7 Best Dumbbell Chest Fly Alternatives (With Pictures)

best dumbbell chest fly alternatives

Sometimes we want the benefits from a dumbbell chest fly but we don’t have the equipment necessary to perform the exercise, but all hope is not lost – we can absolutely find an exercise alternative that accomplishes similar results. 

It’s important to realize that these alternatives are not chosen at random though.  In fact, there are certain criteria that must be met to make an exercise a good alternative to the chest fly. 

7 Best Dumbbell Chest Fly Alternatives:

To understand which exercises are the best chest fly alternatives we need to first understand which musculature is working, and what the chest fly exercise accomplishes in our training plan.

In this article we’ll discuss what muscles are used in a chest fly, why we would include a chest fly in a program, and what the best exercises alternatives are for the chest fly based on the equipment we have access to.

What Makes A Good Dumbbell Chest Fly Alternative?

A good dumbbell chest fly alternative is an exercise that (1) allows us to train the same muscle groups, and (2) allows us to isolate the pec with the goal of gaining muscle (hypertrophy). Let’s discuss these two criteria in more detail now.

Muscles Used In The Dumbbell Chest Fly

The muscles used in the dumbbell chest fly are:

  • Pectoralis Major (upper and lower fibers)
  • Pec Minor
  • Deltoid
  • Biceps

The pec muscles are the main movers in the chest fly because they play a role in shoulder flexion (keeping the arms elevated in front of us) and in arm adduction (which involves bringing the arms back towards the midline).

The pec minor is also involved in the chest fly because of its role in stabilizing the shoulders blades and its role in protraction (letting shoulder blades come forwards, rather than squeezing together) which can occur at the top of the movement for the chest fly – especially in standing variations.

The muscles of the deltoid (shoulder muscles) are also involved in the chest fly because the front delt also participates in shoulder flexion to keep the arms elevated in front of us. The delts also play a role in helping us to stabilize the arms and to avoid going too far down when lowering the arms.

The biceps are most active when we are lowering the arms towards the ground because they are stabilizing the shoulder in the shoulder girdle. If the biceps don’t do their job, we lose tension on the descent and increase the risk of a shoulder injury and reduce our ability to feel our chest throughout the movement.

Takeaway: A good dumbbell pec fly alternative needs to incorporate these four muscle groups, with an emphasis on the pec major and minor.

Dumbbell Chest Fly: Pec Hypertrophy

The dumbbell chest fly is an excellent movement for pec hypertrophy.

It is an isolation movement for the pec muscles as opposed to performing a bench press which is a compound movement and shares equal amounts of work with the pecs, shoulders, and triceps.

The best dumbbell chest fly alternatives are exercises that are chest isolation exercises because they allow for more muscle fiber recruitment from the pectorals to perform the exercise, especially when the exercise is taken closer to failure.

Takeaway: We need to choose exercises that will place more emphasis on the chest than other upper body musculature to ensure the pecs are getting the attention they need for hypertrophy.

Dumbbell Chest Fly Alternatives: 7 Exercises

1. Banded Fly

The banded fly is a great alternative to the dumbbell fly for those who don’t have access to a bench or dumbbells, because it can be performed while standing up and with a band for resistance. All we need to perform the banded fly is a large band and something to anchor it to.

The banded fly is a good alternative because it targets the same musculature as the dumbbell chest fly, but with slightly more emphasis on the pec minor than other variations because it is performed standing up – which usually results in slightly more protraction and some requires some additional scapula stability (which involves the pec minor).

In addition, the banded version of the chest fly also emphasizes the chest over other musculature making it more of a chest isolation exercise – which is a key characteristic for a good dumbbell chest fly alternative.

How-To

  • Use a rack or anything that is able to anchor the band
  • Anchor the band at chest height
  • With the back to the anchor point, grab one side of the band in each hand
  • Take a split stance to maintain balance
  • Step out farther to increase the amount of tension from the band, if necessary
  • Lift the arms up and out to the sides so that the arms are nearly parallel to the floor
  • Maintain a soft bend in the elbows throughout the movement
  • Pull the arms towards one another against the resistance from the band (as if giving a hug)
  • Keep the chest puffed up throughout the movement and focus on squeezing pecs as the hands come together
  • Control the arms back to the start position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Related Article: 12 Best Cable Crossover Alternatives (With Pictures)

2. Floor Fly

The floor fly is an alternative to the dumbbell chest fly that is a great option for those who have access to dumbbells, but do not have a bench. The floor fly requires us to lay on the floor instead of using a bench, while still using the dumbbells in a similar fashion.

The floor fly is a good alternative because it is the same movement pattern as the dumbbell fly but performed for the floor, rather than on a bench. For this reason, we can be sure that this alternative will target similar musculature, and emphasize the chest muscles more than the other contributing muscle groups.

How-To

  • Lay down on the floor with the knees bent and a dumbbell in each hand
  • Lift the dumbbells up over the face, with a slight bend in the elbow and the palms facing each other
  • Control the arms out to the sides to drop towards the floor while maintaining the bend in the elbows
  • Stop the descent once the triceps make light contact with the floor or are nearly there
  • Keep the chest puffed up throughout the movement to prevent the shoulders from rolling forwards
  • Once the bottom position has been achieved, use the pecs to bring the arms from the sides back together at the top in a hugging motion
  • Think about squeezing the pecs as the arms come towards each other at the top of the movement
  • Repeat the process for the desired number of repetitions

3. Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is an alternative movement to the dumbbell chest fly that can be done by those with access to a bench and a barbell. Another reason why we may need this alternative is that the dumbells we do have access to are too heavy to perform flys. 

The incline bench is a good alternative to the dumbbell chest fly because it will target similar musculature despite being a different movement pattern, as it requires shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction similar to the chest fly. However, the incline bench will target the upper fibers of the pecs a bit more than the traditional dumbbell chest fly but it would be more similar if we inclined our chest fly.

It should be noted that the incline bench is not considered an isolation exercise as it requires more effort from the shoulders and triceps along with the chest to perform the movement. Therefore, the inclined bench is more of a compound movement rather than an isolation exercise. That being said, it is the best option for those who only have access to a barbell instead of dumbbells or a band.

It should be noted that if we are feeling the inclined bench more in the triceps than we’d like, we can move to a wider grip to emphasize the pecs over the triceps.

How-To

  • Use an bench that is Inclined to approximately a 45 degree angle with the floor
  • Adjust the pins of a rack to a height where we can easily unrack the bar while seated on the bench
  • Set the shoulders blades into a retracted and slightly depressed position with the chest slightly puffed up
  • Plant the feet on the floor and use them to generate tension in the legs
  • Grab the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width
  • Straighten the arms to unrack the bar and use the lats to pull the bar out from the pins while maintaining scapular positioning
  • Lower the bar down the chest with control, while keeping the wrists and forearms stacked
  • When the bar touches the chest, pause on the chest momentarily to avoid bouncing the bar off the chest
  • Press the bar up off the chest and slightly back towards the rack, to return to the start position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

4. Push Up

The push up is an alternative exercise for the dumbbell chest fly that is great for those who don’t have access to any equipment because all it requires is our body weight. It is the best bodyweight alternative to chest flys because it targets the pecs in shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction, along with the shoulders.

However, the push up is also considered more of a compound movement because of the force required from multiple muscle groups to complete the movement. Despite not being a n isolation exercise, it is the best alternative to a chest fly for those with no access to equipment.

The push up is one of the best chest fly alternatives for those who have prior shoulder injuries, as it still helps to build the chest but places less strain on the shoulders than a chest fly would.

How-To

  • Set up on the ground or an elevated surface (if bodyweight push ups are too advanced) and position the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width and place the feet together or hip-width apart
  • Assume a plank-like position with a neutral spine, ensuring that the hips at the same level as the shoulders
  • Break at the elbow to start the movement
  • Ensure that the elbows are maintaining a 45 degree angle in reference to the body (elbows pointing slightly behind us). Avoid letting the elbows flare to a 90 degree angle (pointing directly towards the sides)
  • Allow the body to travel downwards as a unit until the nose touches the ground, or the chest touches the target surface –  if performing elevated push ups.
  • Once we reach our target depth, the shoulder blades should be retracted and slightly depressed (squeezed together and away from the ears) and the core should be tight
  • While maintaining the plank-like position, push the body away using the chest and the arms to return to the starting position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Other Push Up Guides:

5. Cable Fly

The low cable fly is a great chest fly substitute for those who have access to a cable machine because with this exercise we’re using very similar movement patterns (horizontal adduction and shoulder flexion) to the dumbbell chest fly, and will therefore target similar musculature.

Another reason that the cable fly might be ideal for us is that it can be performed at different angles – which is a benefit if we’re someone that experiences any shoulder discomfort with the dumbbell fly.

For these individuals, I would suggest moving the cable attachment lower to the ground and pulling into arm adduction and shoulder flexion from this angle to target the chest, as it will not put the shoulders in such a vulnerable starting position.

How To

  • Use both sides of the cable machine so that each hand as a separate cable
  • Set the height of each cable at chest height if performing a traditional fly (no shoulder issues) or lower to the ground if performing the modified cable fly (for those with shoulder issues/discomfort)
  • Set up facing away from the cable machine, with a handle in each hand
  • Step out from the cable machine into a staggered split stance for balance and to get tension in the cable 
  • Pull the cables so that they are in line with the body, and hold them in this start position while maintaining a slight bend in the elbows
  • If the cable is set at chest height, then the start position will have the arms parallel with the floor; if the cable is set lower to the ground, then the start position will have the arms mostly perpendicular to the floor
  • To initiate the movement, pull the arms together as if to give a hug while keeping the chest “puffed up” or “proud”
  • Once the hands meet each other, pause to squeeze the pecs
  • Slowly return the arms back to the start position (in-line with the body) keeping the elbows slightly bent
  • Avoid letting the cables go too far behind the body between reps, as this will put unnecessary strain on the shoulders
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

6. Wide Grip Bench

The wide grip bench press is another chest fly replacement that we can use to build size and strength in the chest when we have access to a barbell and rack. The wide grip bench is a great option, even though it does not mimic the fly movement pattern as closely as some of the other alternatives.

The wider grip is an important factor in this movement, because it increases the amount of force that we must exert in the direction of horizontal adduction compared to the traditional bench press. Horizontal adduction is a key factor here because it is the main movement pattern for the dumbbell chest fly – so even though the wide grip bench and chest fly are different, they will produce similar results.

An additional benefit to the wide grip bench is that we do get more bang for our buck with the exercise because it is a compound movement – this means that not only will we target the chest (our main focus), we will also engage the shoulders and triceps as well.

How To

  • Adjust the pins of a rack at height that is easy to unrack the bar while lying down on a bench
  • Set up on the bench so that the eyes are even with the bar
  • Position the hands on the bar with a grip that is 1 to 2 finger-widths wider than normal grip
  • Set scapular positioning by using the bar to pull the shoulder blades into a retracted in and slightly depressed position on the bench
  • Straighten the arms to unrack the bar and use the lats to pull the bar out from the pins, without losing scapular position
  • The feet should be planted on the ground and actively engaged to generate tension in the legs throughout the lift
  • Initiate the movement by unlocking the arms and bringing the bar down to touch the chest with control
  • When the bar touches the chest, the wrists and elbows should be in-line and stacked under the bar
  • Push the bar back up off the chest and slightly back towards the rack to finish the lift in a locked out position
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Related Article: 9 Lat Exercises With Dumbbells (With Pictures)

7. Plate Pinch Press

The plate pinch press is another great option for a dumbbell chest fly substitute for those who have shoulder issues.

With the plate pinch press we don’t have to put the arms in such a vulnerable position. Instead, we can target the pecs with a more isolated movement while keeping the arms in a safer position. 

The plate pinch press will target similar musculature to the dumbbell chest fly because we are using our muscles to generate force in the direction of horizontal adduction (exerting the force from the arms towards to midline) by squeezing the entire movement. 

Even though we’re not starting with our arms apart and bringing them together (like we would with a fly), we are still exerting force in the same direction.

In addition to this, we are also mimicking the chest fly by keeping the arms in shoulder flexion (arms elevated in front of the body) throughout the movement – which is another large component of the chest fly.

How To

  • While standing, grab 2-3 lighter weight plates (5-10lbs) and position them between the hands at chest height (the weights should be perpendicular to the floor)
  • With the hands holding the weights close to the chest, apply force into the weights by squeezing them together
  • Keep the back tight by maintaining scapular retraction throughout the movement, and avoid rounding of the upper back
  • While squeezing the plates together as hard as possible, start to press the weights away from the body and slightly upwards
  • As the arms finish extending, the plates should be in-line with the nose
  • Once this point is reached, continue to squeeze as hard as possible while reversing the motion to bring the weights back towards the chest
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Looking for chest exercises that you can do standing up? Check out my article on the 12 Best Standing Chest Exercises.

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About The Author

Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.