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Smith Machine RDL: Everything You Need To Know

If you're like me, you might be hesitant to use the Smith Machine for RDLs. However, it remains a top choice for many lifters. In this article, we'll look at how to execute the Smith Machine RDL with the correct form, which muscles it targets, and some beneficial alternatives. 

Whether you want to build your glutes or strengthen your hamstrings, we have the information to guide you in the right direction. 


How to do RDLs on a Smith Machine

  1. For complete range of motion, stand on a box or pad
  2. Stand close to the bar to ensure the weight is in position to glide down your legs.
  3. Grip the bar with both hands, palms down, and place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  4. Push your hips back and keep your knees slightly bent. It is critical not to lock your knees to prevent strain. (When lowering the weight hinge at the hips and push your glutes back)
  5. Maintain a neutral spine and good posture to prevent lower back pain.
  6. When lifting the weight, engage your core and activate your glutes while pushing through your heels.
  7. Make sure the bar remains in close contact with your legs throughout the exercise.
  8. Repeat for the desired amount of reps
Smith Machine RDL


Rerack the bar slightly below your hips to make it easier to rack and unrack the weight.

Stay slow and controlled, do not jerk the weight, and avoid forcing momentum.

Rdl form

Avoid rounding your back and overarching your spine, stay neutral.

Maintain core stability to preserve your lower back.

Keep your knees slightly bent. Do not lock them.

RDL on smith machine form

Muscles worked


The gluteus maximus and medius activate throughout the movement but mainly in the upward portion of the lift.


Are activated towards the bottom of the exercise. The bigger the stretch you feel during rdls, the more the hamstrings are activated.

Hamstrings also play a role in hip extension and knee flexion during the hip hinge portion of the rdl.

Lower back

The spinal erectors and latissimus dorsi (to be specific) are secondary lower-mid back muscles that support and strengthen your back by keeping your spine straight and sturdy throughout the movement.


Smith Machine RDL Alternatives

As a 7+ year lifter and former college athlete, I am not a big supporter of the smith machine rdl, mainly because of the machine's set path. I believe a barbell or dumbbell rdl will always be superior to a machine since it uses your stabilizing muscles. Lifting with a set route might be more convenient, but it limits training effectiveness by restricting muscle activation and functional strength development. 

If you prefer the smith machine, or if it’s the only piece of equipment you have access to, don’t sweat it. You will still receive adjacent strengthening and muscle-building benefits.

With that in mind, here are some alternatives.

Barbell RDL

Provides a more natural range of motion and utilizes stabilizing muscles, resulting in a more useful and effective strength workout. 

barbell rdl

Kettlebell RDL

Using a kettlebell for rdls provides flexibility in movement while also improving balance and coordination (especially single-leg kettlebell rdls). The offset weight of a kettlebell can also aid in fixing muscle imbalances.

Kettlebell rdl

Dumbbell RDL

Dumbells are great because there's a handful of variations you can experiment with. You can target different areas of your posterior chain while changing your grip to fit your preferences.

Dumbbells allow for separate arm movement, which helps increase coordination and muscle engagement, particularly in unilateral growth.

dumbbell rdl

RDLs For Glutes

Glute rdls focus on the form and “hip hinge” section of the movement rather than the type of weight you choose to complete the exercise. 

Glute focused RDLs

Bring the weight down towards the front of your legs while holding it close to the center of your body. Lower the weight until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and avoid rounding your back.

Activate the glutes

As you lower the weight, focus on your glutes to propel your hips forward and back to the starting position. With enough weight and proper form you should feel a strain on the upper glutes.



Why do I feel RDLs in my lower back?

To save yourself from low back pain when doing rdls, avoid maxing out and maintain perfect form by engaging your core and working your glutes. Keep the bar near your shins to relieve stress on your lower back. Going in cold is never good, a quick warm-up can go a long way, and avoid lifting with a jerky motion that might result in injury. Improper technique and a lack of preparation can cause muscular imbalances, strains, sprains, disc issues, and other injuries.

What's a good weight for RDLs?

If you’re a beginner, it’s important to start with a lighter weight (somewhere around 20-40% of your body weight) to emphasize form. If you consider yourself on the advanced lifter side, chances are you have a good idea of what weight you’re comfortable with (normally around 60-80% of your 1 rep max).

Why are my glutes not growing?

If you’ve been looking to grow your glutes and haven’t received the benefits you expected it’s likely from 1 of these 2 things. First off, if you’re hitting the gym regularly and exercising your glutes directly, there’s a good chance your diet is hindering your glute gains. Your muscles need the proper nutrients and enough protein to combat your training regimen. 

On the other hand, if you’re diet is in check and you aren’t seeing results, you might not be targeting your glutes in an effective enough way. Certain exercises are more beneficial than others for glutes and it’s important to “activate your glutes” correctly during them. Keep in mind results don’t come overnight, so stay patient and consistent!


[1] Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.

[2] Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.

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