How to Perform the Reverse Fly

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Rear delt fly

Targets: Rear shoulders and upper back

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Level: Beginner

Resistance training is shown to help with muscle imbalances including those caused by poor posture. If you’re slouching over computers, cell phones, and driving too much you may not have the best posture. This constant head forward body position can cause the rear shoulder and back muscles to lengthen while chest muscles become tight.

The reverse fly is a resistance exercise that targets the rear shoulders (deltoids) and major muscles of the upper back, including the trapezius. The trapezius helps with a scapular retraction or pulling your shoulder blades in toward each other. 

Strengthening these muscles using the reverse fly exercise will help improve poor posture, promote an upright stance, and improve balance. 

Adding the reverse fly to your strength-training workout is a great way to round out an existing program. The exercise only requires dumbbells so it can be performed at the gym or in the comfort of your own home. As you become comfortable with the exercise, you may consider trying variations of this exercise. 


The reverse fly targets the posterior deltoids (rear shoulders), and major upper back muscles including the rhomboids and trapezius. Scapular retraction occurs during this exercise causing the shoulder blades to pull in toward each other. This helps strengthen muscles negatively affected by poor posture.

Research indicates specific strength training for neck and shoulders including the reverse fly is an effective tool to reduce pain and disability in these areas. A large group of office workers participating in the study experienced positive results using three short exercise sessions per week. 

Performing the reverse fly can improve functional fitness and provides many other benefits including:

  • Improved posture and balance
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Reduced neck and shoulder pain/discomfort
  • Increased strength and stamina
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved well being
  • Improved muscle imbalance
  • Better performance of day to day activities 

Step-By-Step Instructions

The reverse fly is shown to be an effective exercise to strengthen the rear shoulder and upper back muscles. You may want to practice without weights first, then grab light weights when you're ready to try out the full movement. As you become comfortable with the movement, gradually add more weight.

The following guidelines will help you perform the movement using proper form and technique: 

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding dumbbells at your sides.
  2. Press the hips back in a hinge motion bringing your chest forward almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Allow the weights to hang straight down, palms facing each other.
  4. Maintain a tight core, straight back, and slight knee bend.
  5. Exhale and raise both arms out to your side, squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  6. Keep a soft bend in your elbows as you pull your shoulder blades toward the spine.
  7. Inhale as you lower the weight back to start position.
  8. Avoid hunching your shoulders up during the movement.
  9. Keep your chin tucked to maintain a neutral spine during the exercise.
  10. Focus on feeling the shoulders blades coming together with proper breathing from start to finish.
  11. Repeat the exercise for 8 to 12 repetitions, or as determined per set.

Common Mistakes

The reverse fly is a great way to strengthen muscles and correct muscle imbalance, but using improper form may increase your risk of injury. The following are common mistakes to avoid when performing this exercise: 

Rounding the Back

Avoid rounding your back during the reverse fly. This is a common mistake that can place too much stress on your lumbar spine (low back). The problem is easily fixed by paying attention to your body position. Maintain a tight core (envision your navel sucked to your spine), chin tucked, and a straight back to effectively execute the movement.

Swinging the Weight

Perform the exercise with a slow controlled movement. Swinging the weight uses momentum instead of proper muscle movement to raise the arms out to the side. Strengthening muscle is not a race to the finish but a slow and engaging process.

Lifting Too Heavy

The inability to perform a full range of motion during the reverse fly is a good indicator you’re trying to lift too heavy. Also, you may experience strain in your shoulders, back, and neck that doesn’t feel like good work. Reduce the weight resistance appropriate for this exercise and your fitness level. This will enable you to perform the movement effectively and in good form.

Modifications and Variations

The reverse fly can be performed in a variety of ways to accommodate your fitness level.

Need a Modification?

If you are new to weight training and this specific exercise, there are a few modifications to consider including:

  • Perform the exercise in an upright stance using a resistance band instead of dumbbells. Pulling the tube from your front to the sides will help you identify and feel the back muscles working and squeezing together (scapular retraction). It’s also a great alternative for those individuals struggling with low back problems where bending over feels uncomfortable.
  • Perform the reverse fly seated on a bench or stability ball if a standing position is not well-tolerated. The hinge forward hip position and neutral spine are still implemented but in a sitting position. This will help you perform the exercise with more stability and eliminates the discomfort caused by standing during the movement.
  • Perform the exercise lying prone (face down) on a bench or over a stability ball to eliminate any low back discomfort that may be caused while standing or seated. This will enable you to really focus on the muscle movement and limits any injury during the exercise. 

Up for a Challenge?

There are a few ways to increase the challenge and intensity of the reverse fly including:

  • Performing the exercise using a pterodactyl stance increases the instability of the movement. The reverse fly is done in a lunge position with your strongest leg forward. The hip hinge forward and straight back body position are still maintained. Holding this body position during the reverse fly forces more core engagement and leg work to complete the exercise.
  • Increase weight resistance during the exercise. Lifting heavier places more challenge on the muscles being worked, as long as you maintain proper form.

Safety and Precautions

Weight training requires attention to body position, form, and function. Performing any resistance exercise improperly can increase your risk of injury. The following tips will help you perform the reverse fly safely and effectively.

Avoid rounding your back during the exercise to reduce/eliminate strain on the low back.

  • Modify the exercise to seated or lying position if you experience low back pain/discomfort while standing.
  • Lift weight appropriate for your fitness level. This allows for a good form of the exercise from start to finish.
  • Avoid swinging the weight using momentum to complete the exercise. Perform the reverse fly using slow, controlled muscle movement.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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Article Sources
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  2. Bergquist R, Iversen VM, Mork PJ, Fimland MS. Muscle Activity in Upper-Body Single-Joint Resistance Exercises with Elastic Resistance Bands vs. Free WeightsJ Hum Kinet. 2018;61:5–13. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0137

  3. Andersen CH, Andersen LL, Gram B et al. Influence of frequency and duration of strength training for effective management of neck and shoulder pain: a randomised controlled trial. Br J Sports Med. 2012;46(14):1004–1010. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2011-090813

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