How To Do Chest Flyes

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on June 26, 2022
5 min read

The chest fly is a popular chest exercise used to develop the pectoral muscles. The exercise is performed on a bench with feet flat on the ground and knees bent at a 90-degree angle.

People who are just starting their fitness journey can use a lighter weight or perform the exercise with just their body weight. As you get stronger, you can add dumbbells or barbells to increase the difficulty of the chest fly.

A chest fly is a weightlifting exercise that primarily targets the pectoral muscles. It is a variation of the standard bench press and is performed by lying on a flat bench with a weight in each hand. You can do this exercise with dumbbells, barbells, or cables. 

Chest flyes enhance muscular endurance and can also be used for rehabilitation purposes. Since they are a muscle-strengthening exercise, you have to do them in reps and sets. A single repetition means you have done one chest fly. Your chosen number of repetitions forms a set. 

The chest fly muscles worked include:

  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Pectorals

The chest fly has many variations, but they all work the same muscles. For example, the triceps are worked when you extend your arms back behind you, and the shoulders and chest are worked when you bring your arms back to the starting position in front of you.

The pectoral muscles form the group of skeletal muscles connecting the lateral and anterior thoracic walls to the upper extremities of your body. These muscles provide power and movement to your chest and shoulder areas.

The pectoralis major is the large, flat, fan-shaped muscle that lies across the front of your chest. It inserts on the humerus, or upper arm bone, and originates at the sternum. 

The pectoralis minor is a small triangular muscle located beneath the pectoralis major. It inserts on the coracoid process, a small bony prominence on the shoulder blade, and originates at the third to fifth ribs. The pectoralis muscles are essential in various movements, including arm flexion, adduction, and internal rotation.

Strengthening your pectoral muscles helps you better support your body when exercising and performing daily activities. It can also improve your posture and appearance.

If you're wondering how to do a chest fly with different equipment, such as dumbbells, you're in luck. The exercise is a simple, intermediate-level activity that anyone can master. 

Step 1: Starting Position 

You need a bench and a pair of dumbbells. Lie on your back on the bench and place your feet on the floor. If the bench has a raised platform in front of it, you can also put your feet there. This will allow you to maintain a neutral spine position. 

If it's your first time, ask someone for assistance. They can hand you the dumbbells when you're in position. If there's no one around you, pick up the dumbbells gently. 

Step 2: Doing the Chest Fly 

Hold one dumbbell in each hand and lie on your back with them raised above you so that your palms face each other. This will be your starting position. 

Now lower the dumbbells to the side in a wide arc until you feel a stretch on your chest. Breathe in as you perform this portion of the movement. 

Return the dumbbells to the starting position as you squeeze your chest muscles and breathe out. Hold for a second and repeat. Make sure the dumbbells are parallel to each other when you move them.

Step 3: Repeat

You can do this workout for as long as you like, but it's recommended to start with three sets of 12 repetitions each. As you get stronger and more comfortable with the moves, you can increase the weight of the dumbbells and the number of sets.

Remember to warm up with some light cardio and stretch before you start lifting weights. Warming up decreases the stress on your muscles and heart. It also lowers your body temperature and heart rate, reduces muscle soreness, and improves flexibility. 

Always use proper form to avoid injuries. You can watch a few tutorials online or talk to a gym instructor to perfect your chest fly form.  

If you're a beginner, start with lighter weights. To make the chest fly more challenging, you can use heavier weights or hold a weight in each hand and perform the exercise one arm at a time. 

Another challenging variation is to hold the weights at the bottom of the movement and squeeze your chest muscles before returning to the starting position. 

You can also increase the range of motion by performing the chest fly on an incline bench. If you have shoulder or elbow pain, perform the exercise with your palms facing each other to lower the impact.

Chest physical therapy is instrumental in healthcare to resolve problems arising due to chronic lung disease. These problems include dyspnea (shortness of breath), physical deterioration, and ineffective coughing. 

Research shows that chest wall-stretching exercises helped improve chest expansion in chronic lung disease patients. These exercises also increased the amount of air the patients could exhale during normal breathing and reduced their shortness of breath.

Likewise, another study found chest expansion and resistance exercises to increase trunk control ability (the ability to control your upper body) and improve respiratory function in stroke patients. 

The chest fly exercise also strengthens the muscles around the shoulder blades and improves posture. It is, therefore, an excellent exercise to include in your workout routine.

When doing a chest fly, many people make the mistake of arching their back and swinging their arms. Doing this limits the range of motion and puts unnecessary strain on the lower back. Instead, keep a slight bend in your knees and hinge at the hips to lean forward slightly. 

If it's your first time doing a chest fly, get a spotter to help you. Do not start with heavy weights because you might end up hurting yourself. Instead, go for lighter weights and gradually increase the amount you lift as you get more comfortable with the exercise.

The proper chest fly form is to have your palms facing each other and your elbows slightly bent as you bring the dumbbells up. If you're unsure, speak to a trainer or gym instructor.