How To Do A Dumbbell Fly

Building the perfect chest requires an assortment of exercises. Just as a sculptor needs a varied set of tools to create a masterpiece.

Traditional exercises like the bench press are like the hammer, roughing in large shapes. While the dumbbell fly is like a fine chisel for polishing up the final touches.

With this exercise, you can hit every edge and angle of your pectoral muscles. So I’m going to show you how to use the dumbbell fly to sculpt your ideal chest.

Dumbbell Fly

What Is A Dumbbell Fly?

Dumbbell flyes are a chest exercise where your arms remain relatively straight throughout the movement. It’s an isolation exercise because only your shoulder joint is used during the movement.

Other chest exercises like the bench press involve both your shoulder and elbow joints. These are called multi-joint or compound exercises.

Dumbbell Fly Muscles Worked

As a single joint movement, the dumbbell fly greatly reduces the involvement of the triceps and deltoids. So it’s excellent for targeting the pectorals.

Similar to other chest exercises, you can target the upper or lower chest. But you can also hit the inner and outer chest with different fly variations. I’ll give some specific examples later.

Dumbbell Fly Muscles Worked Image

How To Do A Dumbbell Fly

To perform a dumbbell fly, start by sitting on a bench while holding a pair of dumbbells on your thighs. Lay back on the bench and hold the dumbbells near your armpits.

Then press the dumbbells to arm’s length and hold them with your palms facing in. From this starting position, slowly lower the weights straight out to each side while keeping your arms relatively straight.

Lower the dumbbells until you feel a stretch through your chest. Now raise the dumbbells back to the starting point until your arms are extended straight in front of you.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:
  1. Sit on a bench holding a dumbbell on each thigh
  2. Lay back on the bench so the dumbbells are near your armpits
  3. Press the dumbbells up to arm’s length with palms facing in
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells with your arms slightly bent
  5. Feel your chest stretch at the bottom
  6. Raise the dumbbells back up until your arms are straight in front of you
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps and drop the dumbbells

Flat Dumbbell Fly Video

Dumbbell Fly Form

When performing a dumbbell fly, it’s important to use strict form to isolate the pectorals. When viewed from the side, your wrists, elbows, and shoulders should stay in close alignment throughout the exercise.

At the bottom of the movement, your elbows should be lower than the bench. This will ensure you get a good stretch through the pectoral muscles.

Dumbbell Fly Form Stretch

Another good tip is to think about controlling your elbows instead of your hands. The reason is that your pectoral muscle is responsible for pulling your upper arm across your body.

As you lower the weight, your elbows should be only slightly bent. Otherwise, the exercise becomes more like a wide grip bench press and you lose the chest isolation.

Dumbbell Fly Form Bottom

At the top of the movement, you don’t necessarily have to touch the dumbbells together. Instead, imagine pulling your elbows together in the middle of your body. Doing this helps you squeeze and develop your inner chest.

Dumbbell Fly Form Top

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Dumbbell Fly Variations

As I mentioned earlier, there are several dumbbell fly variations for targeting specific parts of your chest. One way to do this is changing the angle of your arms relative to your body.

Incline Dumbbell Fly

An incline bench angles your body up so that your arms intersect higher on your chest. So doing an incline dumbbell fly works more of your upper chest.

Incline Dumbbell Fly

Decline Dumbbell Fly

On the other hand, a decline bench angles your body down so your arms intersect lower on your chest. As a result, a decline dumbbell fly targets more of the lower chest.

Dumbbell Fly Alternatives

If you don’t have dumbbells, that’s ok. You can do chest flys with cables or machines.

One advantage of these fly exercises is that they provide more constant tension than free weights. This makes it easier to target the inner chest.

Cable Chest Fly

A cable chest fly is typically done in a standing position with the pulley set at about chest height. Form here, the movement is exactly the same as a dumbbell fly and works the entire pectoral muscle.

With cables, you can change the angle of the fly by moving the pulley up or down. A high pulley works more of your lower chest. While a low pulley works more of your upper chest.

Cable Chest Fly

Pec Dec Chest Fly

A pec deck is a machine with an upright bench and two handles attached to a weight stack. With this machine, you can perform a chest fly without needing to balance the weight.

Although you have little control over changing the angle of your arms relative to your body. So it works similar to a flat dumbbell fly with more loading at the top end of the movement.

Machine Chest Fly

Resistance Band Chest Fly

If you work out at home and don’t have dumbbells or machines, then you could use a resistance band fly. Simply anchor the band at the desired height and perform the fly as described above.

One unique feature of resistance band flyes is that the tension is greater at the top of the movement. So they are better for the inner chest than the outer chest.

Hypertrophy Training Program

The dumbbell fly is one of the best exercises for isolating your chest and building the shape you want. But to reach your overall fitness goals, you need a complete resistance training plan designed for muscle gain.

In order to maximize muscle growth (aka hypertrophy), you should adjust 10 specific training variables. Check out my free hypertrophy training program to see how to optimize your workouts.

Hypertrophy Training
Build More Muscle

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better lower body. And if you found this article useful, I hope you’ll check out some of my other informative content below!

How to Build Chest Muscle

A big chest doesn’t have to be the stuff of mythology and fantasy.  Unless you’ve been dealt a very unlucky hand genetically, you can build a big chest too!  Chances are you simply haven’t structured your training for maximum growth.  In this article you will learn how to build chest muscle with a killer chest workout designed for optimal growth.

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Learn how to set SMART fitness goals that drive action and get results. See 10 examples and start writing your own!

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