How To Do A Chest Fly Correctly Using Dumbbells


There are so many different dumbbell exercises you can use to strengthen and sculpt your upper body. One in particular that I encourage my clients to do if they want to tone their shoulders, chest, and arms is the chest fly.

Why? It’s incredibly effective at isolating these muscles groups because you’re lying on your back. Being in a supine position offers more stability and the opportunity to really put the work into the places you’re targeting, hence why the chest fly is so, well, fly.

While your lower body gets a break, you will need to keep your core engaged by drawing your navel toward your spine and bracing your abs in an isometric hold. Maintaining a contraction in your core while you work your arms will help strengthen your midsection at the same time that you’re building muscle in your arms. It also ensures that you don’t put stress on your lower back while doing this exercise.

What’s more, this move doesn’t require a ton of equipment to perform. Two dumbbells are all you need. But it can also be done with two full water bottles or canned goods if you don’t have any free weights at home.

As an certified trainer, I’ll break down how to do a lying dumbbell chest fly with step-by-step instructions below, plus go into its benefits, offer some variations, and a few pro tips to fine-tune your technique. Let’s get started.

How To Do A Dumbbell Chest Fly

  1. Start by lying on your back with your feet placed flat on the floor. Grasp the dumbbells with your palms facing inward.
  2. Push the dumbbells directly above your chest with lightly bent elbows, keeping your wrists straight.
  3.  Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells toward the floor at shoulder height, maintaining a soft roundness with your arms (think: hugging a tree). Stop when the backs of your upper arms touch the mat.
  4. Exhale and slowly raise the dumbbells back to the starting position while maintaining the arc in your arms.

Form Tips: People tend to go through the movement too fast. So make sure to take your time, keep your core engaged, bra line pushed into the floor, and don’t overarch your lower back.

Reps/sets for best results: I suggest using medium-sized dumbbells and doing 10–15 reps three times through.

What Are The Benefits Of A Dumbbell Chest Fly?

Of course, the dumbbell chest fly will target your chest and shoulders, but it can also help improve you posture as it opens up the upper body and helps with scapular retraction (translation: the pulling of one’s shoulder blades towards the spine).

I am currently seven months pregnant and complete this move in all of my upper body strength workouts to keep my posture upright while I gain more weight in my baby bump.

Runners also tend to love this move for its posture-improving benefits too. Better overall posture means better form and more efficient runs.

Variations Of The Dumbbell Chest Fly

  • Do them standing up: Grab two dumbbells, holding one in each hand with palms facing towards each other, arms by your sides. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hinging at your hips with soft knees and a neutral spine at a 45 degree angle. While keeping a slight bend in your elbows you will lift dumbbells up and out to your sides until they reach shoulder height. Hold at the top, squeezing shoulder blades together, then slowly lower back to starting position. This will help you improve your posture even more by challenging and strengthening those posterior muscles on the backside of your body.
  • Try it using a stability ball: Lie on a stability ball with your shoulder blades on top of the ball and the rest of your body in a table top position (knees over ankles, legs bent at 90 degrees, and feet flat on the floor). Lift your arms over your chest as you would in a regular lying chest fly. This is great for core strength and balance and will force you to focus on form while trying to remain stable on the ball.
  • Alternate your arms: Everything will be exactly the same as a complete lying chest fly, but this time you’re going to alternate between lowering one arm at a time. This will present an extra core challenge because you’ll have to work harder to engage your core in order to not let your torso rotate from side to side with the weights.

How To Add The Dumbbell Chest Fly To Your Routine

You will want to give your muscles time to recover, so performing chest flyes two or three times a week is enough. Here’s how to add it to your routine.

  • Add them to your upper body strength day: If you’re focusing mainly on arms and shoulders, throw in the chest fly. It will challenge your upper body stability, improve posture, and tone those upper chest muscles too.
  • Work it into a chest or shoulder focused routine: This is a pretty self-explanatory recommendation, but the chest fly is the perfect move to add to your chest or shoulder routine. Say you just got finished doing a shoulder press, throw in a chest fly afterwards for another upper-body challenge.

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