How To Do The Chest-Building Dumbbell Flye

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So building a bigger chest is on your agenda. That’s fair enough. The same can be said for many guys who regularly hit the gym. But before you head straight for the bench press, let us explain a better way to promote new growth in the pecs. That way is the dumbbell flye.

The dumbbell flye targets all areas of the pecs, but most significantly the sternal fibres – those that attach directly to your sternum. Growth in this particular area creates the defined “chest separation” look. The move is also better at stimulating chest fibres across the spectrum than the flat bench press. What’s more, you don’t have to lift anywhere near as heavy, and since the benches at any gym fill up quickly, this offers a viable alternative.

How To Do The Dumbbell Flye

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Pictured: Incline dumbbell flye, the dumbbell flye uses a flat bench

Lie with your head and shoulders supported by the bench and your feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells directly above your chest, palms facing each other, then lower the weights in an arc out to the sides as far as is comfortable. Use your pectoral muscles to reverse the movement back to the start. Keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout and don’t arch your back.

Dumbbell Flye Form Tips

Avoid the arch

You may see elite-level powerlifters arch their back when performing chest exercises like the bench press. Don’t attempt to emulate them – remember that the goal of powerlifting is moving a weight from A to B with sufficient force. Your goal is in recruiting and targeting muscle fibres to elicit new growth.

Keep your elbows bent

Be sure not to straighten your arms fully and lock them out. This takes the emphasis off the pectoral muscle fibres and channels the load you are lifting into the elbow and shoulder joints. This increases injury risk and doesn’t activate the chest enough.

Don’t overstretch

Be careful not to let your elbows drop too far in the start position. They should remain in line with your torso on the bench. Overstretching during this part of the movement could injure your shoulders and reduces the amount of work the pec muscles do.

Dumbbell Flye Variations

Gym ball dumbbell flye

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To make the dumbbell flye a heck of a lot harder and enlist all manner of other muscles in the movement, try performing the move while resting your back on a gym ball rather than a bench. Because you’re supporting your shoulders and back on an unstable surface, muscles all over your body have to work throughout the exercise to keep your body upright, which means you improve your balance and core strength on top of the chest-building benefits of the flye itself.

To perform this variation pick a lighter dumbbell than normal, then rest your shoulders and back on the top of a gym ball with your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Incline dumbbell flye

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The incline flye targets the top of the pecs more than the flat version of the exercise does. To do it, set your bench up at an incline of around 30°. Then lie back and perform the flye as you would with a flat bench, paying extra care not to overstretch when you bring the weights down.

It can also be done on a gym ball rather than a bench if you want to introduce some instability to the movement. If you are using a gym ball, set up carefully with your feet firmly planted as it’s all too easy to slip forwards off the ball when performing the flye at an incline.

Joe Warner
Former editor of Men’s Fitness UK

Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.