Are Smith Machine Leg Presses Too Dangerous?

July 18, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are smith machine leg presses too dangerous?”. The smith machine can be used for various leg exercises.

Smith machine leg presses are not commonly performed in most gyms. I have only seen people doing them on a few occasions. Is this exercise really a good idea when the weight gets heavy?

I will explore this topic in more detail and provide useful information. I hope you enjoy reading. 

Are Smith Machine Leg Presses Too Dangerous?

The smith machine leg press as an exercise is not the most safe. If you use good technique, the exercise can work well with lighter weights and higher reps.

However, the regular leg press is much safer to use with very heavy loads. This is due to the fact that you have a much larger surface area for your feet to go on the foot pad.

With the smith machine leg press, the exercise becomes increasingly dangerous with heavier weights on the bar. You have to balance the thin smith bar on your feet and there is more stress placed on the knees.

The range of motion is more natural on the traditional 45 degree leg press or seated leg press. In addition, you will better recruit more lower body musculature with the standard leg press. 

Unnatural Movement Pattern

The smith machine wasn’t really designed for leg presses so the movement pattern is far from optimal.

For many people, smith machine leg presses can put too much stress on the knees. You are fixed into a rigid plane of motion, with the 45 degree leg press you have a lot more flexibility.

The foot pad on traditional leg presses is very large which gives you a great deal of options. A higher foot position will work the glutes and hamstrings more, while a lower foot position will target the quads to a greater degree.

With the smith machine leg press, you have a limited range of choices in regards to foot position. You can either opt for a narrow stance or wide stance. 

You have to try the smith machine leg press for yourself to see how the movement pattern feels. Everyone responds differently in this regard. Some people don’t like the movement, others like to train this exercise for higher rep work.

Muscle Groups Worked

I actually make use of the traditional leg press and one leg leg press heavily in my training as big compound leg exercises.

I find that these exercises work very well when trained in conjunction with each other. You will develop your quads, glutes and hamstrings from those two movements. In addition, the calves will also be worked to a degree indirectly.

In contrast, the smith machine leg press doesn’t train as much lower body musculature safely. It is very rare to see someone doing a very heavy smith machine leg press.

The exercise is too risky with super heavy weights. However, the traditional leg press can be performed with weights in excess of 1000lbs without any problems. 

If you want to work more lower body musculature and want to do so in a safe manner, you are better off favouring the traditional leg press. Either done seated or on an incline. 

Injury Risk

Just like all exercises, the leg press carries a risk of injury. This is true of the traditional leg press as well as the smith machine leg press.

There is a risk of some lower back pain on the leg press if you allow your lumbar spine to enter flexion as you are lowering the weight down.

An important distinction to note is the position of your body on the different leg presses. With the smith machine leg press, you are lying on your back. It is up to you where you place your hands.

Some people like to place their hands under their lower back region on this exercise. Others prefer to have their hands flat on the floor at their sides. This is a personal choice. 

With the smith machine leg press, there is an obvious injury risk in the sense that you are balancing the weight of the bar on just your feet. This is a relatively small surface area that you are in contact with.

Accidents can happen, which is why going very heavy on this exercise is incredibly risky! I would advise against it, the smith machine leg press is better served for performing higher reps with lighter weight.

You need to practice the movement to get used to it. The regular leg press also carries injury risk. If you go too high with your foot position, you could place excess strain on the adductors.

If your foot position is too low then you will place a lot of stress on the knees. Personally, I find the higher foot position works better for me as it places less stress on my knees. I can also hit my glutes and hamstrings better.

Smith Machine Squat vs Leg Press

If the smith machine leg press is sub optimal and an inferior choice to the traditional leg press, why not do smith squats instead?

This is a very good question. In truth it can be argued that smith machine squats are superior to even traditional leg presses. Whilst smith squats are not as effective as free weight squats, you are still working a lot of musculature and can go very heavy.

Even top level bodybuilders like Chris Bumstead advocate heavily in favour of smith machine squats. Chris can squat 6 plates on the smith machine for reps without too many problems. He is brutally strong and actually says that smith squats place less stress on his knees. 
smith squat bumstead

How To Do Smith Leg Presses

Just to reiterate, smith machine leg presses are rarely performed in most gyms. I have only seen people doing this exercise a couple of times. 

It is important that you perform this exercise with solid technique to reduce the injury risks. You don’t want the bar to be too far away from you when you start the exercise.

It is important to remember that the smith leg press is not intended for loading super heavy. This exercise is better suited to higher rep training. It is up to you where you place your hands. You can place them underneath your lower back or on the floor at your sides.

Don’t hyperextend the knees at the top of the rep. Ensure that you keep tension in the hamstrings and glutes throughout the range of motion. How wide a stance you take is again a personal choice. A wider stance will work the hamstrings more.

Final Thoughts

Are smith machine leg presses too dangerous? Overall, they are an inferior exercise to traditional leg presses. You can’t load them too heavy in a safe manner as the exercise becomes too risky.

Smith machine leg presses can be incorporated into a program safely, providing that you use good technique and not go too heavy.

I would say that smith machine squats are a more productive exercise over smith leg presses. You can load the movement heavy in a safe manner and actually place less stress on the knees.

If you have any comments about the smith leg press please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

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