How to Perform the Incline Dumbbell Fly

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Dumbbell Fly on Incline Bench

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Also Known As: Incline Chest or Pec Fly

Targets: Upper Chest, Triceps

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells and Adjustable Bench

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

The incline dumbbell fly is an isolated strength exercise that targets the upper chest muscle. Because of the incline bench position, it allows for isolation of the harder to develop upper pectorals not achieved performing a basic flat bench fly.

Well-rounded chest development occurs when specific weight loads are applied to the muscle at varying angles. The basic chest press or fly benefits the pectoralis major but the incline dumbbell fly goes a step further to isolate the upper part of that muscle. Combining both exercises in your training program will help you get the most out of your chest workout.

The incline dumbbell fly requires minimal equipment using only dumbbells and an adjustable bench. You are seated comfortably at a 30 to 45-degree angle using appropriate dumbbell resistance for your fitness level. Imagine hugging a barrel over your chest to perform the movement.

Performing the incline dumbbell fly is a great way to add variety to an already existing chest workout. It can help improve your overall upper body strength and development useful in and out of the gym.

If you are new to this exercise or weight training, it may be a good idea to enlist the guidance of a qualified personal trainer.

Benefits

The incline dumbbell fly targets the upper pectorals and a great way to improve chest development. The shoulders play a secondary role while the triceps stabilize the movement.

The exercise is an effective way to isolate the hard to develop upper chest muscle. Adding the incline dumbbell fly not only helps build a better chest but is shown to have many other benefits that include:

Improves Upper Body Strength

Increased upper body development including arm strength occurs since the exercise engages multiple muscle groups.

Better Pushups

Because the exercise engages the chest, shoulders, and triceps, it can help make pushups easier given the same muscles and stabilizers are used.

Improved Scapular Contraction

The exercise stretches the chest muscles and stimulates scapular contraction (pinching shoulder blades together in the back). This helps improve posture especially for those sitting hunched over a computer or on the phone all day.

Improved Health

Weight training, including this exercise, challenges muscular strength and endurance shown to improve bone density, metabolic function, heart health, and weight loss.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The incline dumbbell fly is a relatively simple exercise to set up and perform at the gym or home setting using the following steps:

  1. Adjust your bench to a 30 to 45-degree incline position.
  2. Sit on the bench, straddling it with your feet flat on the floor. Rest the weights on your thighs just above the knees for heavier loads or centered at the chest for lighter weights.
  3. Maintain a tight core and exhale as you lie back on the bench while kicking one dumbbell up at a time in position over the chest in a fluid motion. This will not be necessary for lighter dumbbells that can be held securely on your chest as you lie down on the bench.
  4. Raise the dumbbells over your chest, elbows slightly bent, and palms facing each other. (envision hugging a barrel over your chest)
  5. Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells in a maintained arc position until you feel a mild stretch in your chest or shoulders.
  6. Exhale and bring the weights back to start position maintaining an arc throughout the movement.
  7. Repeat for a determined amount of repetitions.
  8. Bring the dumbbells back to body center resting on chest or thighs (depending on weight), exhale and use your core to sit up upon completion of the exercise.

Common Mistakes

The incline dumbbell fly can feel like an easy exercise, but it does take focused concentration to engage the upper pectorals during the movement. The following are common mistakes to avoid during the exercise. 

Lifting Too Heavy

Using too heavy of a weight load can put you at risk for a shoulder or muscle injury. Begin using lighter dumbbells where you can perform the exercise safely and effectively. 

Incorrect Elbows

The elbows should remain slightly bent and locked during the movement. This keeps unnecessary stress out of the shoulders and allows for correct exercise form and technique. Too much bend in the elbows limits the range of motion of the exercise and decreases effectiveness.

Overstretching the Chest

Taking the dumbbells out and down too far can put you at risk for injury. The goal is to work through as comfortable of a range of motion that your body allows for effective and safe execution of the exercise.

Modifications and Variations

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

Need a Modification?

If you're new to performing an incline dumbbell fly, you may want to apply a few modifications as follows: 

  • Master the incline dumbbell press before adding the dumbbell fly to your chest workout. This will increase exercise confidence and upper body strength in an inclined position. 
  • Use light dumbbells to perform the exercise and progress to more challenging weight loads as your upper body strength increases. 
  • Adjust the bench incline angle between 30 to 45-degrees and what feels most comfortable for your body during the exercise.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have mastered the proper form, you can add variations to the incline dumbbell fly to make the exercise more advanced:

  • Perform the exercise with palms down instead of facing each other. This slight variation hits the muscle fibers just a little bit differently and can feel more challenging. The palms down version can place added stress on the shoulders and may not be suitable for those with shoulder injuries.
  • Try the incline fly using cables instead of dumbbells. Slide your adjustable bench in the center of a cable station and use the bottom pulleys to perform the exercise. Your upper pectorals and stabilizing muscles will have to work harder to maintain sustained resistance during the movement.

Safety and Precautions

The incline dumbbell fly, like all resistance exercise, requires good form and technique for effectiveness and safety.

The following tips will help you perform the incline dumbbell fly correctly and reduce the risk of injury:

  • Start with lighter dumbbells for proper exercise form and avoid placing unnecessary stress on the shoulder joints.
  • Maintain a slight bend in the elbows and keeping them locked for proper exercise execution.
  • Avoid dropping the dumbbells out too far and down to keep from overstretching the chest. Maintain an appropriate range of motion to effectively work the upper pectorals.
  • Control the movement and try to avoid banging the dumbbells together at the top. Work through the exercise slowly and with focus.
  • If you experience pain or discomfort that doesn’t feel right during the incline dumbbell fly, discontinue the exercise. 

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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  1. Lauver J, Cayot T, Scheuermann B. Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;16(3):309-316. doi:10.1080/17461391.2015.1022605

  2. Ferreira D, Ferreira-Júnior J, Soares S et al. Chest Press Exercises With Different Stability Requirements Result in Similar Muscle Damage Recovery in Resistance-Trained MenJ Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(1):71-79. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001453

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