Ditch the dumbbells and use the cable machine instead for this classic chest-building exercise that builds impressive pec power!
Why should I do cable flyes?
The bench dumbbell flye is a very popular exercise and during most visits to the gym you’ll spot at least one person doing them. The reason the exercise is so widespread is that it’s one of just a handful of moves that isolate the chest muscles, which means that your pecs must move all of the weight by themselves, without the assistance of any other muscles to help manage the load (unlike in a dumbbell bench press, in which your triceps and front shoulders muscle in on the move to help press the weights away from your body).
Isolating a muscle group so it does all of the work is one of the best and most effective weight-training methods to build bigger muscles. Yet while the dumbbell flye remains very popular, it’s an exercise that the majority of people perform very poorly.
The most commonly mistakes revolve around using dumbbells that are far too heavy which: places excess strain on the joints of the shoulders, elbows and wrists; means you need to use momentum to get the weights moving, not your muscles; means you are only able to lift through a very restricted or narrow range of motion. These poor-form reasons, as well as many others, fail to work the chest as intended, and are more likely to result in injury than building a bigger and stronger chest.
So, what should you do if you want a broad and muscular upper torso in the safest, fastest and most effective way? Swap out lying dumbbell flyes and replace them with standing cable flyes instead.
Using a cable machine, one of the most under-rated pieces of equipment in the gym, has a number of big advantages over dumbbells and other gym kit, including: putting and keeping tension on your chest through both the lifting and lowering phase of every single rep; works all parts of the chest musculature; works the small but crucial stabilising muscles of your joints without risking excess strain; allows you to quickly and effortless adjust the amount of weight you’re lifting; and, as a bonus, there’s one very simple form tweak (see below) you can introduce that that places even greater tension on the middle portion of your pecs, which is the part that people struggle to develop but doing so will transform the size and shape of your chest.
How do I do cable flyes?
Position the pulleys on each side of the cable machine at chest height and attach a D-handle to each side. Stand tall in the middle of the machine with your feet in a split stance (so one foot forward and one back), then take a D-handle in each hand with a slight bend in your elbows.
Keeping your chin and chest up and core braced, initiate the move by bringing your hands out and in front of your torso – keeping that slight bend in your elbows at all times – so that they meet in front of your body at around chest height.
Bonus Form Tip: As your hands come together, rotate your wrists so your palms face upwards, then hold your hands together with little fingers touching, squeezing your chest muscles hard.
Focusing on how this movement of your wrist and arms places tension on the middle of your chest, hold the position for a count of one to two seconds, squeezing your chest muscles as hard as possible.
Slowly reverse the movement all the way to the start, keeping full control of the weight throughout the return, until you feel a good stretch across the upper part of your chest.
What cable flye variations can I do?
There are a few fantastic chest-building cable moves, and some simple tweaks to the classic cable flye will work your chest in other ways and from different angles to encourage greater and faster muscle mass growth.
Pressing your hands out directly in front of you until your arms are straight and locked out changes the move to the cable chest press, which works your chest as well as your triceps and shoulders.
Raising the pulleys to the top of the machine then crossing your hands in front of your body turns the cable flye into the cable crossover, which places a greater workload on different parts of the pecs, as well as bringing the front of your shoulders in on the act.
Lowering the pulleys to the bottom changes the move again, this time to the low-to-high cable crossover, which again works your chest in a slightly different way to encourage the fastest-possible growth across the whole of your chest.