotter because the barbell is kept on a guided path, allowing heavy lifts without the usual risks of injuries. However, beginners should not use the machine without the presence of an experienced spotter.


The back muscles reach from just below your skull, extending across your shoulders, all the way down your back to the area just above your hips in your lower back. Your back muscles are attached to your neck, shoulder blades and vertebrae.

They include the following muscle groups:

  • Superficial:  Latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids and trapezius (traps).
  • Intermediate:  Serratus posterior superior, serratus posterior inferior and serratus anterior.
  • Intrinsic:  Erector spinae muscles


Before starting your killer back workout, take time to warm up. There’s no getting away from it, whether you like it or not, performing warm-up stretches before working out is crucial.

Dynamic stretches are likely your best option for injury prevention by loosening your muscles and opening up your joints. Furthermore, if you want to avoid crashing after an explosive workout – Amped-AF is your answer. It is the ultimate focus pre-workout that will give you maximum energy and enhanced focus.


Benefits:  Builds your biceps and develops your lower lats simultaneously.

Precautions: The reverse-grip row is one of the best Smith machine exercises for back strength. However, you should still ensure you initiate the rep with your back muscles to prevent your arms from taking over.

Follow these steps when you do the Reverse-Grip Row exercise:

  • Step 1: With the bar positioned at the level of your knees, use an underhand grip just outside your shoulder width.
  • Step 2: Your starting position should be with bent knees, hinged at the hips and chest pushed out to minimize the chances of spinal rounding.
  • Step 3: Lift the bar from the rack and row it into your lower abs with an explosive movement by pushing your elbows backward behind your torso.
  • Step 4: Hold it for a split second before lowering the bar by stretching your lats.
  • Step 5: Repeat 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

The reverse grip Smith Machine row is a unique exercise. 

It is one of the most effective of all the row variations for building muscle, and adding mass to your back — and sure to send you out for a bigger-sized t-shirt. As a bonus, the arms, including the biceps and triceps could benefit as a secondary muscle group.


Benefits: Improves bodyweight strength and adds significant mass to the lats and traps.

Pro Tip: Once this rowing exercise becomes too easy,  wearing a weighted vest can increase the resistance for an even more muscular back.

If you’ve ever wondered why calisthenics guys are so muscled, weighted-back exercises are one of the reasons.

Follow these steps when you do the Inverted Row exercise:

  • Step 1: The barbell must be set at a level that will have your shoulder blades suspended and off the floor when your arms are fully extended.
  • Step 2: Use a shoulder-width overhand grip to grab the bar. Tuck your elbows in at an angle of 45 degrees — don't flare them excessively.
  • Step 3:  Hold the bar centered over your mid-chest with your legs extended out in front of the machine. Make sure your spine is about neutral and your neck is not bent to allow your eyes to look straight up.
  • Step 4: Drive your elbows behind your torso to row your chest towards the bar.
  • Step 5:  Hold this contraction for a full second before slowly lowering yourself back down.
  • Step 6: Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 bodyweight reps before you add external resistance.

The Inverted Row Smith Machine exercise does for your traps what pull-ups do for your lats—likely the best exercise existing for back thickness.


Benefits:  The Smith Machine Bent-Over Row thickens up your traps incredibly without putting strain on your spinal erectors.

Precaution: If you row barehanded, you could overstrain your traps and lats. Some prefer to wear grip gloves or even straps to support their forearms and prevent harming back development.

Follow these steps when you do the Bent-Over Row exercise:

  • Step 1: Set the bar to mid-thigh level and grab it with an overhand grip, just outside shoulder-width.
  • Step 2: Bend your knees slightly and a hip thrust back so that your torso forms a 45-degree angle. Make sure that your spine is neutral and that your chest is puffed out.
  • Step 3:  Row the bar into your mid-abs by driving your elbows behind your torso.
  • Step 4: Hold the contraction for a split second and then lower the bar under control by stretching your back muscles. Your elbows should reach full extension at the end of the rep.
  • Step 5: Repeat for 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps.

For those wanting to isolate their back for serious growth, the bent-over smith machine row is a fantastic option.

This is because the machine helps to stabilize the bar path so instead of wasting valuable energy on stabilizing the barbell, the Smith Machine can handle the balancing part of the rep. That gives you the opportunity to grow your back quicker.

Steel Supplements Smith Machine Grip Straps Image from shutterstock


Benefits: Reduces muscle imbalances and improves back symmetry. It's regarded as one of the greatest Smith Machine lat exercises of all time.

Precaution:  This is a unilateral row that lets you lift heavier weights than with any other back exercise. Therefore, you might want to use grip gloves or at least a good pair of lifting straps to strengthen your grip and avoid limiting back development.

Follow these steps when you do the Single-Arm Row exercise:

  • Step 1: Set the bar to a level slightly below knee height. Your starting position should be side-on to the barbell, outside the Smith Machine.
  • Step 2: With your torso bent over about 45 degrees, assume a staggered stance. With your eyes looking straight ahead, and your chest up, stand with a straight spine.
  • Step 3:  While holding on to the Smith Machine’s frame with one hand for support, lunge and grab the bar with a neutral grip.
  • Step 4: Lift the bar from the rack with fully extended elbows, thereby allowing the weight to stretch your back muscles.
  • Step 5: Row the bar, letting your elbow move just past your torso, and then holding the contraction for one second. Now, with the weight once again stretching your lats, lower the bar back down.
  • Step 6: Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

The Single-Arm Smith Machine row has earned the name “Smith machine dumbbell row.” Being a unilateral back exercise, it evens out muscle imbalances. 

Moreover, if you don’t have access to extremely heavy dumbbells at your “gym,” the Smith Machine could be your answer, and as a bonus, the arms, including biceps and triceps will benefit as a secondary muscle group.


Benefits: Creates a more impressive physical appearance by adding height to your upper traps.

Precaution: Your grip can never keep up with your powerful trap muscles. Therefore, wearing grip gloves or even straps during shrug exercises might be a good idea.

Follow these steps when you do Shrug exercises on the Smith Machine:

  • Step 1: For this exercise, you should use an overhand shoulder-wide grip to grab the bar, which must be at mid-thigh level.
  • Step 2: Fully extend your elbows to grip the bar and un-rack it so that the bar stretches your traps.
  • Step 3:  Next, squeeze your traps as hard as possible, while you shrug your shoulder blades up. Now, you can control the bar as you lower it until your elbows reach full extension to finish the rep.
  • Shrugs work at any rep range, so you can repeat anything from 6 to 20 reps.

It is quite easy to focus purely on the endless range of row exercises when you're performing back exercises on Smith Machine systems.

However,  while rows are perfect for thickening your back, they can never add height to your upper traps as the Smith Machine shrugs can.

Steel Supplements Smith Machine Man Back Muscles Image from shutterstock


Benefits: Reduces the risks of shoulder injuries by strengthening your rotator cuffs and rear delts.

Follow these steps when you do the Face Pull exercise:

  • Step 1:  With your elbows flared out at about 90 degrees, grab the bar’s end with a single-arm overhand grip while standing at the side of the Smith Machine.
  • Step 2: Lean your torso back while shuffling your feet out in front of you so that the resistance goes through your traps, lats, and rear deltoids.
  • Step 3:  Drive your elbows behind your torso while you row your chest and upper body toward the bar. Hold the contraction for one or two seconds, before lowering your body back into the stretched position.
  • Step 4: Repeat 3 sets, each with as many reps as possible

You can also perform the Smith Machine  Face Pull exercise in a squat rack.

This exercise works your rear delts heavily, making it excellent for building proportional shoulders.


Benefits: The most reliable back exercise to add width to your lats.

Pro Tip: If you want to strengthen your pull-up skills you might want to avoid using grip gloves or straps. They are encouraged for bodybuilding, but not for building bodyweight strength. 

Wearing gloves will prevent you from getting your grip accustomed to heavy lifting. As always, using chalk remains a good idea to prevent your hands from slipping.

Follow these steps when you perform pull-ups:

This will show you how to make use of the barbell's adjustability to perform assisted pull-ups.

  • Step 1:  To figure out the perfect position for the barbell, you should raise your hands while you are in a squat position — similar to when you perform an overhead squat. The barbell must be placed at the height of your fingertips.
  • Step 2: Use an overhand shoulder-wide grip to grab the bar, and make sure you feel the stretch in your lats.
  • Step 3:  Slightly squeeze your shoulder blades together to retract your scapula. Furthermore, puff your chest out to arch your thoracic spine (upper back).
  • Step 4: Place your feet out in front of you. The further you push your feet away, the harder the exercise will be because of the effect it has on your center of gravity.
  • Step 5: Drive your elbows down to the ground and flex your lats to pull your chest toward the bar.
  • Step 6: Pull your bodyweight up as high as you can before slowly lowering yourself.
  • Step 7: Repeat for as many reps as possible.

If you have never regarded pull-ups as part of your back exercise routine using a Smith Machine system, you might want to consider it. 

If you realize how significantly it could improve your v-taper, you will likely want to make sure it becomes a staple in your back workout.

You can, of course, simply use the Smith machine barbell as a standard pull-up bar.


Benefits: Supercharges full-body strength.

Pro Tip: You can reduce the bar’s travel distance by doing the Deadlift barefoot (if it is allowed in your gym) or in flat shoes like Converse.

Follow these steps when you do the deadlift:

  • Step 1:  Start the deadlift by placing the barbell on the lowest hook. Stand with a hip-width stance close enough next to the Smith Machine for your shin hairs to touch the bar.
  • Step 2: Lunge your hips back all the way, but keep your upper body and chest up. Get lower to the ground by bending your knees slightly without actually squatting. Remember to allow no more than minimal knee-bend because the deadlift is a hip hinge.
  • Step 3:  With a close grip placing your hands just outside your shins, grab the bar as if you are performing the lats push-down’s bottom part. Keep your spine rigid by activation of your lats.
  • Step 4: While taking a deep breath, brace your core against your lifting belt. Push your feet into the ground and pull the bar up to knee height. Now push your chest up and back while making a hip thrust forward.
  • Step 5: Contract your glutes to finish the rep. Then, bring your hips back and bend your knees as you lower the bar.
  • Step 6: Perform 3 sets of 1-5 reps for strength or 3 sets of 5-10 reps for size.

Most people believe the deadlift can only be done with a free-weight barbell. That makes the Smith Machine Deadlift controversial. 

Even if they are right, it takes nothing away from the fact that this variation of the deadlift is said to be one of the best back thickeners of all time. 

You can also  strengthen your quads and hamstrings as a secondary muscle group.


Benefits: Makes your lower back look thicker by strengthening the  spinal erectors.

Pro Tip:  When doing back extensions on the Smith Machine, think of your hams and glutes as stabilizers instead of prime movers. It is quite normal to feel a fair amount of glute and ham involvement in this exercise, but if you actively round your lower back, your spinal erectors will take most of the tension.

Follow these steps when you do the Back Extension exercise:

  • Step 1:  Center a thick pad on the barbell and set the bar to mid-thigh level.
  • Step 2: Rest your thighs against the thick pad and stand a few inches away from the bar while holding a weight plate for resistance.
  • Step 3:  Get your back completely flat by bending at your waist while maintaining a neutral spine. Make sure to stretch your spinal erectors by slightly rounding your lower back.
  • Step 4: Contract your lower back to come back up.
  • Step 5: Repeat for 10-20 reps.

If you do like many pump-obsessed bodybuilders who skip lower back training, you might also fail to get the “Christmas tree look” for your spinal erectors. 

The Smith Machine back extension exercise is one of the most effective back exercises because its entire focus is on the spinal erectors.


Benefits: Builds bigger traps and a stronger deadlift lockout.

Pro Tip: When doing Rack Pull exercises on the Smith Machine, you might want to use straps because no other exercise lets you lift as heavy as rack pulls do. If you don’t train your grip directly, your forearms might sacrifice your trap development by giving out prematurely.

Follow these steps when you do the Rack Pull exercise:

  • Step 1:  Set the safety stoppers just below your kneecaps.
  • Step 2: Use a double overhand grip to grab the bar while at a hip-width stance. Don’t look down and don’t round your back. Keep your gaze straight ahead and your spine straight.
  • Step 3:  Lunge your hips forcefully forward and pull your chest up as you explode up with the bar. Ensure that the bar is as close as possible to your body throughout the entire movement.
  • Step 4: Lock out the rep by squeezing your traps and lowering the bar onto the safety stoppers under control.
  • Step 5: Repeat for anywhere between 3-10 reps (fewer reps to maximize strength and more reps for size).

The rack pull is especially effective for growing your upper traps, and the go-to exercise whether you perform your back workouts with free weights or on a Smith Machine.

If your gym doesn't have a power rack, why not give the Smith Machine rack pull a try? 

This mass-building back exercise overloads the traps with more resistance than any other movement.


Many bodybuilders agree that the most critical groups of muscles are those in the back.

Properly developed spinal erectors, lats and traps, along with muscular rear delts will make your physique stand out wherever you go.

And one of the best routes to perfection is the Smith Machine back workout routine. If you don’t have access to a Smith Machine, most of these  exercises can be modified using dumbbells to fit your lifestyle and fitness level.

On a final note – remember to replenish muscle glycogen and electrolytes depleted from intense bursts of energy during your killer workout. 

HyperAde is a fast-absorbing non-stimulant electrolyte glycogen supplement that will quickly replenish carbs, electrolytes, and amino acids while improving endurance.