dumbbell fly alternative
Fitness

5 Dumbbell Fly Alternatives for Bigger Pecs

Walk into any gym and you’ll see guys doing the same two moves to build their chest – bench presses and dumbbell flys. In recent years, however, there’s been a growing awareness that doing flys with dumbbells may not be the best or the healthiest way to activate your pecs. As a result, some guys are ditching the classic dumbbell version of the fly completely in favor of better, safer options. In this article, we explore why the dumbbell version of the fly should be confined to the scrap heap. Then I’ll provide you with 5 better options that will give you more growth with less risk. 

What’s Wrong with the Dumbbell Fly?

There are four key weaknesses with the dumbbell fly that make it a bad exercise:

  1. When you are doing the fly on a bench you have no protection against overextension of your shoulder joint. This can cause damage to the anterior shoulder capsule, especially if you are using a weight that is too heavy for you. 
  2. When your arm is extended out from your body, as in the end position of the dumbbell fly, you are not able to use as much weight as you could when the weights are directly over your chest. As a result, you are not able to load the pecs maximally through a full range of motion.
  3. In the top position of the exercise, there is no pectoral activation. This means that you are not applying continuous tension to the working muscle. 
  4. The stretch that you are feeling in the bottom part of the dumbbell fly is not actually a pectoral muscle stretch. Instead, that stretch is being felt in the anterior deltoid and the bicep. Try it and see for yourself!

Dumbbell Fly Alternatives

There are ways to do a fly movement other than lying on a bench with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Some of them are better options because they eliminate one or more of the problems identified in the previous section. Here are three fly modifications that will allow you to build more muscle without risking shoulder injury.

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1. One Arm Cable Fly

The One Arm Cable Fly allows for pectoral adduction where the arm moves across the pecs beyond the midline. Better still, it does so without the force of gravity pulling down on the shoulder joint, as it does in the dumbbell fly. When you use a cable, the line of force is parallel to your upper arm, relieving all of the strain on your anterior shoulder capsule.

The cable fly allows you to use a heavier weight and to cross the midline of your pecs so that there is full pec activation in the end position of the movement. With this exercise, you are also able to work each side of the chest individually. 

How to do the one-arm cable fly:

  • Set the handle position on a cable machine to mid-chest level.
  • Stand in front of the machine, facing away from it, and grab the handle in your right hand.
  • In the starting position, your arm should be slightly bent and locked in that position.
  • Pivot from the shoulder joint to bring the arms in and across your chest to fully contract the pectoral muscle.
  • Return and repeat.

2. Floor Fly

The floor fly is a variation of the bench dumbbell fly that still uses dumbbells but ditches the bench in favor of the floor. Doing the exercise on the floor eliminates the problem of potential anterior shoulder capsule injury because the floor provides a safety net to prevent overstretching. 

How to do the Floor Fly:

  • Place a pair of dumbbells on the floor.
  • Position yourself behind the dumbbells, sitting on your butt.
  • Grab hold of the dumbbells and ease back so that you are lying on the floor with knees bent and the dumbbells held at arm’s length above the chest.
  • Bend the elbows slightly and keep them locked in that position.
  • Pivot from the shoulder joint to bring your arms out and down until the upper arms touch the floor. 
  • Reverse the motion to return to the start position. 

3. Floor Fly Press

The Floor Fly Press is a variation of the last movement that allows you to overload the pecs with a heavier weight than you would normally be able to do on a fly movement. In the bottom position, you press the weight back to the start position. This allows you to perform negative reps which have been shown to deliver more growth potential than positive reps. 

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How to do the Floor Fly Press:

  • Place a pair of dumbbells on the floor that is heavier than you would normally use for the dumbbell fly.
  • Position yourself behind the dumbbells, sitting on your butt.
  • Grab hold of the dumbbells and ease back so that you are lying on the floor with knees bent and the dumbbells held at arm’s length above the chest.
  • Bend the elbows slightly and keep them locked in that position.
  • Pivot from the shoulder joint to bring your arms out and down until the upper arms touch the floor. Do this more slowly than you normally would, trying to take 3 seconds to get the weight all the way down.
  • In the bottom position, bring the dumbbells up to a pressing position and press them back to the start position. 

4. Seated Cable Chest Press

The ideal chest exercise movement moves the arms from out to the side forward and into the centerline of the body. That is, after all, the direction of the pectoral muscle fibers. To achieve that movement, you need to be doing some variation of a chest pressing movement. The barbell bench press is the most popular version of this movement. However, a much better option is to do the seated cable chest press. That’s because the cables allow you to bring your hands into the center of the body, which you can’t do when you are holding the bench press bar. 

How to do the seated cable chest press:

  • Set the pulleys on a dual cable pulley machine to upper chest level when you are seat on a bench.
  • Put a back-supported bench in front of the pulley machine, grab the handles (palms-down grip) and sit on it.
  • Your starting position has your elbows bent at shoulder level and your forearms parallel to the floor.
  • Press the cables forward and together to touch in front of your mid-chest.

5. Resistance Band Flys

If you do not have access to a cable machine or dumbbells, you can still get a great pec stretch with resistance band flys. You can pick up a quality set of resistance bands for $20-30. By anchoring the band to a secure locked internal door, you will be able to simulate most cable machines exercise that is done in commercial gyms. 

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How to do the resistance band fly:

  • Attach the anchor strap to a resistance band and secure it to the top of a door. Close and lock the door.
  • Stand in front of the door, facing away from it.
  • Grab the band handles in a palm toward your grip. 
  • Step out so that the band is taut.
  • Start with your arms outstretched to your sides, elbows slightly bent, and locked in that position.
  • Pivot from the shoulder joint to bring your arms into the midline of your torso.
  • Lower and repeat.

Conclusion

There is more to working the chest than the bench press and the dumbbell fly. As we’ve discovered, the dumbbell fly has several inherent problems that could lead to shoulder joint problems. There are some better options, as we’ve detailed in this article. If you could only do one of them, my pick for the best dumbbell fly alternative would be the one-arm cable fly. This exercise will fully engage your pecs, allow for a peak contraction and give you a fantastic pec pump without risking shoulder injury!

Frequently Asked Questions

If you could only do two chest exercises, which two would you do?

The two best chest exercises would combine a pressing move and a stretching move. As outlined in the article above, the best chest pressing exercise is the seated cable chest press. Combine it with the one-arm cable fly for an unbelievable pec experience.

Are there better alternatives to the conventional chest fly exercise?

Yes, there are better exercises than the conventional chest fly exercise. The four best alternatives, in order, are the one-arm cable fly, the seated cable chest press, the floor fly, and resistance band flys.

Dumbbell Press vs Barbell Bench Press; which one do you prefer?

The dumbbell bench press is a superior exercise to the barbell version of this movement. Dumbbells allow you to bring your hands in to achieve greater chest adduction. You can also bring the weight down lower with dumbbells than when you are using a barbell.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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