There has always been a debate for as long as anyone can remember as to which is better: free weights or machines. If you have the time, use both. But if you are serious in your strength and conditioning training and you don’t have enough time, it would be best to use free weights because free weight exercises are more effective in yielding overall strength and power. With free weights isolation as well as multi-joint movements such as squats and deadlifts are much more effective because aside from your prime movers (quads, hamstrings), all your core muscles engage so you can complete the movement. Free weights also allow for a greater range of motion, which means more variety and ways to work your muscles into growth and development.
Weight benches are indispensable in any commercial or home gym setup because of the sheer number of exercise routines that can be done on them. It provides support in movements that cannot be supported by a Swiss ball such as heavy dumbbell presses and weighted crunches. With simple adjustments typical on most weight benches, it can also help target different angles of the muscle that are hard to reach. It can also be used in cardio routines such as step ups to improve overall conditioning.
Squatting is the king of exercises for many reasons, but the only way to do it is in a power rack because no matter how many plates are loaded on your back, you can easily find the pins on the power rack to safely and securely return the bar to its starting position. Almost all of the best strength building movements can be done safely in power racks and smith machines. No other equipment comes close when it comes to the versatility of power racks and smith machines as both can be used for pull ups, dips, deadlifts, bent barbell rows, overhead presses, bench presses, and many other isolation and multi joint exercises.
Cable pulley machines have been well received in many weight rooms and gyms because movements done on cables added a new stimulus to shock the muscles into further development and growth. With cables there is continuous tension on the muscles the entire time the weight is off the plate stack. Done in a controlled manner, this means every rep is harder because the time under tension is greater. This is particularly beneficial for those hard to reach muscle groups which are not completely exhausted by explosive movements.
Ab strength machines hit the stabilizer or core muscles in ways and angles not possible with other movements. In squats for example, although this multi joint movement engages the core, it doesn’t work the abs to exhaustion. With ab machines the core muscles are specifically targeted and isolated and weak points are revealed. With this information, suitable angles are chosen to address the weakness and then incorporated into the training routine for improved overall performance. A strong core translates to improved strength and conditioning and also makes the body less susceptible to injuries cause by muscle imbalance such as lower back pain.