5 Smith Machine Shoulder Press Alternatives

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Smith machine shoulder presses can be helpful for focusing on certain muscles. Discover some alternatives to this exercise with similar benefits.

Some of these positive effects include that smith machine shoulder presses work your shoulder, tricep, and core muscles.

In turn, this exercise can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.

Whether you don’t enjoy smith machine shoulder presses, you don’t have a smith machine available, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these smith machine shoulder press substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.

1. Shoulder presses with other equipment

While smith machines can be more helpful than free weights in certain situations, in many others, other equipment options can be just as good and better.

Some smith machine alternatives you can use include dumbbells, a barbell, resistance bands, kettlebells, a workout sandbag, etc.

Take the following steps to do a shoulder press with a barbell:

  1. Find a barbell rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars you can adjust them to the right height.
  2. Grab the barbell with your hands at about shoulder width with your hand palms facing forward.
  3. Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to do the exercise. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width. Hold the barbell at about shoulder height. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
  4. Slowly move the barbell up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
  5. Lower the barbell back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.

Shoulder presses with free weights mainly work the same muscles as the smith machine version. That means shoulders, triceps, and core muscles.

A difference is that shoulder presses with free weights will work more additional balancing muscles and muscle fibers. If you want to avoid this as much as possible you would do seated shoulder presses with a barbell.

To go the other way and engage as many balancing muscles as possible you would do shoulder presses with equipment options like dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, etc.

2. Pike pushups

This next smith machine shoulder press alternative is another compound exercise that works a variety of balancing muscles. Take the following steps to do a pike pushup:

  1. Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands at about shoulder width.
  2. Move your hips in the air so that your body makes a triangle together with the ground. You likely have to lift up your heels in the air and lean on the front of your feet.
  3. Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at your upper body from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
  4. Stretch your arms again until you are back in the pike position of step 2.
How to do a pike pushup

A benefit of pike pushups is that you can do them basically anywhere. You don’t need a smith machine or even free weights.

One downside is that pike pushups can become too easy relatively fast. At this point, you have to make the exercise more challenging to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.

To do this you can raise your feet by putting them on an elevated surface like a chair or a plyo box. This makes it so more of your body weight rests on your arms.

If that is still not challenging enough, you can also do pike pushups while wearing a weighted vest.

3. Machine shoulder presses

The shoulder press machine is basically the popular shoulder press exercise in machine form.

Instead of using free weights and standing up, the resistance has a fixed motion and you are sitting down with your back against back support.

You can describe this machine exercise as a compound exercise but barely so. On top of removing your core muscles from the exercise, you don’t even need to use balancing muscles to make the resistance go straight up.

That means the shoulder press machine is a smith machine shoulder press alternative with an even narrower focus on your shoulder and tricep muscles.

Make sure you adjust the seat and handles to the right settings for you personally when using this machine. Your upper arms should be at about a 45-degree angle to your upper body in starting position.

If your shoulders hurt during the motion it may be a sign that the machine settings or your technique are suboptimal.

4. Half-kneeling landmine presses

For this next exercise, you need a landmine setup. This is an attachment that secures a barbell at the ground level. The landmine setup opens the door to exercises like the half-kneeling landmine press.

You preferably also want a soft mat to put your knee on during the exercise. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a half-kneeling landmine press:

  1. Set up the landmine with the desired number of plates. Sit on one knee in front of it, your other foot on the ground for stability, with your face toward the landmine.
  2. Grab the end of the barbell with one hand with a neutral grip so your hand palm points to the center/upward. The upper arm of the hand with the barbell points slightly forward. The arm is about fully folded and the hand with the barbell is close to your shoulder.
  3. Slowly move the barbell up until your arm is slightly less than stretched.
  4. Lower the barbell back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.

Half-kneeling landmine presses are again more of a compound alternative to smith machine shoulder presses with more balancing muscle engagement.

Other differences include that you push a bit more forward and that you work out each side separately.

The first difference makes it so half-kneeling landmine presses focus slightly more on the front part of your deltoids but only a small amount more than smith machine shoulder presses.

Secondly, working out each side separately can help you avoid muscle imbalances. On the other hand, this does require more time to complete a workout.

5. Front raises

In many cases, you don’t need a smith machine or other machines, even if you want to do an exercise with a narrow focus. Front raises are one example of this.

Take the following steps to do this exercise with dumbbells:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width, dumbbells in your hands, and your arms hanging down beside you.
  2. Slowly raise your hands forward and upward with slightly less than stretched arms until your arms are about horizontal.
  3. After a second or two, lower your hands back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.

Front raises are a shoulder isolation exercise that works the front part of your deltoids (the main shoulder muscle). Whether a targeted alternative like front raises is a good choice depends on your training goals.

You don’t get the same tricep, trapezius, middle deltoid, and core workout as the smith machine shoulder press. On the other hand, this does allow you to focus completely on training your front deltoids.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.