How to Do an Incline Dumbbell Fly: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

woman doing dumbbell fly

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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Also Known As: Incline chest fly, incline pec fly

Targets: Upper chest and triceps

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells and adjustable bench

Level: Beginner to intermediate

The incline dumbbell fly is an isolation exercise that targets the upper chest muscles, activating the hard-to-develop upper pecs in a way that can't be achieved using a flat bench. Different muscle groups are targeted based on the level at which you perform the dumbbell fly.

Compared to the barbell bench press, one study found that the dumbbell fly provides greater activation of the biceps brachii. For most exercisers, a combination of flat and incline dumbbell fly will give the most well-rounded results.

How to Do an Incline Dumbbell Fly

Dumbbell fly on incline bench, steps.
mihailomilovanovic / Getty Images

Adjust the bench to a 30 to 45-degree incline position. Sit down, straddling the bench with both feet flat on the floor. Lie back and raise the dumbbells over your chest. Your elbows are slightly bent with palms facing each other—as if hugging a barrel over your chest. This is the starting position.

If you are using heavy weights, kick one dumbbell up and over the chest at a time. When using lighter dumbbells, they can be held securely on your chest as you lie back.

  1. Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells in an arc position until you feel a mild stretch in your chest or shoulders.
  2. Exhale and bring the weights back to the starting position, maintaining an arc throughout the movement.
  3. Return the dumbbells to your body's center once this exercise is completed. Rest the weights on your chest or thighs, depending on weight, as you exhale and use your core to sit up.

Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Fly

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

Although the flat bench fly benefits the pectoralis major, the incline fly goes one step further to isolate the upper part of this muscle. Using both exercises in your training program helps maximize your chest workout.

If your upper body routine includes push-ups, this exercise can make them easier to perform since the same muscles and stabilizers are used.

The incline fly also stretches the chest muscles and stimulates scapular contraction, pinching the shoulder blades together in the back. This helps improve posture. It can also make everyday activities easier to do, such as grabbing a heavier item off a high shelf.

Other Variations of an Incline Dumbbell Fly

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

Modifications for Beginners

If you're new to performing an incline dumbbell fly, you may want to apply a few modifications to make this exercise easier. One is to reduce the incline of the bench, even taking it completely flat, as in the image below. Another is to use a lighter weight.

woman doing chest fly

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Palms Down

Performing this exercise with the palms down instead of facing each other hits the muscle fibers differently and can feel more challenging. This modification places added stress on the shoulders and may not be suitable for those with shoulder injuries.

Incline Cable Fly

Try the incline fly using cables instead of dumbbells. Your upper pecs and stabilizing muscles will have to work harder to maintain sustained resistance during the movement. Slide your adjustable bench in the center of the cable station and use the bottom pulleys to perform the exercise.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common errors to perform the incline dumbbell safely while maximizing its effectiveness.

Lifting Too Heavy

Using too heavy of a load can put you at risk for a shoulder or muscle injury. Begin with lighter dumbbells that allow you to do the exercise with good form. As you get stronger, you can increase the weight lifted.

Too Much Elbow Bend

Bending the elbows too much limits the exercise's range of motion and decreases effectiveness. Keep the elbows slightly bent during the movement. This prevents unnecessary stress on the shoulders and allows for correct form and technique.

Overstretching the Chest

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

Not Enough Control

Control the movement from start to finish, working through the exercise slowly and with focus. One sign that you may not be using enough control is if the dumbbells bang together when above your chest. If this occurs, slow down and work to better manage the movement.

Safety and Precautions

If you have a chest or shoulder injury, ask your doctor or physical therapist before doing the incline dumbbell fly. If you experience pain or discomfort that doesn’t feel right during the movement, discontinue the exercise. 

When first starting out, try to complete one set of 5 to 10 repetitions. As your chest strength begins to improve, add more reps, then add more sets. Work your way up to three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones 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. 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. Solstad TE, Andersen V, Shaw M, Hoel EM, Vonheim A, Saeterbakken AH. A comparison of muscle activation between barbell bench press and dumbbell flyes in resistance-trained males. J Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(4):645-651.

  3. Lee JH, Cynn HS, Yoon TL, et al. The effect of scapular posterior tilt exercise, pectoralis minor stretching, and shoulder brace on scapular alignment and muscles activity in subjects with round-shoulder posture. J Electromyog Kinesiol. 2015;25(1):107-114. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2014.10.010

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.