Last updated on November 15th, 2022 at 01:24 pm
You can certainly use the Smith machine to perform deadlifts, but it won’t be the exact same exercise. Due to the position of the bar on the Smith machine your starting point will be different. In fact, the movement is more reminiscent of a rack pull (often referred to as “partial deadlifts”). So, the Smith machine will provide less range of motion than traditional deadlifts, but it can lead to greater upper back and trap development.
How Do You Deadlift on a Smith Machine?
In order to perform a conventional deadlift the bar should start at around mid-shin height.
This is perfect for most people if you add a couple of 45lbs plates to a barbell.
However, with the Smith machine the bar will typically start at just below knee level.
So, in effect you will only be performing the top three-quarters of the deadlift movement.
In fact, this is much more like the rack pull movement as opposed to a deadlift.
Talking of which, discover what I have to say about rack pulls potentially replacing deadlifts.
Therefore, in order to perfectly mimic the deadlift you will need to stand on a slightly raised platform inside the Smith machine.
An adjustable aerobic step should suffice.
Once you’re on a raised platform the Smith machine bar should come to mid-shin level, thus allowing you to perform a full range of motion deadlift.
Your technique remains exactly the same inside the Smith machine in terms of your body position.
You can of course perform deadlifts in the Smith machine with your feet flat on the floor.
However, as I say, this will limit your range of motion.
With that being said, this will typically allow you to pull more weight than your normally would with the deadlift.
Plus, rack pulls are known to produce greater muscle and strength gains in the upper back and traps.
You could even use Smith machine deadlifts/rack pulls to help you smash through a plateau with the traditional deadlift.
As you become used to pulling more weight in the Smith machine, once you return to deadlifts you should find that you’re able to lift more.
Smith Machine Deadlift
How Much Does the Smith Machine Bar Weigh?
The weight of the Smith machine bar will typically vary from country to country, and even gym to gym.
In the UK, gym weights tend to be calculated in kilograms.
The vast majority of Smith machine bars in the UK generally weigh around 10-15kg.
So, this would be 22-33lbs.
In the US, gym weights are usually calculated in pounds.
The average Smith bar weight in the US is 15-20lbs.
However, depending on which gym you use you can expect the bar to go up to 35lbs.
So, in reality if you’re looking to perform like-for-like deadlifts in the Smith machine you’ll have to take into consideration the lighter weight of the bar.
Does a Smith Machine Make it Easier?
The Smith machine can certainly make deadlifts easier in a number of ways.
Firstly, if you choose to perform the movement with your feet flat on the floor then there’s less range of motion with the deadlift.
More often than not, it’s that first pull from the floor that is considered the hardest part of the deadlift.
Next, if you’re stacking the same number of weight plates onto the Smith machine bar, then we’re now aware that the total weight will be slightly less.
Okay, it’s not a huge amount, but when you consider most gym barbells are around 45lbs, you’ll definitely be lifting 10-20lbs less weight due to the weight of the Smith machine bar.
Finally, I would say that for the big two lifts, i.e. deadlifts and squats, you probably won’t be using as many stabilizer muscles by performing the movements in the Smith Machine.
I know there are arguments against whether you use stabilizer muscles or not with the Smith machine.
However, I feel that there is always some type of additional “support” whenever you use the Smith machine.
So, for me this does make using the Smith machine easier.
That being said, I have recently discussed the phenomenom of the Smith machine actually feeling heavier.
Why Can’t You Do Deadlifts at Planet Fitness?
I guess one of the reasons that many of you may wish to use the Smith machine for deadlifts is because you don’t have the required equipment at your gym.
Then it could be that deadlifts are banned from your gym.
Probably the most famous gym that seems to have an issue with deadlifts is Planet Fitness.
In truth, it’s not so much deadlifts that Planet Fitness has a problem with.
Planet Fitness’s take on this is that they simply don’t want people who lift loudly.
Their gyms are aimed at the “casual gym-goer”.
Therefore, it’s not a place for bodybuilders, powerlifters, etc.
So, no dropping or slamming of weights, and definitely no grunting or shouting when you finally pull off that 500lbs deadlift.
Planet Fitness have their famous “Lunk Alarm”.
This is an alarm that goes off if anyone “breaks” any of their noise rules.
Deadlifting Loudly at Planet Fitness
What is an Alternative to Deadlifts?
So, if your gym doesn’t allow, or doesn’t have the equipment for, deadlifts then you’ll probably want an alternative.
Then again, it could just be that you don’t like deadlifts, or are worried about performing the movement because of your injury history.
The Smith machine can provide an alternative if this is the case.
With that being said, being a Planet Fitness member you will need to be careful about how much weight you stack the Smith machine with.
Remember, no dropping the weights or screaming out either.
The most obvious alternative would be to use dumbbells.
However, the movement could be slightly different to the conventional barbell deadlift depending on your mobility, flexibility, and overall range of motion.
You will definitely need to be lower to the ground to pick up a pair of dumbbells.
That being said, you can perfectly mimic the Romanian deadlift.
The hip-hinge movement of hip thrusts is fairly similar to that of the deadlift.
Plus, you’ll work the glutes and hamstrings really hard, but without so much stress on the lower back.
For an upper body equivalent you can’t beat farmer’s walks.
Simply grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and start walking.
Finally, the single-leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a great alternative.
And it will definitely help you work on your mobility, balance and coordination.
Here’s some back-friendly deadlift alternatives from Stack.com
You can definitely replicate the traditional deadlift in the Smith machine if you stand on a raised platform, so that the bar is level with your mid-shin at the starting point. However, remember that the Smith machine bar is typically 10-20lbs lighter than a barbell. If you use the Smith machine to deadlift with your feet flat on the floor the movement will be similar to a rack pull, as the bar will generally be at around just below knee level to start with.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.