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Why the Chest Fly Is a Must-Do Upper-Body Exercise

TBH, the chest fly (aka chest flye, dumbbell flye, or pec fly), seems like a total bro move. You've probably seen a super-muscly dude lying back on a bench, grunting his heart out to get those dumbbells back up over his chest. 

But actually, this under-the-radar upper-body move (demonstrated here by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) is great to incorporate into any fitness routine—bro or otherwise. Here's why, and how to do it correctly.

Chest Fly Benefits and Variations

"The fly is great because it’s a nice chest opener and teaches scapular retraction," says Joey Thurman, fitness and nutrition expert and author of 365 Health and Fitness Hacks That Could Save Your Life. ICYDK, scapular retraction basically means the ability to pinch your shoulder blades together—an action that's super important for combating poor posture from sitting hunched over a desk or cell phone all day.

It mainly works the chest and shoulders, and a touch of triceps and stabilizing muscles in the shoulder, he says. Meaning, at the very least, it'll make push-ups a lot easier. A word of warning, though: "People often try to go too fast with this movement and risk injury and not working the proper muscles," says Thurman. "Remember that this is a chest exercise, so you should feel it in your chest!" (Superset it with a dumbbell bench press to really obliterate your chest muscles.)

The easiest way to scale up or down is to increase or decrease the weight you're using. Remember: You know you're using the right amount of weight if the last few reps are difficult (but not impossible) to complete. You can also alter your hand position (ex: palms facing forward or backward) to stimulate different areas in your chest, says Thurman. Or add an extra core challenge by performing dumbbell chest flys on a stability ball or Bosu ball, or using a cable machine instead. (See: Gym Machines That Are Actually Worth Your Time)

How to Do a Chest Fly 

A. Lie faceup on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand, resting on the tops of thighs with palms facing in. Use your legs to assist in raising the weights, lifting the dumbbells to hold them directly over the chest. Press them up so arms are extended (but not locked) over the center of the chest, with palms facing in to start.
B. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, inhale and slowly lower both arms out to the sides while shoulder blades naturally retract. Pause when dumbbells reach shoulder height.
C. Exhale and squeeze through chest to pull dumbbells back together over chest to return to starting position.

Do 10 to 15 reps. Try 3 sets.

Chest Fly Form Tips

  • Try for a 2- to 3-second negative phase (lowering movement) and a faster positive phase (lifting movement).
  • Keep core engaged and avoid arching the lower back excessively during the lowering movement.

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