Chest Fly Machine

When we think of chest training exercises, the bench press is usually the first one that comes to mind. Go into any gym and you’ll find most of the bench stations taken. However, it’s not the only effective exercise for well-rounded chest development,

The chest machine fly is a versatile chest-building exercise that involves bringing both arms into the midline of your body. It offers several useful benefits, including increased muscle definition and a better range of motion. It might even help you lose chest fat!

If you’re looking for a complete chest fly machine guide, we’ve got you covered. Read on to discover what you need to know about this handy chest exercise.

How To Do

  1. Adjust the machine seat to an appropriate height. When you sit down, both feet should be comfortably on the floor in front of you.
  2. Set the handles up so they are parallel to your body. Ensure you can grasp both of them without over-extending your shoulders.
  3. Grasp both handles with your palms facing forward. Keep looking ahead of you with your chest facing out and your back against the pad.
  4. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. With a slight elbow bend, bring your arms together so the handles touch in the middle. 
  5. When the handles reach the middle, resist pushing your head forward or down. Keep your head and chest in the same position throughout the movement.
  6. As the handles come together, squeeze your chest muscles and pause briefly at the top position.
  7. Slowly lower the handles back to the start, taking a breath out as you do. Maintain a slight elbow bend and ensure you use a controlled motion.
  8. Repeat the same movement pattern for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips From Expert

  • Ensure that the machine clips are set around parallel to your body. This is to stop your arms from over-extending when bringing the handles back to the start position.
  • The chest fly machine is not designed to move big weights. Use a lighter weight and focus on slow, controlled movements.
  • Ensure the seat is set at the right height. The handles should level with your chest when you bring them together.
  • Keep your back flat against the pad throughout each repetition, It should not move off it until you’ve finished your set. 
  • Your feet should stay on the ground at all times throughout the repetitions.

Optimal Sets and Reps

The ideal sets and reps to perform will depend on your training goal. Use the table below as a general guide.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–10
Endurance Training 3–4 12–20
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The chest fly machine is a versatile chest isolation exercise that focuses on your pectoralis major muscles. It can be programmed in several ways using the fixed movement path.

  • Chest And Tricep Split — As a chest isolation exercise, it can be programmed as part of your chest workout routine. Perform it after your compound pressing movements such as the incline bench press or flat dumbbell press.
  • Upper/Lower Split — The chest fly machine uses your pectoralis major heads and anterior deltoids. Therefore, program it on your upper body day. Perform it alongside a compound chest movement as a superset or drop set if you’re short on time. This is where you perform one exercise after another or lower the weight with no rest in between.
  • Full-Body Split — When using a full-body split, aim to perform two to three exercises for each muscle group. The chest fly machine can be added alongside other machine chest exercises or alongside a cable chest workout

Use your one repetition maximum (1RM) for your proper training intensity. This is the amount of weight you can lift in one repetition with the correct form.

  1. Strength Training: 80%–100% of your 1RM. Two to three minutes rest.
  2. Hypertrophy Training: 60%–80% of your 1RM. 45–90 seconds rest.
  3. Endurance Training: 40–60% of your 1RM. 45–90 seconds rest.
  4. Power Training: 80%–100% of your 1RM. Two to three minutes rest.

Primary Muscle Groups

Clavicular Head of Pectoralis Major

Muscles located at the top of your chest, running from your armpit to collar bone. Smaller portion of your chest muscle.

Sternal Head of Pectoralis Major

Large muscles located underneath your clavicle head. Makes up most of your chest area

Abdominal Head of Pectoralis Major

Muscles located at the bottom of your pectoral region, just above your abdominal muscles.

Clavicular Head

Your pectoralis major is a large, fan-shaped muscle located at the front of your chest. It’s split into three parts; the clavicular head, the sternal head, and the abdominal head. 

Your clavicular head is the upper section of your pectoralis major. It originates from your collarbone and inserts into your humerus, or upper arm bone. 

When using the chest fly machine, your clavicular head primarily functions to flex your upper arm. The main movements involve shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction. In other words, it helps to lift your arm forward and bring it across your body. 

Sternal Head

Your sternal head is the middle section of your pectoralis major. It originates from your ribcage and inserts into your humerus. Similar to the clavicular head, it primarily functions to bring your arms forward and across your body. 

The chest fly machine is a great way to target the sternal heads of your pectoralis major. They are engaged throughout the full movement as you bring your arms together. 

Abdominal Head

Your abdominal head is the lower part of your pectoralis major. It also originates from your external oblique and inserts into your humerus. 

Its primary function is to bring your arms across the midline of your body. In scientific terms, this is called shoulder adduction. 

Therefore, it works alongside your clavicular head and sternal head to bring your arms across your body. 

When performing the chest fly machine, squeeze your chest muscles together as your hands touch. Pause briefly before bringing the handles back again.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Anterior Deltoid

Muscles located at the front of your shoulder region

Anterior Deltoid

Your shoulders are made up of three muscle groups; your anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, and posterior deltoids. Your anterior deltoids are located at the front of your shoulders.

As a secondary mover, your anterior deltoids largely play a stabilizing role. As your arms come together, they stabilize your shoulder joints to maintain a controlled movement.

Equipment

Fly Machine

Fly Machine

This machine provides an excellent way for you to strengthen your chest muscles without worrying about balance. Ensure you perform the movement in a controlled manner.

Alternatives

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

Push-Ups

T Push-Up

Push-Up to Shoulder Tap

Clap Push-Ups

Plyo Push-Ups

Grasshopper Push-Ups

Spider Push-Ups

Kneeled Push-Ups

Who Should Do It? 

Throwing Athletes

One of the main movements when using the chest fly machine is horizontal adduction at your shoulders. This involves bringing both arms closer to the midline of your body, or across your body. Your anterior deltoids act as secondary movers to stabilize your shoulder joints. 

In throwing movements such as the javelin and shot put, your arm comes across your body as you release the weight. Performing the correct throwing movement also requires a large degree of shoulder stabilization. 

Because of this, the cable fly machine is a great exercise as part of a training program for throwing athletes. It can help to develop power and strength. 

Bodybuilders

As a bodybuilder, your main training aim should be muscular hypertrophy, or to gain muscle tissue. To do this successfully, you need to use progressive overload and allow sufficient volume. This means you need to progressively increase the amount you lift and perform enough repetitions to stimulate muscle growth. 

The chest fly machine is a great exercise to target all three heads of your pectoralis major. It’s a great isolation exercise to ensure sufficient volume when used alongside pressing movements. 

The simple technique and fixed movement also mean it’s easier to increase the weight or progressively overload. 

*Expert tip- To effectively track your progressive overload, use a diary to write down your sets and reps. Take note of the weight lifted each week and adjust accordingly based on the advice above.

Anyone

When performing different resistance training exercises, the suitability of certain ones will depend on ability level and skill.

One of the biggest benefits of the chest fly machine is the small initial learning curve. It uses a simple, fixed-path movement pattern that’s easy to learn. With this, it’s a great chest-building exercise for anyone wanting to perform it. 

Whether you want to develop pressing strength or practice the fly movement pattern, the chest fly machine is a good option. It stabilizes the movement pattern and helps to reinforce the correct technique. 

Who Should Not Do It?

Olympic Lifters

As an Olympic lifter, the majority of your training should focus on the main Olympic movements. These include the snatch and the clean and press. 

Alongside these main movements, the rest of your training should consist of accessory exercises. They should help to improve the elements of your main lifts. 

The chest fly machine is more of a hypertrophy-type exercise that involves bringing both arms toward your midline. Because of this, it’s not suitable for an Olympic lifter-specific training focus. 

Anyone with a chest or shoulder injury

The chest fly machine is an excellent way to strengthen your chest and shoulder muscles. It also helps to improve your shoulder joint mobility. However, it requires a good range of motion in both muscle groups to be performed correctly.

If you have a chest or shoulder injury that limits your range of motion or causes pain, the chest fly machine might not be the best option. The added stress to those muscles and joints may exacerbate an existing condition. 

In this case, consult a healthcare professional to form a suitable treatment plan first. Then assess your suitability to use the chest fly machine. 

Did you know? The prevalence of shoulder injuries in the general population is between 7% to 25%. For athletes performing upper-body-based sports, this rises to 20%.

Benefits Of The Chest Fly Machine

Increases Muscle Definition

The chest fly machine uses a simple movement pattern that’s easy to perform. Both arms come across your body and meet In the middle. You squeeze your chest together at the top of the movement and repeat. 

Both of these things make the cable fly machine great for increasing volume and developing muscle definition for two main reasons. First, it’s easy to use as part of a chest-building superset or drop set. Add it in following your main pressing movements. 

Alongside this, the easy movement pattern allows you to perform a lot of volume with little effort. Both of these factors make it a great exercise for developing muscle definition. 

Improves Range Of Motion 

The cable fly machine uses your pectoralis major muscles as the primary movers. These are largely responsible for most movements at your shoulder joints.

The cable fly machine can be split into two movements. The first is the concentric pattern, where your arms come across the midline of your body. The second is the eccentric pattern, where your arms shoulders extend and abduct, or come back and away from your body. 

Because of this large movement pattern, the chest fly machine can improve your shoulder joint range of motion. Many daily movements such as pushing a door open heavily rely on proper shoulder function and range of motion.

Enhances Strength 

The chest fly machine provides constant resistance throughout the full range of motion. This means that your chest and shoulder muscles have much more time under tension.

The idea behind time under tension is that it forces your muscles to work harder and for longer. Because of this, it may be more beneficial for developing muscle strength, muscle growth, and endurance. Research continues to discover the importance of time under tension for muscle strength. However, the constant mechanical stimulus provided helps to enhance strength when performed regularly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the chest fly machine good for you?

The chest fly machine offers several benefits making it a good exercise to perform. These include better chest strength, improved muscle definition, and increased range of motion.

What muscles do the chest fly machine work?

The chest fly machine primarily works the three muscle heads of your pectoralis major. These are your clavicular head, sternal head, and abdominal head. Your anterior deltoid also works as a secondary mover.

How to set up a chest fly machine?

Set the seat up so that your feet are flat on the ground with the machine handles at chest height. Ensure both handles are set slightly in front of your body at each side and clicked into place.

Are chest flies and pec flies the same?

Both movements use a similar movement pattern to bring your arms together. However, in pec flies your arms are at 90-degree angles. This helps to develop your inner chest.

Resources

  1. Grgic, J., Lazinica, B., Schoenfeld, B.J. and Zeljko Pedisic (2020). Test–Retest Reliability of the One-Repetition Maximum (1RM) Strength Assessment: a Systematic Review. Sports medicine – open/Sports medicine – Open, [online] 6(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-020-00260-z.
  2. Baig, M.A. and Bordoni, B. (2023). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Pectoral Muscles. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545241/ [Accessed 5 Jul. 2024].
  3. Larkin-Kaiser, K.A., Parr, J.J., Borsa, P.A. and George, S.Z. (2015). Range of Motion as a Predictor of Clinical Shoulder Pain During Recovery From Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. Journal of athletic training, [online] 50(3), pp.289–294. doi:https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-49.5.05.
  4. Adel Elzanie and Varacallo, M. (2024). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Deltoid Muscle. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537056/ [Accessed 5 Jul. 2024].
  5. Trasolini, N.A., Nicholson, K.F., Mylott, J., Bullock, G.S., Hulburt, T.C. and Waterman, B.R. (2022). Biomechanical Analysis of the Throwing Athlete and Its Impact on Return to Sport. Arthroscopy, sports medicine, and rehabilitation, [online] 4(1), pp.e83–e91. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asmr.2021.09.027.
  6. Plotkin, D., Coleman, M., Derrick Van Every, Maldonado, J., Oberlin, D., Israetel, M., Feather, J., Alto, A., Vigotsky, A.D. and Schoenfeld, B.J. (2022). Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ, [online] 10, pp.e14142–e14142. doi:https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.14142.
  7. Burley, H., Georgiev, G.P., Iwanaga, J., Dumont, A.S. and R. Shane Tubbs (2020). An unusual finding of the pectoralis major muscle: decussation of sternal fibers across the midline. Anatomy & cell biology, [online] 53(4), pp.505–508. doi:https://doi.org/10.5115/acb.20.058.