Dumbbell Fly Exercise Guide

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: June 29, 2023

Building the perfect chest requires different exercises, just as a sculptor needs various tools to create a masterpiece.

Traditional exercises like the bench press are roughing in large shapes like the hammer. At the same time, 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 will show you how to use the dumbbell fly to sculpt your ideal chest.

Dumbbell Fly

What Is A Dumbbell Fly?

The chest fly, also known as the dumbbell fly, is an upper-body resistance training exercise where you lie on a flat bench and lower a pair of dumbbells to your sides while keeping your arms relatively straight.

The dumbbell fly is considered an isolation exercise because it involves a single joint. But you may feel this working a few different muscles.

Dumbbell Fly Muscles Worked

When performing dumbbell flies, the main focus is on the pectoral muscles located in the chest. You may also feel some engagement in the anterior deltoid in the front of the shoulder.

The biceps and triceps are also utilized to a certain degree to maintain a straight arm position.

Dumbbell Fly Muscles Worked Image

Dumbbell Fly Benefits & Limitations

The dumbbell fly exercise is an effective way to develop your chest muscles while minimizing the involvement of your triceps and deltoids. This exercise targets the pectorals directly, making it an ideal choice for chest development.

Moreover, the dumbbell fly targets the pectorals in both the stretched and contracted range of motion, and you can customize your workout to target specific areas of the chest.

However, it’s important to note that the dumbbell fly puts a lot of stress on the pectoral tendon and may not be ideal for those seeking massive strength gains.

Pros

  • Excellent for isolating pectorals
  • Works chest through the entire range of motion
  • Multiple variations

Cons

  • High stress on the pectoral tendon
  • Not a power movement

How To Do A Dumbbell Fly

To perform a dumbbell fly, sit 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 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 for doing a dumbbell fly:
  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

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Dumbbell Fly Form

When performing a dumbbell fly, it’s essential to use strict form to isolate the pectorals. When viewed from the side, your wrists, elbows, and shoulders should stay aligned 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 pulls 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, several dumbbell fly variations target specific parts of your chest. One way to do this is by changing the angle of your arms relative to your body.

Incline Dumbbell Fly

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

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 declined dumbbell fly targets more of the lower chest.

Dumbbell Fly Alternatives

If you don’t have dumbbells, that’s ok. You can do chest flies 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 standing with the pulley set at about chest height. From here, the movement is precisely 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, it works similarly 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 flies is that the tension is greater at the top of the movement. So they are better for the inner chest than the outer chest.

More Chest Exercises & Workouts

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 also need compound chest exercise, and it’s good to use multiple forms of resistance.

So here are some additional articles that will help you create your ultimate chest day workout.

Guide: How to Build Chest Muscle

Flat Bench Press vs Incline Bench Press

How to Decline Bench Press for Lower Chest

Press Up vs Push Up for Chest

11 Barbell Chest Exercises With or Without Bench

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

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By |June 29, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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