We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Free weights are always better because they engage so many accessory muscles, core, and balance. BUT...
But machine resistance is better than no resistance work, and machine work can help improve your free weight efforts. A prime example is pullups. Lots of people can't do even one. Sad. It indicates that your back muscles are underdeveloped, or you are overweight, or both. BUT if you work on machine pull-downs and machine (assisted) pullups, you can advance get to real pullups. Lat Pulldown vs Pull-ups: Research Reveals Which Is Best
Again, I do sets of each, weekly. Weakly too. I entirely understand doing barbell squats with a Smith Machine. You don't need a spotter. Still, I'd rather do squats with a spotter anyway, and my leg presses on my own.
The moral of this fitness post is that free weights are better, but anything is better than nothing as long as it is difficult to do. "Difficult" means reaching deep down to what you do not want to do because it is "too hard." That's a bad approach to life.
I am an advocate of free weights, especially squats and deadlifts. I tore my quadriceps a few months ago and I was having difficulty even standing, let alone putting any additional weight on my frame. If it weren't for the machines at the gym I wouldn't have been able to do any of the upper body work that has kept me going over the last few months. Machines definitely have their place, especially for those of us with injuries.
HURRAH! BD comes out in favor of the Squat; which is as it should be. Squat is the "King" of exercises, as it engages 63% of the muscle groups in one's body.
The "Queen" of exercise is the dead-lift, which engages slightly fewer muscles, but emphasizes the lower back. Both are designed to mimic , for strengthening purposes, normal, regular human motions used daily.
If you don't want to end up shuffling, hunched over in a walker, you should perform both exercises regularly. In addition, these exercises and lifting in general, benefit your overall mental, as well as physical strength and overall health!!!
I know firsthand, because my heart surgeon told me I had one of the fastest recoveries from open heart valve replacement and aneurysm-repair surgery he had ever seen. [First they "kill" you, cut open your chest and then operate, followed by bringing you back!] Went in Tuesday AM, then out of the hospital Friday AM---would have left Thursday, but the damned drainage tubes needed one more day to do their job! I'd been lifting regularly for 5 years before surgery, despite the bad valve in my ticker (unbeknownst to me).