Why is the bent over fly a beneficial exercise?
Shoulder training is undoubtedly popular among gym-goers. Lateral raises, overhead presses, and upright rows are some of the most popular movements today. But despite the shoulder’s overall importance and appeal, many people skip training the posterior shoulder head.
The bent over fly is a great movement that targets the rear deltoid and contributes to balanced shoulder development. Doing so is beneficial for overall shoulder functionality, strength, and upper back appearance. The best part is that the bent-over reverse fly works great with lightweight and forces you to use good technique and a full range of motion to feel the correct muscles working.
How to do a Bent Over Fly
- Grab a pair of light dumbbells and stand tall. Start with 60 to 70 percent of the weight you use for lateral raises.
- Hinge at the hips to bend forward while keeping your back in a neutral position. Lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
- Have your arms hang down with your palms facing in. Your elbows should be directly underneath your shoulders.
- Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath.
- In one fluid motion, raise both dumbbells to the sides and up, using your rear deltoids as you do. Consciously try to activate your shoulders, forcing them to do all the work.
- Raise both dumbbells until your elbows and wrists are at torso level.
- Hold the top position for a moment, feeling your rear deltoids working.
- Release both dumbbells to the starting position slowly, exhaling on the way down.
What muscles does the bent over fly activate?
The bent over fly is technically an isolation exercise because it works around a single shoulder joint. Despite that, the movement trains more than one muscle group.
Most notably, the reverse fly train the rear deltoids, which produce some of the force needed to raise your arms to the sides and back (1). Aside from that, the bent-over fly also trains some upper back muscles, such as the rhomboids and infraspinatus. Our rhomboids are important for arm movement and contribute to shoulder stability. The infraspinatus belongs to the rotator cuff muscle group and plays a vital role in shoulder extension (2).
EMG data also shows that the reverse fly engages our middle deltoids to some degree (1, 3). But to achieve optimal shoulder development, you should include specific work for the middle deltoid, such as lateral raises.
Tips on the Bent Over Fly
The number one tip for a successful reverse fly is to use a light enough weight so that you can do each repetition smoothly and with good control. The goal is to move your arms through a full range of motion, feel the correct muscles working, and avoid using momentum to complete any repetitions. If you do lateral raises with 10-kilo dumbbells, use 6-kilo ones for the bent over fly.
To limit upper back growth and instead focus on the rear deltoid better, you should also think about moving the shoulder joint instead of retracting and protracting your shoulder blades. This subtle nuance in technique can lead to significantly better rear deltoid activity and growth.
The final tip is to make your torso as parallel to the floor as possible. Doing so will allow you to engage your rear deltoids better. Doing the movement with a more upright torso will emphasize the other back muscles. If you can’t hinge to the optimal torso position, consider doing the exercise from a seated position.
Variations and Modifications of the Bent Over Fly
1. Cable Reverse Fly
To do a cable reverse fly, go to a cable station and add a handle attachment at the top or bottom. You can do a cable reverse fly standing by having your arms move horizontally or bend over and perform the exercise like you would with dumbbells.
2. Bent-Over Pause Fly
If you struggle to engage your rear deltoids, a pause variation could be beneficial. The goal here is to do a reverse fly as you usually would. But, as you reach the top position, hold it for two to three seconds, squeezing your rear deltoids as you do.
3. Incline Bench Reverse Fly
Set a gym bench at a 30-degree incline and lie on it face down. Do the reverse fly as you normally would. The incline bench reverse fly variation is beneficial for reinforcing proper technique and avoiding the use of momentum.
Mistakes to Avoid
The first and most common mistake to avoid when doing a bent-over fly is using too much weight. If the weight is too heavy, your upper back muscles will take over, making the exercise ineffective. Our rear deltoids are small muscles that can’t produce tremendous force. Plus, lifting too much weight often leads to the use of momentum, which further takes the tension away from your rear deltoids.
Another mistake to avoid when doing a bent over fly is rounding your lower back as you stay in position. Keeping yourself bent forward can be challenging, but you need to keep your back in a neutral position. Otherwise, you will place unnecessary stress on your lower back.
You should also pay careful attention to how you do each repetition. A common mistake resulting in lesser rear delt activity is protracting and retracting your shoulders on every repetition. Remember to keep your shoulder blades steady and only move your arms to the sides and down.
Similar Exercises to the Bent Over Fly
Face pulls are one of the simplest and most effective exercises for training your rear deltoids. Like the bent over fly, the goal is to train with a lightweight that allows full range of motion and smooth execution. In doing so, your rear deltoids do most of the work. You can do face pulls with a simple resistance band or on a cable machine.
Wide Grip Row (Dumbbell)
The wide grip dumbbell row is a variation where you pull the weight with a flared elbow. In doing so, you shift the emphasis to your rear deltoids while also working your lats, biceps, forearms, rhomboids, and infraspinatus. Doing dumbbell rows with a wide grip makes for a similar exercise to the bent over fly, with the primary difference being the amount of weight you can use. Dumbbell rows allow you to emphasize your rear delts with slightly more weight.
Rear Delt Reverse Fly (Machine)
Doing the reverse delt fly on a machine is great because you can focus on optimal muscle activation without balancing the weight. The machine reverse fly is an excellent movement for beginners and those struggling to activate their rear delts with most other exercises.