By Michael Berg, NSCA-CPT
The muscles of the chest are best targeted in one of two ways when it comes to weight training — via a press
, where the arms are actively involved at the elbow joint in assisting the pectorals to move maximum tonnage, or a flye, where you keep your elbows in a fixed position while flexing and extending the pectorals. Want a better chest? You’ll need to do both. For the latter, arguably the best flye of all is the incline dumbbell version, which targets the harder-to-develop upper pectorals.
The pectoralis major is the primary muscle in action during flyes, while the triceps are relegated to a stabilizer role.
Adjust a bench so that the incline is 30 to 45 degrees — higher inclines bring more of the front delt into play, which is also the case with incline presses. Lie face up on the bench with your feet flat on the floor for balance, pressing the dumbbells into position directly above your upper chest, arms just slightly bent and palms facing each other in a “neutral” grip style. The dumbbells can be touching each other to start.
Maintaining that same slight bend in your elbows throughout, slowly lower the dumbbells in an arc out to the sides. Get a nice stretch at the bottom, stopping at the point your elbows drop a little below the level of your chest and the weights are about parallel with your pecs. From there, contract through your pecs to bring your arms back up to the start, but stop an inch or so before the weights contact one another.
Focus on keeping your arms locked in a slightly bent position. There should be no movement at your elbow, the motion should be occurring only at the shoulder joint.
Let the weights clang together at the top of the rep, which momentarily eases the muscle tension on your pecs. However, you can try touching the weights together under full control and pressing them together for an extra squeeze down through your mid pecs, similar to how you might finish a pec-deck flye.
Traditionally, the palms face each other during a dumbbell flye, but you can also switch to a palms-down style. It’s a minor change, but it does hit the muscle fibers in a slightly different way. You can also do flyes within a cable station, setting a bench in the center and using the pulleys from their bottom position. Cables offer the benefit of continuous resistance throughout the range of motion.
Flyes should be done after presses in a chest routine — except in the case outlined below.
If you tend to have stronger pectorals and weak-link triceps that cause you to terminate your sets of presses too soon, pre-exhaust may be the answer. To use pre-exhaust, you simply fatigue your pectorals with flyes first, so that they are pushed closer to the brink of failure as you start pressing. You won’t be able to handle as much weight when you press, of course, but your pecs should reach failure before your tri’s give out, meaning more stimulation where you need it.