Chest training, for many, is simply the pursuit of brute strength and size. Pressing (whether via barbell bench, dumbbell incline, etc.) is all about pushing as much weight up as you can, and you’ll build plenty of chest size and strength as you progress up the ladder. But if you’re hoping to carve out some definition in your pecs, you’ll need to add some other exercises into your repertoire. That’s where moves that engage your chest muscles by bringing your arms in toward your body’s midline like flys come into the equation—particularly, the cable machine chest fly.
“There comes a point where you want to build detail into your chest and start to carve your middle,” says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “One of the best exercises to do that—one of the best, final, endgame exercises for your chest—is the classic cable fly.”
But the exercise is more subtle than grabbing a pair of cable handles and letting it rip. You’ll need to focus on your positioning, movement, and more to make the most of the cable fly. Check out this guide to the exercise, also featuring MH fitness editor Brett Williams, NASM, to learn how to do it most effectively. “It is an ultimate chest day finisher, so it will leave you with a massive chest pump,” says Samuel.
How to Do the Cable Chest Fly
Set Up Right
The placement of the cables is important for the cable fly. While other fly variations might have you working with the cables in other spots, this one requires the handles to be just above your shoulders. “You want them a little bit above your shoulders, but you don’t want them high enough that you basically have to bend your torso forward in order to hit the position,” Samuel advises.
The way that you hold the cable handles is important, too. Instead of taking a death grip with the handle in the middle of your palm, loosen up. “What he wants to do is get the cable near the base of his palm, so that you don’t even have to grip if you don’t want to,” he continues. “All we want to do is think of our arms as a lever to help us drive our chest shut and really flex our chest.” To help you remember this cue, don’t even wrap your thumb around the handle.
Squeeze Your Shoulder Blades
Once you’re primed for action, one of the most important points of focus should be on your shoulder blades. “Think about squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades, and hold that feeling for as long as you can on each rep,” says Samuel. Keeping the focus on your shoulder blades will also help you to keep your shoulder complex from shifting forward, which is essential to keeping the tension totally focused on the chest muscles.
You might’ve seen gym bros performing flys as a cable crossover, pulling their hands over each other to overemphasize the final phase of the movement. Don’t do that. “When we do that, very often you’re just bringing your shoulders forward,” Samuel says. “We’re not really getting that much more flex for your chest.” Instead, stop when your hands are close to touching, then especially emphasize the squeeze in your chest.
Lead With Your Pinkies
To really emphasize chest engagement, you want to do more with your hands than just keeping your palms out. At the end of the movement, rotate and scoop your hands up into the final squeeze, leading with your pinky fingers. “That going to help to magnify the squeeze through your upper chest and your middle chest, which is really what we want to hit on these flys.”
Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.
Brett Williams, NASM
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running.
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