June 14, 2022 8 min read
The Smith Machine row is an upgraded take on a classic upper back exercise, the barbell row. The Smith machine offers enhanced stability throughout the row, allowing you to lift heavier weight and increase the size of your back muscles.
Rows with a barbell or dumbbell are foundational exercises for the back, and the Smith Machine bent over row makes it easy to maintain good form and target the upper back.
The Smith Machine row is most often performed in a bent over position. When someone refers to a Smith Machine row, it’s usually bent over. Bending over will allow you to properly extend your elbows behind your back, thus effectively engaging your lats.
Range of motion is critical in this exercise. Rows are a finicky exercise. Engagement of the lats and other back muscles can become comprised of improper technique or inappropriate weight.
The Smith Machine row should target the lats, triceps, traps, forearms, rhomboids, and glutes.
Although a row is considered an upper body exercise, glute activation will naturally occur because the starting position is just like the deadlift. The initial rep on your deadlift should resemble an overhand grip barbell row.
The Smith Machine row is a staple in bodybuilding because it offers tremendous benefits for upper back muscle isolation, but it should be considered a compound movement. The back muscles are your prime movers in the row, but you can’t get to your back muscles without first going through your arms.
The benefits of barbell and dumbbell rows don’t stop at the back. Your arms, back, core, and even your legs should all be engaged.
The Smith Machine row targets the upper back muscles rhomboids, trapezius muscles, and lats.
Rows are considered back exercises. If a row is done properly, there should be minimal bicep engagement in this exercise, making a bent over barbell row superior for back engagement, in contrast to high rows and mid rows on a machine or cable and bench.
The Smith Machine row also targets your arms.
There is no way around it. You have to use your arms and shoulders to get to your back muscles. Inevitably, your arms will be targeted as a secondary muscle group. This is a good thing! It doesn’t mean you’re doing this lat exercise incorrectly.
The Smith Machine bent over row, when done with proper form, should also engage the core musculature.
Your rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis should be activated during this lift. Abdominal bracing (imagine flexing your abs as if someone was about to punch your stomach and you knew it was coming) will help you engage your core without even thinking about it.
Finally, the Smith Machine bent over a row can help train your glutes and hamstrings.
Since the bent over row is essentially a deadlift stance, the posterior chain will inevitably be activated. The bent over row should not be considered a substantial glute training exercise, however. In this case, benefits for your hamstrings and glute with this exercise are more of a side effect, and not the goal.
A Smith Machine bent over row should effectively target your abs, arms, and back. Rows are considered primarily back exercises. Strengthening your back is important for muscle balance, visual appeal, and functional health.
The Smith Machine bent over row can be accomplished anywhere where there’s an available Smith Machine. In case there is no Smith Machine available to you, regular barbell rows will be covered later on in this blog.
The Smith Machine bent over row can be performed with an overhand or underhand grip.
To perform a Smith Machine Row (overhand grip):
In some cases, an underhanded, or supinated, grip might be even more appropriate for your next back and bicep day. The underhanded grip will naturally incorporate the biceps more than the overhand grip.
For this reason, an underhand grip for the Smith Machine bent over a row will feel easier. Adjusting the weight may be appropriate for this one.
How to perform a Smith Machine Row (underhand grip):
If no Smith Machine is available, or you're looking to recruit your stabilizer muscles more, these are some alternatives to the Smith Machine row.
The most obvious alternative to a bent over Smith machine row is a simple bent over row with a free-weighted barbell. The Smith Machine is like training wheels for this upper back exercise, and the bent over barbell row is no exception.
The movement is going to be similar to a Smith Machine row, but with greater emphasis on core stability and maintaining a neutral spine position.
To perform the bent over barbell row:
The single-arm dumbbell row is the easiest option for beginners. The single-arm dumbbell row is best accomplished with a bench of some sort.
This version of the row targets each lat individually. If you have a bench available and are willing to spend a little more time rowing, the single-arm dumbbell row is a good option.
To perform a single-arm dumbbell row:
Bent over rows is a finicky exercise in general, and the Smith Machine might feel awkward before you get used to it.
There are a few technique tips to help you keep your back engaged while performing this exercise:
The Smith Machine row is an integral part of any back day.
Rows can be accomplished with a variety of modalities, but the Smith Machine bent over row is arguably one of the most important foundational upper back exercises in bodybuilding.
Bent over rows can be successfully performed with an overhand or underhand grip. The Smith Machine version of the barbell row is an excellent tool for maintaining perfect form so that you can add more weight and crush your goals.
For more back exercise training tips, check out theExtreme Mass Building Back Workout for a Huge Back.