Flye High With This Pec-Building Approach

Pec flyes have been a staple in bodybuilding training for as long as I’ve been lifting. Sadly, they’ve taken the backseat to other more “intelligent” training methods due to recent surges of information, prioritizing some lifts and simultaneously discrediting old school movements. There are reasons pec flyes deserve your attention, however – if you’re looking for a chest that busts out of your shirt.

Why Flye?

Chest flyes follow the natural movement of pec muscles the most, compared to flat, incline, or decline press methods. Though the latter moves allow you to lift more weight, the fly motion continues the fibrous pattern of the muscles, and can amplify gains when added to the above movements.

SEE ALSO: Chest Training: Build Bigger Upper Pecs>>

A Look at your Chest

The pec muscles originate on the sternum and travel outwards to the upper arm. Their function is to internally rotate and horizontally adduct the upper arm (humerus). Using a barbell bench press variation can indeed tap into both of these capacities, but especially when it comes to the first function, the upper arm is stuck in one position the entire time since the hands are anchored to one spot on the barbell the entire set. Having free hands for chest flyes allows for wrist and elbow “play” room,  making for a much more suitable environment to tap into every last fiber of the chest, and creating a major pump in the process. To add to this, the triceps are no longer a major synergist to the movement. That means more isolation.

The Technique

Position a bench to its lowest incline level, or keep it flat and lie face up. With a pair of dumbbells, start the movement with outstretched arms above the chest, palms facing in. Pull your shoulder blades back, and with a very slight bend in the elbows (if your arms are at a 90 degree angle, that’s way too much bend), move the weights away from one another until the arms are parallel with the ground and in line with the body. Don’t change your elbow position – keep it locked in that slightly bent state.  Briefly pause at the bottom of the rep, and then squeeze your chest to return to the start position. Keep the arms long.

SEE ALSO: The 3 Most Common Chest Flye Mistakes>>

Common Mistakes/Troubleshooting

Dumbbell Flye

“I don’t feel it in my chest at all.”

Try looking at your movement path. Although the arms start above the middle of the chest, your goal should be to lower the weights in line with the upper chest, as that’s natural for the arm. The dumbbells should be at shoulder level, rather than nipple level, at the bottom of the lift. This will ensure the chest is getting fully stretched, right up to the insertion of the muscle fibers.  And also, as said above, remember that it’ll be hard to target the chest in any movement if you don’t retract your shoulder blades. Pin the scapulae behind you on the bench, and avoid “reaching with the shoulders” to get the weight back up.

“I don’t feel it in my chest at the top of the movement”

It’s important to remember force angles. Gravity is pulling the weights downward, and your chest pulls inward with its fibrous path. Naturally, the top portion of the lift will be much easier on the chest than the bottom portion. To maintain tension on the muscles, however, be sure to stop just shy of touching the weights together, so that there’s still a reason for the chest to work through the top end ranges. As a guide, don’t let the weights come narrower than your nipples.

As a superior alternative, try setting up in a cable machine. The outward tension the two cables will provide will keep the pecs involved from start to finish, with no excuses.

SEE ALSO: 5 Steps to Strong, Chiseled Pecs>>

“Chest Flyes hurt my shoulders.”

If you find shoulder discomfort from fly patterns – even when using good technique, start by lowering the load. It doesn’t take much weight to get a good stimulation from this movement, so remember that less could be more. Second, allow for some minor wrist and elbow rotation as the movement goes on. Pull upwards using the pinky finger to create a “scoop” action through the bottom range of the lift, and you may find that the minor humeral shifting works a world of wonder on your shoulder capsule.


Give the chest fly some love. Throw it in after a solid pressing workout, and you’ll feel it tear your chest open – in a very good way. You’ll be glad you did. 

SEE ALSO: 5 Chest Exercise Tips for Bigger Pecs>>