Machines or free weights? This isn't the first time this question has been brought up and undoubtedly not the last either. In this article I will try to provide a solid justification for both sides of the argument.
The good thing about free weights is that they recruit involve more muscle fibres and the stabiliser muscles. It is important when using free weights that proper form is used and the appropriate weight is used and a spotter when required, otherwise injuries can occur which can be detrimental to progress.
With gym machines they force you to follow correct form so it is safer than using free weights and better suited for beginners. One downside can be that depending on how good your gym is some machines may be out of order and down for maintenance which can interrupt your workout. Free weights of course are rarely out of action assuming people are re-racking them in the right place.
The advantage with free weights is compound exercises can be done which recruit many muscle at the same time, giving greater gains and overall better testosterone response on exercises such as squats, deadlifts and the overhead press. Machines are good for isolating muscle groups which is great for bodybuilders who are sculpting their muscles for a show, people who are recovering from injuries or older people that don’t have the ability to do free weight moves such as the squat, maybe because they have bad knees or just find it too challenging. For example Arnold Schwarzenegger at 72 mainly uses machines now, you rarely see him lift free weights in the videos he posts.
My take is you can use machines and free weights together for a well-rounded physique. Use free weight moves first and then use machines after to target the smaller muscle groups. Some machines such as the machine row are really effective so it makes sense to utilise them in your routine.