Let me add my $.05 to this debate. I've been training (off and on) for about a decade. Started with free weights, belonged to a few gyms over the years and used many different machines, owned a 10-station Weider cable machine, and now workout exclusively at home with nothing but free weights, a power rack and a good bench. My opinion is for overall strength and fitness nothing beats free weights. A good machine may be more successful at targeting a certain muscle than free weights, and the movement may be easier, but in my experience the free weight "equivalent" will always use more muscles overall. In my opinion that is better. I've always been partial towards the heavy compound movements for training, and I just can't get the same full body exhaustion feeling with a machine movement. This debate could possibly be more of a training style preference than a machines vs free weights. I might call myself a body builder, but I am really more interested in an overall strong and healthy body than I am in getting a certain "look". I don't bench to only work the pecs, I want to work the triceps and front delts too. When I squat I'm not just looking for large quads, I want to work the back, hams, abs, mid-section. I do chins to work the lats, biceps, and grip all together. I'm really not too interested in focusing on certain muscles one at a time, I like giving the whole body a grueling workout in the smallest time possible; and the more muscles used per movement, the greater the anabolic effect. I have never been able to achieve this type of workout using machines. The argument that machines are safer is one that I agree with. Using free weights requires a certain amount of skill and coordination that machines do not. Deadlifts and squats can be very dangerous with incorrect form, but unfortunately they are also two of the best exercises you can possibly do to gain muscle. The risk factor drops tremendously as long as the individual stays focused and is mindful of form and personal limits. Could the safety issue be one reason why fitness clubs like machines better? I guess I would have to say that if you want to target a specific muscle, then yes a good quality machine would get the job done better than free weights. But I also feel that if someone wanted to use machines exclusively they would have to do a far greater amount of exercises to get the same overall effect that free weights could give. I think it all boils down to personal preference. For me, nothing will ever beat the feeling of free weights.