What is a Dumbbell Fly?

Troy Holmes

The dumbbell fly is a compound weight lifting exercise that primarily focuses on the pectoral muscles with secondary focus on the shoulders and triceps. This weight lifting exercise is performed by lying flat on a weight bench with dumbbell weights extended from both hands. The dumbbell fly is an excellent exercise for building width rather than thickness in the chest area.

The dumbbell fly targets the pectoral muscles in the chest.
The dumbbell fly targets the pectoral muscles in the chest.

To perform a dumbbell fly, the participant should lie flat on a weight bench with a dumbbell in each arm. Both arms are extended toward the ceiling and palms face each other. The weight lifter then lowers the arms to each side in a fully extended position as if to mimic a bird expanding its wings. Finally the weights are lifted back to the starting position, with the arms extended toward the ceiling.

Performing dumbbell flies can strengthen the chest muscles.
Performing dumbbell flies can strengthen the chest muscles.

The extension on the dumbbell fly can put extraordinary pressure on the joints of the elbows. It is important to bend the elbows slightly when extending to the full fly position. This will reduce the chance of injury during the exercise. The arms should come into a fly position while you are inhaling air into the lungs, with a push back into straight position while you're exhaling.

The dumbbell fly has been used for many years by body builders. This weight lifting exercise has many benefits over the typical bench press for building the pectoral muscles. The biggest of this exercise is that it targets development by focusing exercise on the outer layer of the pectoral major. A normal bench press exercise consists of a straight motion from extension to chest, which focuses the weight on the inner pectoral muscle.

Due to the wing spreading motion of the dumbbell fly, the body builder can develop a larger frame or span within the outer chest area of the pectoral muscles. This also helps with endurance because as the width of the chest is increased so too will lung capacity increase. Additionally, the body builder will create a wider chest area, which builds a more substantial outline and size.

All weight lifting programs should include as many variations of exercises as possible. These variations keep the body in a constant state of building and rebuilding. The dumbbell fly can also be modified to include an incline bench for a different angle. Both of these exercises create a more rounded, symmetrical appearance for the body builder compared to the singular approach found in the typical bench press exercise.

Dumbbell flies can help build larger and more defined chest muscles.
Dumbbell flies can help build larger and more defined chest muscles.

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Discussion Comments


The golden rule for this or any other weight lifting, according to the books and magazines I've read, is that when starting out you should be able to do at least 8 repetitions per set, and no more than 12, with your weight- if 8 is too hard or 12 is too easy, change the weight.

The numbers of sets, and whether or not you take rests in between, is different depending on who you ask. I usually do 2-3 sets when I do exercises like this one.


I love the dumbbell fly, and the best part is that it can be achieved even if you are a beginner- even weighs of 5 pounds or less can make a difference at first. Just remember that form is more important than speed, and quality is more important than quantity, especially when you're just starting to lift.

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