Incline Dumbbell Fly

Proper Form to Target Your Upper Chest

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: April 5, 2023

The chest fly is one of the only exercises you can use to isolate the pectoral muscles. And there are several ways to do flyes, including with dumbbells and an incline bench.

However, it’s easy to use sloppy form on flyes, which can damage joints and tendons. So I’m going to show you how to do an incline dumbbell fly properly.

Incline Dumbbell Fly

What Is An Incline Dumbbell Fly?

An incline dumbbell fly is a great isolation chest exercise where your arms remain relatively straight, and nearly all the movement happens around the shoulder joint.

This exercise generally requires an incline bench or an adjustable bench to get the correct body angle. And, as the name suggests, you use dumbbells to provide resistance.

However, I will show you a few ways to replicate this exercise with other equipment or without a bench.

Incline Dumbbell Fly Muscles Worked

Unlike chest presses, the minimal arm bend of the fly movement allows you to work the pectoral muscles with little help from the triceps. And this is why it’s considered a chest isolation exercise.

In addition, the incline angle shifts more of the loading to the upper chest and the anterior deltoids on the front of your shoulders. Also, you may feel your biceps activate as they flex at the bottom.

Incline Dumbbell Fly Muscles Worked

How Much Incline?

With incline dumbbell flyes, it’s important to realize that the steeper the angle, the more you target your shoulders. But if it is too shallow, your lower chest will start to take over.

Therefore, the ideal bench angle for the incline dumbbell fly is between 15 and 45 degrees. In the image below, my adjustable bench is set at 30 degrees to get a target upper pecs without too much shoulder involvement.

Flat vs Incline Dumbbell Fly

The main difference between a flat bench and an incline bench dumbbell fly is how your arms move relative to your body. And that slightly changes how your chest works during the exercise.

With the flat bench, your arms move straight across your body, which works the mid and lower pectorals more. By comparison, your arms move up and across your body on the incline bench, which targets the mid and upper pecs.

Both dumbbell fly variations are good, and you can include either in your routine. It really just depends on which part of your chest you’re trying to build.

How To Do an Incline Dumbbell Fly

Start by setting the incline on your bench, if necessary. Then grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on the bench with the dumbbells on your thighs.

Next, lie back and hoist the dumbbells to your chest. From here, press the dumbbells until your arms are fully extended and perpendicular to the floor, with palms facing in.

Now, lower the dumbbells to each side while keeping your arms relatively straight. When your hands reach about chest level, lift the dumbbells to the starting position without bending your elbows.

Generally, you should maintain a neutral grip throughout the exercise with the palms of your hands facing up at the bottom and towards each other at the top.

Here is how to do an incline dumbbell fly step-by-step:

  1. Set the desired incline
  2. Grab dumbbells and lie back on the bench
  3. Press dumbbells to arm’s length with palms facing in
  4. Lower weight while only slightly bending your arms
  5. When your hands reach shoulder level, extend back to the top
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps

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Incline Dumbbell Fly Form

The description and video above should give you a good idea of how to do dumbbell incline flyes correctly. But here are a few more tips to help you isolate your chest and prevent shoulder stress.

1. Align Hands & Elbows With Shoulders

First, you want to keep your arms aligned with your shoulder joint as much as possible throughout the range of motion. This body position ensures you do not put excess stress on your joints.

To put it another way, think about lowering the weight straight out to the side while keeping your elbow in line with your hand and shoulder. For example, the side view below shows how my arms stay between the green lines during the entire exercise

Incline Dumbbell Fly Form 1
Incline Dumbbell Fly Form 2

2. Bend Your Elbows Slightly

Next, a small arm bend at the bottom of any fly variation is okay. In fact, it helps you feel the stretch in your chest more at the bottom of the movement.

However, it’s a good idea to straighten your arms at the top to feel a deeper contraction in your chest. Think about pulling your elbows together, but the dumbbells don’t have to touch.

Incline Dumbbell Fly Range of Motion

3. Maintain Constant Tension

Finally, it’s easy to take a break at the top of the movement where there is very little resistance. But you should try to keep tension on your chest muscles during the entire exercise.

In other words, focus on holding a deep squeeze at the top and get a good stretch at the bottom.

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Incline Dumbbell Fly Alternatives

Now there may be times when you don’t have access to an incline bench, dumbbells, or both. So I will show you how to replicate the incline dumbbell fly with different types of resistance. And I have two dumbbell incline fly alternatives without a bench.

Incline Cable Fly

The easiest way to replicate an incline dumbbell fly is by placing an adjustable bench between two cables. Then set the pulleys at the lowest position and attach the single handles.

Now you can perform the fly movement the same way you would with dumbbells. However, the angle of the cables makes it so you feel more resistance at the top of the movement and a little less at the bottom.

So this variation is a good way to get a deeper contraction in your chest.

Incline Cable Fly

Standing Low Cable Fly

You can also do standing cable flyes if you don’t have a bench. And you can target your upper chest by setting the pulleys at the lowest level.

Then stand between the cables and hold one handle in each hand. Step forward until your arms are slightly behind you, and you feel a stretch across your chest.

Now lift your arms up and across your body while keeping them relatively straight.

Incline Dumbbell Fly Alternative

Resistance Band Low Fly

Finally, you could try a low fly using a resistance band if you don’t have a cable apparatus. You will need to anchor the band near the floor behind you while holding a handle in each hand.

Now perform the upward fly exercise as you would with cables.

Related: 15 Best Resistance Band Chest Exercises

Resistance Band Low Fly

More Chest Exercises

Now you know how to do the incline dumbbell fly with proper form to target your upper chest. And you’ve seen a few alternatives you can use to keep your workouts fresh.

But you should also include compound movements in your chest workout. So here are some additional articles you can use to build your complete chest training program.

Flat Bench Dumbbell Fly

Flat vs Incline Bench Press

How to Incline Dumbbell Press

Decline Bench Press for Lower Chest

Dumbbell Hex Press for Inner Chest

11 Barbell Chest Exercises With or Without a Bench

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

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By |April 5, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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