How to Do a Reverse Fly: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Dumbbell reverse fly, bent over reverse fly, rear delt fly

Targets: Rear shoulders and upper back

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Level: Beginner

The reverse fly is a resistance exercise that works the rear shoulders and major muscles of the upper back. The only equipment you need to do it is a pair of dumbbells so that it can be performed in the gym or at home. Add the reverse fly to your upper body strength-training workout.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best dumbbells. If you're in the market for dumbbells, explore which option may be best for you.

How to Do a Reverse Fly

Standing Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly Workout
starush / Getty Images

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides. Press the hips back in a hinge motion, bringing your chest forward and almost parallel to the floor. Let the weights hang straight down (palms facing each other) while maintaining a tight core, straight back, and slight knee bend.

  1. Raise both arms out to your side on an exhale. Keep a soft bend in your elbows. Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you pull them toward the spine.
  2. Lower the weight back to the start position as you inhale. Avoid hunching your shoulders, and keep your chin tucked to maintain a neutral spine during the exercise.

You may want to practice the reverse fly without weights first, then grab light weights when you're ready to try the full movement. As you become stronger, gradually add more weight.

Benefits of The Reverse Fly

The reverse fly targets the posterior deltoids (rear shoulders) and major upper back muscles (rhomboids and trapezius). Strengthening these muscles helps improve poor posture, promotes an upright stance, and improves balance.

If you spend a lot of time slouching over a computer, cellphone, or drive, this constant head-forward position can cause the rear shoulder and back muscles to lengthen while chest muscles become tight. This leads to pain and a reduced range of motion.

Research indicates that including the reverse fly in your strength training routine can help reduce pain and disability in these areas. For example, a large group of office workers participating in one study experienced positive results using three short weekly exercise sessions. 

Performing the reverse fly can also improve your functional fitness. Walking and sitting with a healthier stance supports a healthier spine and can boost self-confidence.

Other Variations of The Reverse Fly

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

Seated Reverse Fly

Perform the reverse fly seated on a bench if a standing position is not well-tolerated. This will help you perform the exercise with more stability and eliminate the discomfort caused by standing during the movement. The hinge forward hip position and neutral spine are still implemented in a sitting position.

reverse fly exercise move

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Upright Reverse Fly With Resistance Band

You can use a resistance band and do the reverse fly while standing or sitting upright. This is an excellent alternative for individuals with low back problems where bending over feels uncomfortable. To do it, place the middle of the band around a stationary object, then pull the ends toward you.

Prone Reverse Fly

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 focus on muscle movement and limit injury during the exercise. 

Reverse Fly With Lunge

For advanced exercisers, performing this exercise in a lunge position increases the instability of the movement. Holding this body position forces more core engagement and leg work to complete the exercise. The hip hinge and straight back body position are still maintained.

Common Mistakes

Avoiding these common mistakes can help you perform this exercise safely and effectively. 

Rounding the Back

Avoid rounding your back during the reverse fly, as this can stress your lumbar spine (low back). This mistake is easily fixed by paying attention to your body position. Keep your core tight (envision your navel sucked to your spine), chin tucked, and a straight back to effectively execute the movement.

Swinging the Weight

Strengthening muscles is not a race to the finish but a slow and steady process. Always use a slow, controlled movement when doing the reverse fly. Swinging the weight uses momentum instead of muscle to raise the arms to the side.

Lifting Too Heavy

The inability to perform a full range of motion during the reverse fly indicates you’re trying to lift too much weight. You may also notice strain in your shoulders, back, and neck. Reducing the weight will enable you to perform the movement effectively and with good form.

Safety and Precautions

Weight training, in general, requires attention to body position, form, and function. Performing any resistance exercise improperly can increase your risk of injury, including the reverse fly.

Talk with your doctor or trainer if you have issues with your shoulders or back before doing this exercise. If pain develops in either of these locations when performing the reverse fly, stop this movement and do other exercises to work these areas instead.

Repeat the exercise for 8 to 12 repetitions. Start with one set if you're new to exercise and work your way up to three sets.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move into one of these popular workouts:

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Atalay E, Akova B, Gür H, Sekir U. Effect of upper-extremity strengthening exercises on the lumbar strength, disability and pain of patients with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled study. J Sports Sci Med. 2017;16(4):595-603. PMID:29238262

  2. Lee DE, Seo SM, Woo HS, Won SY. Analysis of body imbalance in various writing sitting postures using sitting pressure measurementJ Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(2):343-346. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.343

  3. 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

By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.