Smith Machine Shoulder Press: Muscles Worked, How To Do and Proper Form

Do you want to learn about some of the best shoulder press exercises using the Smith machine that will make your shoulder stronger and look better?

Then, you should include the best Smith machine overhead shoulder presses in your shoulder workout routine. It will help build stronger muscles that make your shoulders bigger and fuller.

The Smith machine allows you to safely move serious weight and smash through shoulder growth plateaus.

This article will teach you everything you need to know about correctly performing the Smith overhead shoulder press.

You will also learn its benefits, its best variations, and how to do them. You will also learn some of the best alternatives to it.

Shoulder Muscles Anatomy

In fitness, “shoulder exercises” refer to resistance exercises that target the deltoid muscle.

The deltoid is the superficial muscle that forms the rounded contour of your shoulder. The Deltoid is technically a single muscle, but anatomically speaking it has three distinct sets of muscle fibers and muscle bellies, which are referred to as “heads.”

The deltoid muscle of the shoulder consists of three separate sections or heads.


What is The Smith Machine Overhead Shoulder Press

The Smith machine shoulder Press is a strength training exercise that targets the shoulder muscles, primarily the deltoids, along with the triceps and upper back muscles.

It is performed using the Smith Machine, a piece of gym equipment consisting of a barbell fixed within steel rails, allowing for vertical movement.

The bar path is fixed, so the machine stabilizes the weight and reduces the need for extra balance and stabilization from smaller muscle groups.

The Smith machine helps beginners learn how to move their shoulders by giving them a wide range of motion. It helps make the shoulders stronger and bigger.

It is specifically the front part of the shoulder (anterior deltoid), but you will also use some lateral delt and traps.

Some lifters prefer Smith presses over barbell presses for extra shoulder joint safety, promoting heavier lifts. Not only that, but it is a popular shoulder exercise for bodybuilders because it helps to build muscle quickly.

Smith Machine Shoulder Press

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

The Smith machine shoulder press primarily targets the shoulder muscles, also known as the deltoids. When performed with proper technique, it works all three heads of the delts:

In addition to the shoulder muscles, the Smith press also activates these secondary muscle groups:

  • Triceps Brachii: Assist pressing motion and elbow extension.
  • Upper Chest: Helps press barbell overhead.
  • Trapezius: Provides neck and shoulder stability during overhead presses.

A handful of other muscles worked or play the role of stabilizer muscles during overhead standing smith machine press, including you,

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

How To Do Smith Machine Seated Shoulder Press

  1. Place a flat or adjustable bench beneath the Smith Machine. If the bench is adjustable, set it to an upright position.
  2. Sit on the bench with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
  3. Your head and neck should be neutral, and your back should be against the bench’s backrest.
  4. Place both hands on the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from your body), slightly wider than your shoulders.
  5. Lift the barbell off the rack by rotating your wrists to unlock it.
  6. Slowly lower the barbell down towards your shoulders. Keep your elbows pointed out to the sides, not forward.
  7. Lower the bar until it’s slightly above or touching the top of your shoulders.
  8. Press the bar back up to the starting position, extending your arms fully but not locking your elbows.
  9. Perform the desired number of repetitions and sets according to your workout plan.
  10. After completing a set, safely lock the bar back onto the rack.
Smith Machine Seated Shoulder Press

Training Volume To Build Mass and Strength

The number of reps you should do depends on your goals, whether they are to increase strength or build muscle mass and endurance.

  • For muscle growth, it is best to do around 6–12 reps per set.
  • For strength, around 3–8 reps per set are recommended.
  • To build Muscle Endurance, do 15-20+ reps per set.

Here are some general guidelines for the Smith machine press exercise, including sets, reps, and frequency, to enhance muscle mass.

Sets and Reps to Build Muscle Mass

  • Beginners: Lightweight, 3 Sets, 12–15 repetitions, 60–90 seconds rest in between sets.  
  • Intermediate: Light to Medium Weight, 4 sets, 8–12 repetitions, 45–60 seconds rest in between sets.
  • Advance: Medium to Heavy Weight, 4 sets, 8–12 repetitions, 30–45 seconds rest in between sets.

Proper Form and Tips

  • Perform a warm-up with 50% weight for 1–2 sets.
  • If you are new to the exercise, you can start with a lighter weight.
  • Make sure your grip is firm, and your wrists are straight.
  • The bar should be aligned with your shoulders, not too far forward or back.
  • Your elbows should point slightly forward, not directly to the sides.
  • Don’t arch back or overextend — keep an upright spinal alignment.
  • Avoid flaring elbows too far out. Keep upper arm by ears.
  • Avoid letting the bar drop quickly, which can shake up the muscles and joints.
  • Avoid locking your elbows at the top of the movement to maintain tension on the shoulder muscles.
  • Keep your movements controlled, especially when lowering the bar.
  • Inhale as you lower the bar towards your shoulders. Exhale as you press the bar upwards.
  • Ensure the barbell on the Smith Machine is set at a height that you can comfortably reach when seated.
  • Always perform the Shoulder exercises before you perform the triceps workout.
  • Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. A grip that is too narrow can overly stress your triceps, and a grip that is too wide can strain your shoulder joints.
  • Cool down after doing this exercise to help your muscles recover.

Benefit Of Doing Shoulder Press With Smith Machine

The shoulder press can help you build bigger and stronger shoulders, which is important for a stronger and healthier upper body.  

A Smith machine shoulder press workout has many potential benefits. Below are some of the most common reasons why you should use the Smith machine during the deltoid workout.

1. Stability and Safety

The Smith Machine provides greater stability than free weights due to the fixed path of the barbell.

This can be very helpful for new people who don’t know how to do shoulder presses. It also reduces the risk of injury due to loss of control, which can happen with dumbbells or a free barbell.

2. Effective Isolate Shoulder Muscles

Smith machines’ presses are very effective at isolating the front, lateral, and rear deltoid due to the ability to change body position and not worry about stabilization. 

This can lead to more effective muscle isolation and growth in the target areas.

3. Consistent Overload

The Smith Machine allows for precise control over the weight being lifted, making it easier to overload the muscles progressively. This is a key part of growing muscles and getting stronger.

4. Better for Training Alone

The catch bars on either side of the Smith machine serve as a safeguard in the event of failure on a rep.

Smith machines have a catch system, so you don’t need a spotter. This catch system can be used as a replacement for a spotter. You can safely rack and unrack the weight without assistance.

Shoulder Press With Smith Machine

5. Build Shoulder Mass and Strength

When performed properly, the Smith machine shoulder press can be safer than the standard shoulder press because you have the added support of the secured bar.

Smith machines remove much of the need to stabilize. For experienced lifters, this means more weight or volume, and therefore, more significant gains. 

6. Improved Safety

The ability of a lifter to concentrate on form and the catch system reduces the likelihood of injuries. Of course, this does not mean there is a zero percent chance of injury. Good technique and form are essential for any exercise. 

Smith Machine Shoulder Press Variations

If you’re tired of doing shoulder presses on the Smith Machine, or you want to add some variety to your next upper body workout, the shoulder press can be done in many ways, each with its benefits.  

1. Standing Smith Machine Shoulder Press

The Smith Machine standing overhead press is a compound exercise that effectively builds size for the entire shoulder complex and also helps strengthen the core muscles.

Standing up while doing the press requires more work from your core and stabilizer muscles to stay balanced and in control.

It is a safer alternative to the traditional standing shoulder press because you do not have to stabilize the weight as much.

Standing Smith Machine Shoulder Press

How To Do Smith Machine Standing Shoulder Press

  1. Stand in the Smith Machine with feet shoulder-width apart for stability.
  2. Stand under the bar and use a pronated grip that is a little wider than the shoulder width.
  3. Begin with the bar at about the height of your upper chest.
  4. Unhook the bar from the rail by turning it.
  5. Exhale as you press the bar straight up overhead until your arms are fully extended but not locked out.
  6. Inhale as you reverse the motion and slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
  7. Do 2–3 sets and 10–12 reps.

Proper Form and Tips

  • Don’t look up; keep your body still and your head facing forward
  • To help you lift the bar upward, keep your wrists straight and above your elbows.
  • Always wrap your thumbs around the bar to achieve a secure grip.

2. Seated Smith Machine Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

The standard military press and the overhead dumbbell presses hit more of the anterior head of the deltoid, which is often stimulated a lot even during the bench press.

However, the behind-the-neck press stimulates all three heads of the shoulder. And It also recruits the triceps, traps, and rhomboids.

The seated behind-the-neck shoulder press with the Smith machine is not recommended for beginners. The reason is that if you put too much weight behind your neck, your shoulder joint may get hurt.

If you don’t have a lot of shoulder mobility, these exercises are not recommended.

Seated Smith Machine Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

How To Do Smith Machine Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

  1. Position the bench in the Smith Machine so that the bar is directly above or slightly behind your head when you sit.
  2. Set the Smith machine bar to the height of your shoulders when you sit on the bench.
  3. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Unrack the bar and press it behind your head until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second and lower the barbell back down to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Proper Form and Tips

  • Don’t bounce the bar off your neck. Perform the exercise in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Pull your scapula back before you start this motion to give your shoulders some support and room to move.
  • Perform a warm-up with 50% weight for 1–2 sets.
  • Keep your elbows flared out, aligning with the shoulders or slightly behind.

3. Standing Smith Machine Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

The behind-the-neck press is an exercise that has slowly gained a bad reputation. It’s an exercise that can hurt your shoulders if done wrong and put you in a vulnerable position.

But if you do it right, it can be a workout that uses many of the muscle fibers in your deltoids.

The main benefits of the standing smith press variation include increased abdominal activation and the ability to remove weight without a spotter.

Standing Smith Machine Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

How To Do Standing Smith Machine Behind The Neck Shoulder Press

  1. Set the Smith machine bar to a few inches above head height.
  2. Use a pronated grip that is slightly wider than the shoulder width to hold the bar.
  3. Unhook the bar from the rail by turning it.
  4. Exhale as you press the bar straight up overhead until your arms are fully extended but not locked out.
  5. Inhale as you reverse the motion and slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Proper Form and Tips

  • Don’t let your head drop too far forward as you lower the barbell.
  • Perform the exercise in a slow and controlled manner.

Best Alternatives Of Smith Machine Overhead Press

Before we dive deep into the best Smith machine shoulder press alternatives, We must remember that a good Smith press alternative will be able to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Activate the deltoid muscle groups trained in the Smith overhead press.
  • Isolate the muscle groups during execution.
  • Train the shoulder muscle through a longer range of motion.

1. Military Press AKA Overhead Press

If you’re seeking a straightforward alternative to the Smith shoulder press to add to your routine, then the overhead press is a great option.

The military press is used primarily to build the deltoid muscle. It also indirectly targets the other muscles of the shoulder, your triceps, and your core.

Since the military press is completed standing up, it involves a lot of core strength to help stabilize the spine.

2. Arnold Shoulder Press

The Arnold Shoulder Press is an excellent shoulder exercise for muscle building. It stands out among the other compound shoulder exercises with the optimal range of motion for strengthening shoulder muscles.

It gives a wide range of motion as you lower the dumbbells well down in front, giving that maximum stretch that other shoulder exercises lack.

3. Cable Shoulder Press

If a cable setup is available, you should try the cable shoulder press as an alternative to the standing Smith machine press to build size and strength.

Even though you might not see many people using the cable machine for shoulder presses, mixing in your shoulder workout is a fantastic exercise for extra variety.

The angle of the cable overhead press can help recruit new muscle fiber that’s not engaged much with other types of shoulder presses because the force is pulling down behind you.

Know More About: Best Cable Shoulder Workout & Exercises For 3D Deltoids

4. Pike Push Up

If you are searching for an alternative to smith press that you can easily do at home, then pike push-ups are the best option for you.

Pike Push-ups aka shoulder push-ups are a variation of the push-up that increases strength and stability in the shoulders and triceps. 

Performing the exercise more upright will target the deltoid more than the chest.

Frequently Asked Question

Free Weight Press Vs. Smith Machine Shoulder Press

  • Free-weight shoulder exercises also allow for a more natural arc of movement because a machine does not constrain you.
  • If you get stuck, the Smith machine presses will offer a safe path of motion and safety latches. The Smith machine presses will offer a controlled path of motion and safety latches if you get stuck.
  • Free-weight dumbbells or barbell presses require the most help from shoulder stabilizer muscle groups. This helps strengthen muscles that are often difficult to target, such as the rotator cuff, which can make you stronger and less susceptible to injuries.
  • The Smith machine relies on fewer stabilizer muscles, but this benefit comes with the tradeoff that smaller, weaker muscles will not interfere with your strength. This means you can lift heavier weights.
  • Even though barbell shoulder presses with free weights are your best exercise for building muscle, switch between the two exercises regularly to get the best of both worlds. 
  • Don’t rely exclusively on the Smith machine; otherwise, your stabilizer muscle groups will weaken, leaving you weaker eventually and at a greater risk for a shoulder injury.

Is The Smith Machine Press Good For Shoulder

There are many benefits to using the Smith machine for shoulder press workouts. The Smith machine overhead press exercises are safer because they require less balance. Plus, you can use the safety stops or rack the weight if you get stuck.

It also allows you to lift more weight than you can with free-weight shoulder press exercises.

Can you use the Smith machine for overhead press?

Yes, you can use the Smith machine for the overhead press; it is one of the best exercises to build bigger and stronger shoulders.


You can perform numerous shoulder presses with the Smith machine to build muscle and strength—the constant tension on your muscles through a range of motion. The progressive overload allows for more strength and muscle gains.

Some exercisers will go their entire lives without training on a Smith machine. They believe that the Smith machine press may cause harm to them, despite their lack of experience with it.

The reality is that when used correctly, this much-maligned piece of gym equipment can be very useful, especially if your goal is hypertrophy.

They allow you to train to failure in relative safety and leave you free to focus on lifting and lowering the weight and not balancing or stabilizing it.


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