November 30, 2021
The incline fly (or flye) is an excellent isolation exercise to add muscle mass to the upper chest. This post covers the incline fly, muscles worked, benefits, tips, and a few variations that you can do with different equipment. Arnold believed that flys were responsible for the full pectoral development that helped propel him into the history books as one of the best bodybuilders ever to live. If they were good enough for him, don't you think incline flys are good enough for you?
A standard incline fly is an isolation exercise that's performed with dumbbells on an incline bench. This angle transfers more tension onto the upper chest. When doing incline flys, you'll be using your arms as levers with your elbows bent while bringing your arms out to your side until you feel a deep stretch, then you squeeze your chest to bring your arms back up to the center of your body.
A good way to think about the movement of a fly is to picture yourself hugging a tree without having any movement at the elbow. Doing incline flys doesn’t require any pressing action, and as the arms are used as levers, so the weight you'll use won't be that heavy.
Use Different Inclines: The point of the incline fly is to place more emphasis on the upper chest by doing the exercise on an incline bench. Most adjustable benches can be set at a wide range of angles. It's best to do incline flys with a variety of incline degrees. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously did flys and presses at many different inclines to target the muscles from different angles; suffice it to say, it worked out pretty well for him. You'll see many posts on this subject that all recommend the standard 30-45 degree incline; if you go lower, the mid-chest will be targeted, higher, and your shoulders will be emphasized more.
Keep Constant Tension: Try not to bang the weights at the top of the movement or lockout your elbows. Move the dumbbells in a full range of motion on the way down. This added time under tension is one of the essential aspects of strength and muscle gains.
Lower with Control: We often see people do incline flys while almost dropping the weights as they lower them to the sides rather than moving gradually. Try to add a second or two to the eccentric phase of this exercise to get some added stress and time under tension placed on your pecs. If you can't control the weights while lowering them, then you're probably using weights that are too heavy for the time being. Don't let your ego get in the way of your progress.
Focus On Chest: Focus all your attention on moving your arms through an arch as they act as the levers while your pecs drive the motion. Inhale as you lower the weights to the sides in a slow, controlled manner, then exhale as you squeeze those pecs to bring the weights back to their starting position.
Supinate Wrists: To get a maximum contraction while doing incline flys, you can supinate your wrists towards the movement's top. Start the movement with your wrists facing each other and as you lower the weights. When raising your arms back to your body's center, start turning your pinky fingers in towards each other so, by the time you get to the top of the movement, your wrists are facing you.
Don't Squeeze Grip Too Hard: Squeezing the handles too hard while doing incline flys could shift some of the tension away from the chest and onto the forearms and biceps. The critical point when doing incline flys is to concentrate on contracting the pecs to move the weight. The mind-muscle connection is essential when doing flys to get the most out of the movement.
Don't Lower Too Far: You could compromise your shoulders if you overextend the range of motion to your sides. Although you might be able to lower the weights past your chest, you should proceed with caution. Most people should be comfortable moving through a range of motion where the weights will be chest level at their lowest point. If you feel any pain in your shoulders, then you might be going too far and should stop immediately.
Elbows Bent Too Much: Your arms should be slightly bent at 10-15 degrees for the entire movement. Many people will bend their elbows too much. If your elbows are bent too much you will shift tension away from your chest and onto your biceps.
Don't Over Arch Lower Back: You should remain in contact with the bench throughout the movement of an incline fly. This exercise is to isolate and target the chest; therefore, you shouldn't need to arch your back as you might when trying to do a heavy bench press. Keep your abs engaged in helping maintain proper body positioning throughout the exercise.
Yes, you should be performing incline flys regularly in your training regimen. Most people do enough flat bench presses and flys but might skip over doing incline chest exercises. However, incline flys will help to build a balanced chest. So, next time you're at the gym and are about to do some flys or hit the pec deck, switch it up and do a few sets of incline flys.
The primary movers in the incline fly are the clavicular head of the pectoralis major and the anterior deltoid. The front delt and the clavicular head are situated next to each other. Both attach to the collar bone and insert into the humerus. Therefore, both these muscles often work in tandem. For example, they both help with the movement of internal rotation where the arms are brought towards the center of the body like incline flys and shoulder flexion where your arms move up and forward in exercises like the incline bench press.
Here's a glance of both muscles below:
Stabilizing and supporting muscles when doing incline flys include:
Incline fly isn't better or worse than the flat dumbbell fly. These exercises are great for stretching the pecs and working them through a complete range of motion. The significant difference between a flat fly and an incline fly is how the pecs are activated. With a flat fly, you will transfer the tension toward the mid-chest so that you're working the sternal head of the pecs more than the clavicular head.
Increase Strength: The incline fly is an excellent isolation exercise to work the upper chest. This exercise works the pecs through a wide range of motion, generating new strength and muscle fiber recruitment. The incline fly is an exercise made for hypertrophy as you'll be using relatively lighter weights and moderate rep ranges compared with other chest pressing exercises.
Enhanced Definition of Upper Chest: The upper chest gets neglected all too often as most people spend most of their effort on the flat bench press and regular flys. Your training should always consist of a balanced approach. Try mixing in the incline fly into your normal routine so next time you think about doing regular flys or hitting the pec deck, give the incline dumbbell fly or a variation of it a chance. This can help you to build balanced strength and aesthetics in the pecs.
Great to Open Chest: Incline flys will help open the chest to get an amazing stretch of the pecs.
When doing pressing exercises such as the bench press, there is a limited range of motion, but with the incline press, you're able to move through a complete ROM. By opening up the chest and getting this stretch, you could reduce tightness and/or upper back pain. This rings especially true for people who are hunched over all day working at a desk.
We wanted to give you a few other looks on how you can do incline flys with different equipment that will slightly change the stimulus on your muscles. Here are few of the best incline fly variations.
The cable incline fly is the perfect variation to the standard dumbbell incline fly because the cable places constant tension on the muscles throughout the movement. When doing incline flys with dumbbells, the top of the movement has minor strain on the muscles; therefore, you need to contract your pecs extra hard to make up for the lack of stress. But with cable incline flys there’s stress on the pecs even at the top of the exercise as you’re fighting against the resistance of the cable.
Follow the same cues as a regular incline fly, make sure the bench is set up correctly before starting the exercise.
Related: 15 Best Cable Chest Exercises
If you have resistance bands with handles, you can anchor it low and perform low to high flys while standing, which targets your upper chest just like an incline bench dumbbell fly.
Note: You can also do this in the same exact way with a cable machine (rather than the previous bench set up).
If you have the 41" loop resistance bands (which are usually more common around gyms) you can perform the exercise in the same way but with the band wrapped behind your back. You'll bring your arms up in front of you at an angle to imitate the standard incline fly motion. You can see how this is done in the link below, along with other resistance band chest exercises.
The stability ball incline fly will force you to focus more on using the stabilizing muscles in the shoulders and the core to help complete this exercise in a controlled, efficient manner. This study looked at the dumbbell fly related to stable and unstable surfaces and both incline and flat variations. The results found that with a piece of unstable equipment, the serratus anterior, anterior deltoid, and pec major showed similar muscle activation using less weight, making it a possible option for those rehabbing an injury.
Follow the same cues as the incline fly but use lighter weights and make sure to keep your core engaged throughout the movement. Make sure your upper back is braced against the ball the whole time.
The single-arm dumbbell fly will challenge you slightly differently from a regular incline fly.
First, your upper body and core muscles need to work harder to stabilize you as you lower the weight down to one side. The beauty of doing a single-arm fly is that you can focus on contracting the muscles on one side of your body at a time. You'll also be able to recognize if one pec is weaker than the other, allowing you to establish a plan to get both sides of your body back to equal strength.
This variation of the incline fly should get those pecs fired up. The incline isometric hold can help to strengthen your stabilizer muscles while getting a great stretch in the pecs. To perform the incline isometric hold, you hold the weights at the bottom part of the fly. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Start with a lighter weight than you would use for the regular incline fly.
Incline flys can be added to your workout program in a variety of ways. Below are a two methods of training incline flys that will get those pecs popping!
3-4 sets of 8-12 reps at a weight where you can do slow, controlled reps of 1 second concentric and 3-second eccentrics. Take 45-90 seconds between sets.
Drop sets - Choose a weight that you can do a set of 10 reps. Perform first set of 10 reps, then without rest, pick up next dumbbells that are 10-20% lighter aim for another 10 reps or AMAP. Keep moving down in weight for another two sets. This means you completed four total sets without a break for at least 40 total repetitions.
Yes, you can do incline flys without a bench. We gave one example above where you can use a stability ball as support. You could also use a foam roller across your upper back to mimic a slight incline.
The most common angles of the incline fly would range from 30-45 degrees. You can, however, lower or raise the bench to slightly alter how the muscles are worked. For example, if you set the bench at an angle of more than 45 degrees, you will start transferring more tension onto your shoulders, whereas you'll move the stress to your mid-chest and sternal head if you set the bench angle lower than 30 degrees.
There can be a few reasons why your shoulders might hurt a bit while doing incline flys. The main reasons for this could be:
Incline flys should be added to your chest workouts so that you can hit the upper chest to build fuller, more muscular pecs. Try mixing in some incline flys after you've done some heavy bench press sets. Use moderate to high reps of 8-15 in 3-4 sets. Focus on proper execution and check your ego at the door for this one. Don't worry; no one will ever ask you about your 1RM of incline flys.
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