How to Do the Reverse Fly

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on July 11, 2022
5 min read

If you’re looking for an exercise to target your upper back, you’ll want to the add reverse fly to your workout routine. The reverse fly works muscles in your upper back and shoulder region. Targeting this area can help improve your shoulder strength and protect your shoulders from injury. 

A reverse fly is an exercise that can be done with dumbbells or resistance bands. You’ll need to be bent at a 45° angle to allow the right muscles to be targeted. Proper form requires your elbows to stay static and slightly flexed while you use your shoulders to pull your arms back in the proper range of motion. 

The reverse fly targets the back of your shoulders and your upper back muscles. Reverse flyes are great for targeting your posterior deltoid, which can be challenging to do with other exercises or machines.

Reverse fly muscles worked include: 

The reverse fly is a great beginner exercise. It doesn’t require intricate moves or a lot of extra equipment. If you have dumbbells or resistance bands on hand, you’ll be able to do this exercise at home. 

To do the reverse fly with dumbbells

  1. Start with your knees bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Lean forward at a 45° angle. Let your arms hang down by your calves. Make sure your elbows are slightly bent. You don’t want to let them hang loose or lock them in position. 
  3. Slowly start raising the weights until your elbows are level with your shoulders. You should feel this exercise begin to work in your shoulders and upper back. Make sure you’re not putting strain on your neck. 
  4. Then you’ll start to lower the weights back to your starting position. You’ll feel more tension across your upper back and your shoulders on your way down. 
  5. Make sure you’re not arching or hunching your back when going through the motions. 
  6. One to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions is plenty for you to see benefits from this exercise. It would help if you started off with a lighter weight and progressed to a heavier weight as you strengthened your muscles. 

There are many reverse fly adaptations you can make if you don’t have the proper weights or need to start with resistance bands or in a different setting. 

Incline reverse fly. This adaptation of the reverse fly still incorporates dumbbells, but instead of standing up, you’ll sit on a bench facing the backrest. Make sure the bench is angled between 45° and 60°. Keep your torso against the backrest, with your feet firmly on the floor. Let your arms hang toward the floor like a standing reverse fly. While on the bench, stiffen your core and abs to stabilize your spine. 

Then raise the dumbbells to the side, similar to the reverse fly. After you’ve squeezed your shoulder blades together, start lowering your back, paying close attention to avoiding arching your back.

Resistance band reverse fly. Using a resistance band in place of weights is a great way to help your body get used to the movement of reverse flyes. By following the same moves as a reverse fly with dumbbells, you’ll focus on hand placement to increase or decrease resistance. By holding the resistance band closer to the ends, you’ll reduce resistance, and holding it closer to the center will increase resistance.

To try incline reverse flyes with resistance bands, you can wrap your resistance band around a pole or sturdy object to anchor the band. Then, sitting upright in a chair, making sure your band is at the same height as your shoulders, pull the band toward your side in an arching motion. Make sure you’re not bending your elbows. Slowly return the resistance band to the starting position. Do this 8 to 12 times for three sets.

Pulley reverse fly. Another option for reverse flyes includes two pulley cables. You’ll want to adjust the pulleys to be shoulder height or slightly below. Make sure you’re standing with each pulley on either side of your body. Then grab the cable on your left side with your right hand and the cable on your right side with your left hand.

You’ll start with both arms crossed in front of you. Keep your back straight and your feet pressed to the floor. Pull your arms apart until they’re straight out by your side, then slowly return to your starting position.

There are many benefits to the reverse fly. Using the proper technique, you can increase activity in your deltoids and infraspinatus muscles.

Working on your spine and neck muscles can help improve your posture. Good posture can help reduce stress on your spine and surrounding muscles, reducing long-term pain.

Maintaining good posture during your workouts helps keep your joints aligned and ensures that the proper muscular contractions are happening. 

Working on your shoulder muscles balances strength in your muscles. This also helps prevent injuries in your shoulders and neck. 

While the reverse fly seems like a straightforward exercise, there are some common mistakes to avoid. When doing the reverse fly, pay attention to your back. Make sure your back is not arched or hunched. While doing this exercise, you want to maintain good posture. 

You’ll also need to be mindful of swinging the weights during the movements. You may be more likely to start swinging the weights as you get tired. Instead, make sure you’re using your upper back muscles to keep your movements in control. 

The more exhausted you become, the more likely you will stop using your deeper core stabilizers. This can put a lot of stress on your vertebral discs. This can cause long-term pain if you're consistently overworking your lumbar muscles.

While you're doing your exercise, you'll want to have kinetic chain checkpoints with yourself, which includes making sure all of your joints are aligned. This allows for more muscular involvement and less stress on your joints.