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How To Do A Chest Fly

What is a chest fly?

Chest fly

See all chest fly exercise variations

The chest fly is an isolation exercise which targets the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, deltoids, triceps, and biceps, although the focus is mainly on the pectorals. In addition to building chest muscle, the chest fly helps to open up the chest and shoulders which can reduce tightness, increase range of motion, and combat poor posture.

Where the bench press is great for building strength and power, chest flyes are really suited to building size, so if your goal is a bigger chest, add them into your routine. Different variations work the muscles in a slightly different way, so you may want to add a few variations. As an isolation exercise, this is best suited as a finisher. 

 

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHEST FLYES

  • To build chest mass, you need to break down the chest muscles through training. The process of repairing these tears leads to bigger, stronger muscles. 

    Most people turn to the bench press when they want to pack on muscle, but chest flyes are great for building mass when used correctly - form here is key.

    If you're serious about building your chest, you'll need to train your chest at least twice a week and include a mix of compound and isolation exercises. You'll also need to get enough protein, and consider going on a bulk.

  • It is possible to do chest flyes on the floor, but you will get a deeper range of motion performing this exercise on a bench.

    Long story short - if you have access to the bench, use one. If not, the floor will be fine! 

  • Cable flyes are slightly more effective as they provide resistance throughout the entire movement, whereas dumbbells do not produce significant tension at the top portion. 

    That said, both the cable chest fly and dumbbell fly are still extremely effective at working your chest, so if you prefer one over the other (or any of the other chest fly variations we cover below), go for whichever one feels best. 

Chest fly exercise tips

  • Start with a low weight and really focus on controlling the movement and building your mind-muscle connection. Poor form can cause serious injury.
  • Keep within a safe range of motion. Aim to get your arms just below parallel with the ground, but if you feel a stretch in your chest before, stop then. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together throughout the movement. This protects your shoulders and puts the focus on the chest.

Chest Fly Variations

How to do a dumbbell fly

Level: Intermediate to advanced

Equipment: Flat bench, dumbbells

  1. Lie with your back flat on the bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand above your chest, palms facing inwards. Your feet should be planted firmly on the floor.
  2. Extend your arms and press the weights straight up above your chest. This is your starting position.

  3. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides until they are level with your chest. You should feel a stretch across your chest.

  4. Reverse the movement to return your arms back to the starting position, squeezing your pecs together.

  5. Stop just before the dumbbells touch and hold for a second.

  6. Repeat.

How to do an incline dumbbell fly

Level: Intermediate to Advanced.

Equipment: Pair of dumbbells.

The incline fly predominantly works the upper pectorals, which can give more definition to your chest.

  1. Adjust your bench to a 30 to 45 degree incline, and then sit with your back flat on the bench, feet flat on the floor, a dumbbell in each hand.

  2. Push the dumbbells above your chest, arms straight but not locked out. This is your starting position.

  3. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides until they are level with your chest. You should feel a stretch across your chest.

  4. Reverse the movement to return your arms back to the starting position, squeezing your pecs together.

  5. Stop just before the dumbbells touch and hold for a second.

  6. Repeat. 

     

How to do cable flyes/ cable crossovers

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment: Cable crossover/ cable pulley machine

  1. Fix the pulleys slightly above shoulder height and attach a single grip to each pulley. Select the resistance on each side.
  2. Grab each handle and stand in the middle of the cable machine, then step one foot forward and centre your weight over both feet, so you are leaning forward slightly, and brace your core. This is your starting position.
  3. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, use the muscles in your chest to pull the cables forwards until your hands meet in front of your chest.
  4. Reverse your arms back down to the starting position in a controlled movement.

How to do low cable flyes/ low cable crossovers

Level: Intermediate to Advanced.

Equipment: Cable crossover/ cable pulley machine

The low cable crossover focuses on the upper and middle pectorals. As there is no bench to support the body, your core is also worked in this movement.

  1. Drop the pulleys into the lowest position and attach a single grip to each pulley. Select the resistance on each side.

  2. Grab each handle and stand in the middle of the cable machine. Your hands should be by your sides, palms facing forward.

  3. Step one foot forward and centre your weight over both feet, so you are leaning forward slightly, and brace your core. This is your starting position.

  4. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, use the muscles in your chest to pull the cables upwards and inwards until your hands are level with your head.

  5. Slowly lower your arms back down to the starting position.

How to do machine flyes

Level: Beginners to Advanced.

Equipment: Chest fly machine

The chest fly machine is a great way for beginners to incorporate chest flyes, as it requires minimal set up and poses lower risk of injury than dumbbells. The seated position and back support also means you are able to put more focus on the chest muscles.

  1. Adjust the seat and handle position so that the handles are in line with your shoulders at chest height when sat down. 
  2. Select the weight and then sit back against the seat, extend your arms to the side, and grab the handles. 
  3. Squeeze your chest muscles together and bring your arms together in front of your chest. Keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout. 
  4. Pause before slowly reversing back to the starting position.

How to do a decline dumbbell fly

Level: Intermediate to Advanced.

Equipment: Decline bench, dumbbells

The decline dumbbell fly predominantly targets the lower pectorals, helping to build a well rounded chest. If you are using an adjustable bench, set the decline at 30 - 45 degrees. 

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, sit on the decline bench and secure your feet under the pads.
  2. Keeping the dumbbells in front of your chest, lay back then press the dumbbells straight up towards the ceiling. 
  3. Push your shoulder blades down and slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides, keeping a slight bend in the elbow. 
  4. Pause when the dumbbells are in line with your chest.
  5. Squeeze your chest muscles together to bring the dumbbells back to starting position. 

   

If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.