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. It only requires dumbbells so it can be performed in the gym or at home. Add the reverse fly to your upper body strength-training workout.

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. Allow the weights to hang straight down (palms facing each other) while maintaining a tight core, straight back, and slight knee bend.

  1. Exhale and keep a soft bend in your elbows as you raise both arms out to your side. Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you pull them toward the spine.
  2. Inhale and lower the weight back to the start position. 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 Reverse Flys

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 or cellphone or drive a lot, 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 exercise sessions per week. 

Performing the reverse fly can also improve your functional fitness. Walking and sitting with a healthier stance not only supports a healthier spine but has also been shown to 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 eliminates 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 reverse flys while standing or sitting upright. This is a great 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 really focus on muscle movement and limits 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 place too much stress on 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

Always use a slow, controlled movement when doing reverse flys. Swinging the weight uses momentum instead of muscle 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 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—this includes the reverse fly.

Talk with your doctor or trainer before doing this exercise if you have issues with your shoulders or back. 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 and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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Article Sources
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