This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
The chest is a powerful muscle group, but it’s not a complicated one. It’s composed primarily of two muscles (the pectoralis major and minor), and its main job is to perform a very specific action: pulling the upper arms toward the midline of the body (i.e., adduction).
In so doing, your chest helps you push things away and press things together, which is why exercises such as the pushup, bench press, and dumbbell fly are so popular for building these key upper body muscles.
But just because an exercise is popular doesn’t mean that you should do it. Case in point: the dumbbell fly. While performing this common chest adduction exercise doesn’t guarantee you a position on the disabled list, it certainly doesn’t help your chances of avoiding injury, and there are several alternatives you can do instead that can amplify your strength without compromising your safety. The key for all those moves, of course, is chest adduction.
Why You Shouldn’t Perform the Bench Dumbbell Fly
Much like the classic crunch, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the dumbbell fly. But the movement is just difficult to perform correctly (i.e., safely) without having a trainer or other certified fitness professional offering you live, in-person guidance on proper form, which will likely flag after a few focused reps no matter your focus.
You likely already know that the dumbbell fly is performed in a prone (face-up) position, and its key action involves bringing the weights together above your chest (that’s adduction, which you’re using to squeeze the pecs to grow your chest). The problem lies in the setup. When many guys open their arms out to their sides, they open them too far, moving their elbows below the plane of their chest and, due to the load, stressing their shoulders in the process.
Another problem with the dumbbell fly is that it doesn’t maximize the “squeeze” at the top of the rep. The closer you get to the top (weights together) position, the less resistance you get from gravity. That’s why elite trainers and in-the-know weightlifters skip the classic dumbbell fly in favor of a handful of more effective chest exercises that eliminate that dead zone and increase the pecs’ time under tension.
What to Do Instead of the Bench Dumbbell Fly
The best alternatives to the dumbbell fly are those that prevent you from hyperextending your shoulders at the bottom of the rep and/or compensate for gravity’s diminishing effect at the top of it.
Your move: ditch the bench, swap your dumbbells for resistance bands or the cable machine, and perform the chest fly in an upright (kneeling or standing staggered stance) position. Another option is to keep the dumbbells and either swap your bench for the floor or switch your position on it so that only your shoulders are in contact with it and the bench and your body form a “T.”
Any of those options will prevent your elbows from dipping below parallel with your body and your shoulders from experiencing excessive stress as a result, allowing you to build muscle without amplifying your risk of injury. That way, your main focus can be on the movement that will grow your chest, adduction, rather than the stress your joints face under load.
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