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The Incline Dumbbell Fly 101 | How to Exercise Your Upper Chest!

By
Mike Kenler
April 1, 2020

The Incline Dumbbell Fly

The incline dumbbell fly is an essential exercise for the strengthening of your chest and upper body. Armed with an incline bench and a pair of dumbbells, you can bolster your entire fitness routine.

Muscles Worked by the Incline Dumbbell Fly

Primary Muscle Groups:

As stated, the chest muscle, scientifically known as the pectoralis major, is the primary muscle worked by the incline dumbbell fly. Your pecs are made up of two heads: the clavicular head, which comprises the upper chest, and the sternal head, which makes up the mid to lower chest. While both heads are engaged during the lift, the incline of the bench places more tension on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major.

In addition, your shoulders, also known as the deltoids, play a primary role in executing the incline dumbbell fly. The deltoids are comprised of three heads: the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear) heads. During the incline fly motion, the most tension is directed to the anterior or front deltoids.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

Because the arms are slightly bent during the incline dumbbell fly, your biceps help to stabilize the motion. In this secondary role, the biceps receive tension but do not lengthen or shorten. In other words, they undergo an isometric contraction, which can help maintain strength in the biceps.

Incline Dumbbell Fly Benefits

1. Strength gains

The incline dumbbell fly is one of the best exercises to strengthen the pectoralis major and the anterior deltoid. The horizontal adduction movement will result in activation of these muscle fibers and hypertrophy of the chest and shoulders. With a stronger chest and shoulders, you can push heavier objects, perform better in sports, improve your posture, and boost your overall confidence. Not only that, but with a stronger upper body, you will improve in other exercises as well!

2. Emphasis on the upper chest

All too often, I see people in the gym begin their chest day routine with a flat bench exercise. If you constantly neglect incline chest exercises, you are overtraining the lower, sternal head of the pec and under training the upper, clavicular head. It is important to be mindful when we build strength in order to maintain balance in the body. If this sounds like you, try incorporating the incline dumbbell fly into your next chest day. This exercise emphasizes the upper chest and can help to build strength more evenly in your pec muscles.

3. Wide range of motion

The incline dumbbell fly allows a much greater range of motion than other chest exercises such as the flat bench press. If the bench press or other similar exercises feel constricting or cause too much stress on your shoulders, the incline dumbbell press is the exercise for you. Use light weight to start and try to increase your mind-muscle connection as you enjoy the wide range of motion of the incline dumbbell fly.

How to do the Incline Dumbbell Fly

Equipment:

For the incline dumbbell fly, you will need a pair of dumbbells and an incline bench.

Setup:

1.  Assume a sitting position on an incline bench at a 30 degree angle.

2.  Lift your arms above you with your palms facing together and a slight bend in your elbows.

Action:

1. Lower the weight in a controlled fashion to each side and stop when the weights are roughly in line with your shoulders. Breathe in on the way down!

2. Next, use your chest and shoulders to drive the dumbbells back to the starting position in a consistent pathway. Breathe out on the way up!

3. Maintain tightness in your chest and repeat this motion.

Recommendation:

To start, choose a relatively light weight for this exercise. Because the weights are traveling to each side, you won’t be able to lift as much as you can for a standard bench press. Instead, complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps at lighter weight.

Incline Dumbbell Fly Mistakes

1. Too much bend in the elbows

Far too often, weightlifters allow their ego to take over and they choose to lift heavy dumbbells for the incline dumbbell fly. Consequently, they cannot maintain the stretch in their arms and their dumbbell fly looks more like a dumbbell bench press. This negates the stretch of the pec muscles and it risks injury. Instead, choose a lighter weight and practice proper form.

2. Using arms rather than chest

Another common mistake made during the incline dumbbell fly occurs when people allow their arms to take over. When this happens, the weightlifter focuses on bringing their hands together at the top of each rep. Instead, you should feel as though you are bringing your elbows together. This will ensure that you use your chest to drive the motion of the exercise rather than your arms and shoulders.

3. Over stretching at the bottom

In the attempt to recruit greater muscle activation, some lifters allow the dumbbells to drop very far down at the bottom of each rep. In reality, this action only places unnecessary stress on your elbow and shoulder joints, which risks injury.  The key to the incline dumbbell fly is to move in a controlled manner. Be sure to lift safely to improve your strength!

Incline Dumbbell Fly Variations

1. Decline dumbbell fly

Just as the incline dumbbell fly works your upper chest muscles, the decline dumbbell fly will engage your lower chest muscles. They are both great exercises for building chest strength!

2. Around the world dumbbell fly

This variation is performed on the floor. With your arms elevated in the start position, move them behind your head. Then, slowly move the dumbbells in a circular motion until your arms are by your sides. This works every part of your pecs and deltoids.

3. Standing Dumbbell Upward Fly

This exercise is just like the incline dumbbell fly but without the bench!

Incline Dumbbell Fly Alternatives

If you enjoyed the incline dumbbell fly, check out these other upper chest focused exercises to improve your upper body training!

1. Incline chest press machine

The incline chest press machine controls your range of motion to ensure that your upper chest drives the exercise motion.

2. Incline Barbell Press

This incline alternative is another great exercise that engages the upper chest and the anterior delts. Tighten your abs and push the bar upwards in a controlled fashion. Slowly lower it back down and repeat!

3. Reverse Grip Push-Up

While the reverse grip push up may take a little while to get used to, this pushup variation places more tension on the upper chest. It is a great option to work out your upper body at home!

If you enjoyed these chest exercises, check out this intense 5 minute at home chest workout!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing and Plant-based Bodybuilding Wizard