Cable Crossover Reverse Fly

When we think of back training, exercises like rows and pull-ups come to mind. While these are essential foundational movements, they mainly emphasize the larger back muscles between the shoulders, neck, and hips. 

To achieve a well-rounded physique, targeting the smaller rear shoulder muscles is equally important. There's no better overall rear shoulder movement than the cable crossover reverse fly. 

It’s a popular and versatile option that combines a fluid motion with constant tension. This gives you a versatile exercise with numerous benefits. This guide will discuss proper reverse fly form, optimal sets and reps, programming tips, benefits, and more.

How To Do

  1. Find a cable system with two pulleys close to each other. Set the cable pulleys roughly level with your ears. Attach a single handle to each pulley or you can grip the cable itself. Choose the appropriate weight. 
  2. Stand between the two pulleys. Grab the left pulley with your right hand, and the right pulley in your left hand. Your arms should be crossed.
  3. Step a few feet back to create tension in the cables.
  4. Stand with your feet in a split stance or shoulder width apart. Keep your posture upright and shoulders relaxed. 
  5. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. Bend your elbows slightly, then pull your arms back behind your body as far as possible. Keep the arms roughly in line with your shoulders. Focus on flexing the rear delts. 
  6. Slowly let your arms extend forward and cross each other to stretch the posterior delts. 
  7. Pause briefly at the top position, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  8. Lower the cables back to the starting position while taking a breath out.
  9. Repeat steps five to eight for the planned number of reps.

Tips From Expert

  • Make sure to warm up — Beginners should remember to do at least two warm-up sets to prepare the shoulders for the workout. Aim for between 10–12 reps with light resistance. 
  • Bend the elbows — Bending the elbows can maximize rear delt activation if done correctly as it increases the range of motion.
  • Keep your mind engaged — Perform the reps slowly, focusing on the stretch and contractions. This helps ensure symmetrical movement and rear delt development.
  • Avoid flying low — Avoid pulling too far downward as it may overly engage the latissimus dorsi muscles.
  • Don’t shrug — Keep the shoulders down and relaxed to avoid too much involvement from other back muscles.

Optimal Sets and Reps

Certain exercises are more suitable for specific sets and rep ranges. Use the chart provided below when programming the cable crossover reverse fly.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–12
Endurance Training 3–4 15+
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The cable crossover reverse fly offers unique rear delt training benefits while activating the upper traps and erector spinae muscles. Its versatility and appeal often influence individual programming strategies. 

Whether you want better shoulder aesthetics, more strength, or improved posture, the cable crossover reverse fly is a good option. 

To strengthen and build the rear delts, several training splits can be used effectively:

  • Push/Pull — The cable crossover reverse fly is commonly incorporated after heavy presses and pulling exercises. If your rear delts are lagging, put them at the front of your workouts. 
  • Shoulder Deltoid-focused workouts provide the best opportunity for optimal rear delt stimulus. That’s because there’s little to no overlap from exercises that emphasize the front and medial delts. Therefore you can attack the posterior delts with full strength.  
  • Finisher — If you end a workout with the cable crossover reverse fly, ensure you’re training with the same intensity. It shouldn’t be a “cool down” or treated as an afterthought.

The optimal weight, sets, reps, and rest times depend on your training goals. Use your one repetition maximum (1RM) to work out the correct training intensity. This is the maximum weight you can lift for one repetition.

For hypertrophy or muscle-building, use 60%–80% of your 1RM. For strength and power training, aim for 80%–100% of your 1RM. At the higher intensities, aim to rest for two to three minutes between sets. 

When training for endurance, train at 40%–60% of your 1RM. A rest period of 45–90 seconds for hypertrophy and endurance training is sufficient.

The cable crossover reverse fly can be performed with attachments or without. Ensure you squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement for maximum rear delt development.

Primary Muscle Groups

Upper Trapezius

Triangular shaped muscles located between your neck and shoulder blades.

Posterior Deltoid

Muscles located at the back of your shoulder. Helps with posture.

Posterior Deltoid

Reverse flys use a technique that emphasizes the posterior deltoids. These smaller shoulder muscles cover the back of the upper arm just above the triceps. They’re one of three heads that form your shoulder; the others being your front and side delts. 

The rear delts are tied to both the shoulder blades and humerus, or your Upper arm bone. During cable crossover reverse flys, the posterior delts extend the arms back and toward each other behind the body.

They also contribute to external shoulder rotation, or when you rotate the shoulders back. 

As you bring your arms back, think about activating your posterior deltoids. This enhanced mind-muscle connection can help promote muscle growth.

Upper Trapezius

The upper trapezius is the highest muscle on the back. It covers the length of the neck down to the shoulders. Just below it are the middle and lower traps. The primary function of the upper traps is to stabilize, lift, and upwardly rotate the shoulder blades.When you do a reverse fly, the upper traps help perform these actions against resistance. They act as key shoulder stabilizer muscles. High pulls are a great way to hit the shoulders and traps together.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Erector Spinae

Muscles that span the entire length of your spine on either side.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae is a group of three back muscles that are subdivided into nine sections. These long and narrow muscles are attached to the spine and ribs, stretching from the pelvis to the skull.  

Your erector spinae are the strongest back extensors. This is seen when bending the upper body backward. In the cable crossover reverse fly, these muscles help keep the torso upright and prevent flexion. They also brace the torso and resist being pulled forward. 

Equipment

Single Grip Handle

Wide Cable Pulley Towers

Wide Cable Pulley Towers

These provide a good range of cable exercise using wider lever points for a bigger range of motion. Ensure you don't drop the cables when lifting.

Single Grip Handle

This can be attached to a cable machine and used for a wide range of unilateral resistance exercises. Ensure you keep a firm grip.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Who Should Do?

 Most Gym-Goers

As a regular gym-goer, building strong shoulders and improving posture are often common goals. The cable crossover has a small initial learning curve. It also uses your posterior deltoids and upper traps as key primary movers; both key scapula stabilizers.

Because of this, the cable crossover reverse fly is a great exercise for normal gym-goers. They’re also easy to progress and provide constant tension as you bring the cables back. Incorporate them into a cable shoulder workout or as part of a normal workout session.

Athletes

Whether you’re swinging a bat, lifting weights, or posing on a bodybuilding stage, the benefits of reverse flys are transferable to all disciplines. Without stability from the rear delts, your larger muscles cannot exert maximal force during physical activities.

A prime example is performing heavy lat pull-downs without keeping your shoulders down and back. You’d have to use a lot of your arms before the larger back muscles take over. In the bench press, the rear delts keep the shoulders from protracting forward.

Who Should Not Do?

People With Shoulder Injuries

When performing the cable crossover reverse fly, both your shoulders extend back. As part of this, your shoulder joints use a large range of motion to perform the movement correctly.

Alongside chronic pain and instability, shoulder injuries can limit the range of motion at the shoulder joints. An example would be shoulder impingement syndrome. This causes shoulder pain when your tendons rub inside of the joint.

Cable crossover reverse flys may make this worse if there’s too much internal shoulder rotation, or when the shoulders turn inward. Some exercisers may need guidance from a qualified professional depending on the severity of the shoulder issue.

Benefits Of The Cable Crossover Reverse Fly

Balanced Shoulder Development

Our shoulder joint is made up of three muscle heads. To ensure balanced shoulder development, we should work each one equally. Many exercises tend to focus on the anterior deltoids. This is because a lot of them use pressing movements that emphasize the front portion of our body.

The cable crossover reverse fly uses our posterior deltoids and upper trapezius at the primary movers. Therefore, it’s a great exercise to ensure balanced muscle development when programmed alongside the other exercises. Using different exercises to target different deltoid heads ensures a well-rounded physique.

Enhanced Posture

As we spend more time working at our desks and sitting on the sofa in the evening, the prevalence of bad posture continues to rise. Over a prolonged period, this can cause shoulder and neck pain, reducing movement and quality of life.

As we mentioned above, the cable crossover reverse fly works your posterior deltoids and upper trapezius muscles. With both of these helping to stabilize your shoulder blades, regular performance can improve posture in daily activities.

Variety

Let’s face it, dumbbell bent-over rear delt flys can feel awkward and aren’t for everyone. Likewise, reverse flys on the pec deck can feel too restrictive. While these are two of the most popular reverse flys, they’re limited.

Cable standing reverse flys give you the best of these exercises and none of the bad. They offer better training positions and resistance angles, as well as many grips, attachments, and natural movement patterns. 
Additionally, incorporating more exercise variety gives us something different to look forward to. Changing routines can help keep us motivated and excited for the next session!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the reverse fly worth it?

Yes! The reverse fly is a fundamental rear delt isolation exercise, akin to the biceps curl, triceps overhead extension, and other essential movements.

How heavy should reverse flys be?

It depends on your strength and training experience. Use the programming table above to work out your ideal sets and reps. Once you have this, use your one repetition max to work out your intensity.

Why are cable reverse flys so hard?

Reverse flys are not inherently difficult. However, many exercisers, especially beginners, have weak rear delts and often use too much weight.

Resources

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