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Dumbbell flys: Common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Dumbbell Flys on Ironmaster Adjustable Workout Bench

Dumbbell flys on chest day is always a good idea. But are you doing them right?

It’s easy to grab a pair of dumbbells, lie down on a flat bench, and then crank out those reps. However, dumbbell flys require a certain technique and precision which will allow you to reap their full benefits. Knowing and avoiding the most common dumbbell fly mistakes will go a long way in building your pecs.

In this article, I will break down the common dumbbell fly mistakes and how you can avoid them so you can take your chest day to a higher level.

Dumbbell Fly Facts

Dumbbell flys or dumbbell chest flys are one of the go-to chest exercises of bodybuilders from decades ago. They included this exercise in their chest day routine along with push-ups, barbell bench presses, dumbbell pullovers, and dips. No wonder their massive chests stood out from the rest of the pack.

The dumbbell fly is a compound exercise that targets the following muscle groups:

  • Pectoralis major: This is the large muscle in your upper chest which assists in the vertical, rotational, and lateral movement of your arms. Your pecs also help pull the ribcage so your lungs can expand. Thus, your chest muscles play a key role in deep breathing.
  • Anterior shoulder. Dumbbell flys work your anterior shoulders to a lesser degree because they support your pectoral muscles during the movement.
  • Scapular stabilizers: These refer to the muscles surrounding your scapula or shoulder joint. They stabilize your anterior shoulder muscles, which, in turn, support the pectoral muscles whenever you do dumbbell chest flys.

All you need to execute the dumbbell fly movement are two dumbbells and a flat exercise bench.

Common Dumbbell Fly Mistakes

In this section, I will rattle off the common dumbbell fly mistakes and how you can avoid them:

Mistake # 1: Locking out your arms

When you do dumbbell flys, you stretch your arms out to your sides and make them perpendicular to your torso. However, many lifters lock out their arms during the movement. This is a cardinal sin because it forces your elbows and shoulder joints to work and support the dumbbells, instead of your pecs. If you do this consistently with heavy weights, you may injure yourself.

How to avoid it: The simple solution is to bend your elbows slightly so you fully engage your pectoral muscles. When you do this, you should also feel a greater tension in your chest area.

Mistake # 2: Overstretching

Perhaps you’ve seen this at the gym before: some dude lowers the dumbbells way too close the floor, you’d think he’d rip the tendons in his chest area to shreds. This excessive stretching may result in a trip to the emergency room if you’re not careful.

How to avoid it: Align your arms with your torso during the starting position. This creates a full range of motion without the need to lower the dumbbells too much. When you lift the dumbbells and then return to the starting position, never let them go past your torso.

Mistake # 3: Lifting too heavy

Another mistake is doing dumbbell flys with very heavy dumbbells. First off, fitness experts maintain this exercise is more of a finishing move which complements compound chest variations such as the barbell bench press and its inclined version. The unique sideway arm motion balances out chest pressing movements like the ones I mentioned previously.

That said, it’s best to perform dumbbell flys after your other chest exercises. You need to be realistic: by then, you may not have the stamina to lift very heavy weights. Second, when you go overboard on the resistance, there’s a tendency to drop the dumbbells way too low because of fatigue. Consequently, you may injure your shoulders because they stabilize your chest muscles throughout the movement.

How to avoid it: First and foremost, check your ego at the door. Never lift heavy to impress. Choose a weight that you are comfortable with and pay attention to your form so you can get results without paying your doctor a visit.

Mistake # 4: Improper body positioning

Some individuals make the mistake of leaning their head forward when doing dumbbell flys. Unfortunately, this minimizes the contraction you feel in your chest region and prevents you from engaging your pectoral muscles fully.

How to avoid it: Plant your head and shoulders firmly on the bench during the whole exercise. This will allow you to maximize your contraction and engage your chest muscles fully.

Mistake # 5: Going down too fast

It’s unfortunate that some fitness enthusiasts treat the dumbbell fly as if it were an endurance marathon: they crank out reps faster than warp speed. This isn’t what this exercise is all about. Dumbbell flys should stimulate your chest muscles effectively. You can’t do that if you do your reps way too quickly.

Moreover, doing dumbbell flys too fast may make you drop the dumbbells in the middle of your set. That is a sure-fire way of ruining your momentum. You’re also setting yourself up for a possible injury.

How to avoid it: Simply execute the movement slowly. Try lifting the dumbbells for a one-second count and then lowering them for a two-second count. Slower execution will help you exert more stress on your pectoral muscles.

Dumbbell Fly Variations

Here are two dumbbell fly variations which can help you maximize your gains on chest day:

Dumbbell Floor Flys

Some fitness experts laud the dumbbell floor fly for being a safer alternative to the standard dumbbell fly version. They lower your risk for shoulder injuries and allow you to lift a weight that is heavier than your usual resistance The reason: the floor acts as your safety net and prevents the hyperextension of your arms.

How to do them:

  1. Grab two dumbbells and lie flat on an exercise mat on the floor. Bend your knees so your legs form a triangle with the floor. Place your feet shoulder-width apart firmly on the mat. Lift the dumbbells above your chest with your palms facing each other. They should be at least six inches apart. Bend your elbows slightly. This is your starting position.
  2. On an exhale, slowly lower the dumbbells as you would in the standard dumbbell fly exercise. Once the dumbbells touch the floor, you’ve reached full extension.
  3. Pause for a second or two before returning to the starting position. Repeat to the desired number of repetitions.

Incline Dumbbell Flys

Experts give props to incline dumbbell flys because the incline position helps lifters lower their arms to the chest region rather than the shoulders. Consequently, it minimizes your risk for shoulder injury and places tension on your pecs for effective muscle growth. That’s music to any hard-training lifter’s ears.

How to do them:

  1. Set an adjustable bench to a 45-degree angle. Grab two dumbbells and place your head and back firmly on the bench. Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Bend your elbows slightly and raise your arms above your pectoral muscles. Ensure your palms are facing one another and the dumbbells are at least six inches apart. This is your starting position.
  2. Exhale as you lower the dumbbells to your sides. Your arms should be perpendicular to your torso at full extension.
  3. Pause for a second or two before returning to the starting position. Repeat to the desired number of repetitions.

The Key Takeaway

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’ve made some of these common dumbbell fly mistakes before. What’s important is you learn from your mistakes and stop doing them. Now that you know better, you can fire up your pecs, reap the full benefits of dumbbell flys and enjoy your chest day to the hilt.

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