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Smith machine sumo squats: How this little known wide-stance squat builds bigger glutes fast

By Lee Thomas
Last Updated on 8th July 2020

When you're doing your Smith machine workouts for legs, you probably do some kind of squat. But unless you like to think outside the box, then you probably haven't done the Smith machine sumo squat. At least not with any regularity.

It's a shame that the wide stance squat doesn't get more attention. After all, it's one of the best compound leg exercises for firming up the glutes and inner thighs. It's a popular movement with women who want to build their glutes, but who don't want gargantuan thighs that scare off any leg day-skipping men.

So with that said, let's learn how to reap the rewards of this underrated glute-builder...

"Take a wider stance when squatting, such as 140-150 percent of shoulder width. This allows for greater posterior displacement of the hips."
Bodybuilding.com

Smith machine sumo squat exercise details

  • Main muscles: Glutes, quads, adductors (inner thighs)
  • Supporting muscles: Hamstrings, calves, erectors, abs
  • Exercise type: Compound
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Equipment needed: Smith machine
  • Recommended gear: Hip circle, lifting shoes, lifting belt
  • Exercise purpose: Build more powerful glutes and develop stronger inner thighs

How to Smith machine sumo squat

Here's how to do a wide stance Smith machine squat:

  1. Set the Smith bar to about shoulder height (I recommend starting with just the barbell).
  2. Stand under the bar with a wider than shoulder-width stance (roughly 140% of shoulder-width) and point your toes out at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Grab the bar tightly with a wide grip.
  4. Inhale, brace your core and then descend your hips towards the floor by sitting back into the squat and pushing your knees out.
  5. Squat down as low as you comfortably can but avoid dropping down too quickly as many people aren't used to such an intense stretch in their inner thighs.
  6. Explode back up by pushing through your heels and exhale once you're out of the sticking point (when the squat starts to feel easy). Repeat for 8-15 reps.

Sumo squat tips

Warm up your hips

woman training her glutes at home

Research shows that a wider squat stance places more tension on your glutes [1]. As a result, it's imperative to warm your hips up properly if you want to avoid injury and give yourself the flexibility to squat deep.

Using a hip circle is a great way to get the blood pumping while also helping you to preactivate your glutes, which will make the actual sumo squats more effective.

Flare your knees out

man performing deep squats

Once again, science shows us that flaring our knees out recruits more muscle fibres in our glutes, enabling us to build a bigger bum in less time [2].

Moreover, flaring your knees out to the sides rather than letting them drift way over your toes actually increases your injury resistance because your patella doesn't get subjected to unnecessary stress.

Slow down your eccentrics

Young woman working out on a Smith machine in a modern gym

Unless you're a powerlifter trying to lift as much weight as possible, slow down your eccentric and let your muscles do all the work.

Controlling the weight is especially important during Smith machine wide squats because the exercise naturally stretches your inner thighs, which are a weak (and thus vulnerable area) for many of us.

Recommended training gear for sumo squats

1. Hip circle

woman doing hip thrusts while weaing a band around her knees

The hip circle is a cheap and cheerful invention—yet it works wonders for preactivating your glutes. It essentially improves what bodybuilders call the mind-muscle connection. I know it sounds a bit woo-woo, but being able to feel your glutes during compound exercises like sumo squats, where there's always a risk that other muscles could take over, is essential if you want a firmer bum.

The best hip circle, in my opinion, is definitely the Sling Shot Hip Circle by Mark Bell because it's the most durable and long-lasting out of the many hip circles that I've used over the years. It doesn't irritate my skin like the others, and I find that it really helps to get my glutes pumped up before I lift. And that's to say nothing of the extra mobility I've gained from using it.

2. Weightlifting shoes

adidas powerlift weightlifting shoes

I'm a big believer in squatting barefoot when possible. It just makes sense for humans to lift that way. But it seems like virtually no gyms allow barefoot squatting, at least in the UK.

So the next best thing is a pair of weightlifting shoes, such as the tired and tested Adidas Powerlifts. They're available in both men's and women's versions, and they really help you to maintain the proper knee tracking, which is especially important for ensuring that the tension stays on your glutes.

3. Weightlifting belt

rdx weightlifting belt

Unless you're going heavy (<6 reps) then I don't actually think that you need a weightlifting belt. However, if you want a small yet immediate increase in your sumo squat strength, then I definitely recommend picking one up.

The good thing about the RDX Belt for Weight Lifting, in particular, is that it's actually comfortable to wear for squats. So many other belts dig into your ribs and make it hard to breathe. But that's not the case with this leather lifting belt, which also comes with double-stitching and a money-back guarantee.

Sumo squat muscles worked

Glutes

Illustration of the gluteus maximus anatomy

As mentioned, studies show that flaring your knees out activates more muscle fibres in the gluteus maximus, which is by far the largest and most prominent gluteal muscle.

Plus, since the peak tension during Smith machine wide stance squats occurs at the bottom of the rep during the stretch, this exercise is perfect to program with hip thrusts, whose peak tension you'll feel at the top of the movement as you squeeze your cheeks together.

Quads

Illustration of the quadriceps anatomy

The quads are less active during wide stance squats since the glutes naturally bear the brunt of the load. However, you'll likely feel a noticeable pump in the inner head of your quad due to the flared knee position. When developed, this "teardrop" muscle gives your thighs that lean, muscular appearance, without making your outer quad sweep too dominating.

Adductors

illustration of adductor muscles

Since your hips are naturally more open during Smith machine sumo squats, your inner thighs will get more of a workout. Obviously, this increases your injury resistance because most people have much weaker inner thighs than they do quads [3].

Abs

Illustration of the abdominal anatomy

Smith machine sumo squats won't get you ripped—only your diet can do that. However, they will increase core strength, which makes you stronger in all manner of compound movements. And as we know, more strength is almost always accompanied with more muscle mass.

Spinal erectors

Illustration of the spinal anatomy

The spinal erectors contract isometrically to prevent your lower back from rounding during squats. However, since you're using a Smith machine, your erectors won't be as active as on free weight squats.

But this isn't a bad thing. If anything, not having to worry about stabilising the bar enables you to put more energy and focus into getting the best leg workout possible.

Hamstrings and calves

Illustration of the hamstring anatomy

Like the abs and spinal erectors, your hamstrings and calves are active during sumo squats. However, since they're only active isometrically, they don't actually receive enough stimulus to grow.

Sumo squat benefits

Healthier knees

sporty woman doing back squats

If you've ever done narrow-stance squats with a decent amount of weight, then there's a good chance that it feels like a bomb went off in your knees the morning after. Thankfully, smith machine sumo squats are the complete opposite.

Since your knees don't protrude over your toes, the vulnerable patella is subjected to much less stress, enabling you to recover faster while also prolonging your lifting career. Of course, getting a good pair of knee sleeves can help your joints to stay healthy, too. But it's certainly not mandatory.

More glute activation

young woman doing yoga inside

If you've ever wondered why women are the ones doing wide stance squats, this is why.

Studies show that sumo squats elicit significantly more glute activation than both regular and narrow squats—even if you're using less weight. Naturally, this makes wide squats great if you have knee pain since you can get more glute stimulation with less weight [4].

You can also try Smith machine 1.5 sumo squats for an even crazier glute burn!

Proportional thighs

a close up of a female bodybuilder's quadriceps

Gym goers today are so focused on developing that coveted outer quad sweep that they often forget that their adductors even exist. As a result, their legs look sloppy and artificial, rather than streamlined and proportional.

With time, sumo squats will fix this quadricep pandemic.

Sumo squat alternatives

Smith machine squat

Man working out his legs

When you're learning how to do squats on a Smith machine, there's no better place to begin than with the good old back squat. It's the squat variation that enables you to lift the most amount of weight and work the most amount of muscles in the least amount of time.

And since you have the safety of a Smith machine, you can strive for more muscle growth in complete confidence because the spotter catches will always have your back. Yes, squats to failure are brutal, but they work like gangbusters.

Smith machine sissy squat

I won't sugar coat it. Learning how to do sissy squats on the Smith machine can take a while. But the pay off in quad development is worth it. Besides leg extensions, no other exercise on the planet isolates the quadriceps as well as sissy squats, which is why almost all bodybuilders swear by them for getting big legs.

Narrow Smith machine squat

sporty woman doing squats with a barbell

Doing feet together Smith machine squats can be tough on your knees. However, if you widen your stance just a little bit, you can hammer your legs with significantly more weight—without taking a hit in quad activation. It's the perfect exercise to pair with a wide stance smith machine squat.

Lee Thomas
Ey Up! I'm Lee, a Leeds-based strength and conditioning coach who's been helping serious trainees achieve their physical potential for the past 20 years. In my time, I've been a competitive physique athlete and a national powerlifter. I hope you enjoy my exercise guides.
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