The dumbbell chest fly is an exercise that can help to strengthen the chest and shoulders. It’s common to do it while lying on your back on a flat or incline bench. There’s also a dumbbell fly standing variation.
Read on to learn more about this move, including how to perform it, variations, benefits, and safety tips.
The dumbbell chest fly works the following muscles:
Other benefits include the following.
The dumbbell chest fly can help open up your chest muscles. Chest openers may help reduce upper back pain, increase range of motion, and reduce tightness in the upper body.
If you’re doing dumbbell chest flies as a way to open up your chest muscles, consider using lighter weights, or even no weights. That can help you to get the full range of motion from the move without overextending. Extending too far may lead to an injury.
Scapular retraction exercises may help improve posture and help you gain strength in the shoulder region.
Performing chest dumbbell flies a few times a week may help open up the chest and shoulder region and help with shoulder retraction.
Equipment you’ll need
- two 3–10 pound dumbbells
- bench (optional)
You can perform this move with minimal equipment.
If you’re a beginner, start with a light dumbbell weight of 3 to 5 pounds. If you’re more advanced at upper body exercises, consider using 8 to 10 pound weights instead. You can also increase the weight as you become more advanced.
If you want to try the traditional dumbbell chest fly, you’ll also need access to a flat bench.
Dumbbell chest fly
Equipment needed: set of 2 dumbbells, flat bench
- Lie flat on your back on a flat incline bench. Place your feet firmly on the floor on either side of the bench. Your head and back should remain firmly pressed into the bench throughout the exercise.
- Ask a spotter to hand you the 2 dumbbells, or gently pick them up from the floor and hold 1 in each hand.
- Lift arms up above the head so they’re extended but not locked out. There should be a slight bend at your elbow, and your palms and dumbbells should be facing each other.
- Inhale and slowly lower dumbbells in an arc motion until they’re in line with the chest. Your arms will be extended to the sides but not locked out. Don’t drop your arms lower than your shoulders.
- Exhale and slowly press the dumbbells up in the same arc motion.
- Perform 10–15 reps. Rest. Do 3 sets total.
Incline bench dumbbell chest fly
Equipment needed: set of 2 dumbbells, incline bench
- Start with your back flat on an incline bench, which is lowered to 30 degrees. Hold 1 dumbbell in each hand.
- Start with your arms at chest level at your sides, elbows bent and pointing out.
- Slowly exhale and lift your arms above your chest.
- Inhale and slowly lower your arms to your sides to the starting position.
- Continue to press up.
- Perform 10–15 reps. Perform 3 sets.
Standing chest fly
It is not possible to do a chest fly standing with dumbbells, as gravity turns it in to a shoulder exercise. To do a standing chest fly, it must be done with a resistance band, or weight machine or cable machine.
Equipment needed: 2 resistance bands
- Stand with your feet in a split position, with the knees slightly bent. Grip the resistance bands in each hand.
- Bring your arms up straight in front of you so they’re at chest level, palms facing each other.
- Extend arms out to the sides, until your arms are extended. Keep arms at chest level the entire time.
- Bring them back to center. Repeat 10–15 times. Perform 3 sets.
As you progress with the dumbbell chest fly exercise, try to increase the weight of the dumbbells you use each week or every other week. You can try lifting two to three more pounds each week.
Alternatively, you can try performing a dumbbell chest fly on an exercise ball for an extra challenge. This is harder because you’ll need to use your core to stabilize your body throughout the move.
Eventually, you may want to move on to using a cable pull machine or performing bench presses at the gym.
If possible, have a certified personal trainer spot you and teach you how to correctly perform these exercises. Using correct form can help you get the most out of the move, and it may also help prevent injury.
Talk to your doctor before performing this move if you have a back, shoulder, or arm injury. Your doctor may recommend variations or suggest avoiding this move.
If you’re having trouble correctly performing the move, consider using a lighter weight. You can also try doing the move without weights to help you get used to the motion. Once you have the movements down, you can slowly add weights.
The dumbbell chest fly may be a good exercise if you’re looking to build strength in your chest, shoulder, and arm muscles. Start with a light set of dumbbells if you’re a beginner, and slowly increase the amount of weight each week as you build strength.
Combine chest flies with other chest exercises, like pushups, chest press, planks, and seated decline cable press, for best results. Avoid chest flies if you’re injured or in pain. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
- Escamilla RF, et al. (2009). Shoulder muscle activity and function in common shoulder rehabilitation exercises. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200939080-00004
- Lying chest fly. (n.d.). https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/exercise-library/21/lying-chest-fly
- Reiser FC, et al. (2018). Manual resistance as a tool to increase muscle activity and time under tension in a strength exercise. https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/JEPonlineAPRIL2018_Reiser.pdf
- Rohmann R. (2014). Beginner strength training workout. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3714/beginner-strength-training-workout