Use the Smith machine shoulder press to get big and broad shoulders
Nothing screams a strong and athletic physique like big, broad and defined shoulders. But most guys never get the impressive delts they want because they only ever do the same shoulder moves. Add the Smith machine shoulder press to your upper body workouts to sculpt the shoulders you want, says New Body Plan fitness editor Joe Warner
Big and broad shoulders separate the men from the boys.
Not only does having a wide set of shoulders show beyond doubt you know how to train both smart and hard, it also creates the perfect lean and athletic physique. That’s because a wide upper torso shows you have plenty of muscle. And it also makes your waist appear narrower than it is. It’s a win-win. Building broader shoulders makes you look both more muscular and leaner!
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The trouble is many men never manage to build the impressive delts that would transform their body into a lean, mean machine. And the main reason why is they do the same shoulder exercises all the time. There’s no variety. No change in stimulus. And muscles only grow bigger and stronger when exposed to new and different training demands.
So if you only ever training shoulders by doing the overhead barbell shoulder press, the machine shoulder press, the seated dumbbell shoulder press, or dumbbell lat raise, it’s time to shake things up by adding some new lifts to your training toolkit.
And there’s nowhere better to start than the Smith machine shoulder press (closely followed by adding the Cuban press!). Here’s all you need to know to starting sculpting those boulder shoulders that will transform your upper body.
What is the Smith machine shoulder press?
It’s one of the best bits of gym machine kit for building bigger and stronger shoulders. It uses the Smith machine, which has a barbell attached to two vertical runners. So you can press the bar up and down on a fixed path to work your shoulders through a full range of motion.
How is the Smith machine shoulder press different to the barbell shoulder press?
The main difference between the Smith machine shoulder press and the barbell shoulder press is that in a Smith machine the bar is fixed in a vertical plane. That means it can only move up and down, and is prevented from moving in any other direction. This fixed-path movement pattern means your stabilising muscles aren’t needed as much, so your working muscles can lift heavier with a lower risk of injury.
With a barbell shoulder press, whether you’re seated, kneeling or standing, the bar isn’t fixed. So you must use those stabilising muscles to “lock” the bar in a vertical plan. That then allows your main working muscles can focus on pressing it directly up and down. This means you can’t lift as heavy with a barbell as with a Smith machine. The same is true when doing the dumbbell shoulder press. Stabilising muscles are needed to stop the weights moving in front or behind your body. And that can limit how much total weight you can lift.
What muscles does the Smith machine shoulder press work?
It should come as no surprise that the main muscles worked by the Smith machine shoulder press are the shoulders. These muscles are directly responsible for lifting and lowering a weight up and down directly overhead. But other muscles are involved too, especially your triceps. These muscles on the back of your upper arm are involved in straightening your arms.
When should I do shoulder presses on the Smith machine?
You can use the Smith machine for shoulder pressing at any point of your upper body workout or push workout, or during a dedicated shoulder session. The fixed-path nature of the machine makes the Smith machine shoulder press a safer exercise option, even when tired. And because you can simple twist the bar to lock it back in position means you will never truly fail a rep and end up in a dangerous position, as can be the case with some barbell freeweight moves.
The main consideration when doing the Smith machine shoulder press at the start of your session is to warm-up properly. The shoulder is your most delicate joint so you should never rush in to a work set without first fully warming up. And if you do the move towards the end of your workout adjust the weight you’re lifting accordingly to factor in the fatigue your muscles are already experiencing.
How many sets and reps should I do?
How many sets and reps you do on the Smith machine shoulder press depends entirely on your goals. Fewer reps per set means you can lift heavier, which will increase the strength of your shoulders. Doing more reps per set of a lighter weight means your shoulder muscles are exposed to more work and more time under tension, which will make them bigger.
The best approach is to vary your set and rep ranges during your muscle-building training programme to ensure you maximise both your size and strength gains.
How do I do the Smith machine shoulder press?
• Set the bar at the right height hook in the Smith machine, then add equal weight plates to both side of the bar.
• Position an upright bench in the Smith machine then sit on it. The bar should be in front of you at around shoulder height.
• Press your feet into the ground and press your back into the padded part of the bench. This will create full-body tension and stability for safer lifting.
• Grip the Smith machine bar with both hands with a wider-than-shoulder-width grip.
• Rotate your wrists to unlock the bar from the hook, then press it straight up until your arms are nearly fully straight.
• Lower the bar back down to the start position, slowly and under complete control. That’s one rep.
• If at any point in the set you feel as though you can’t complete any full rep safely, simply rotate your wrists to lock the bar back in the Smith machine.
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