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Flye Backwards

Flye Backwards

Billy Pratt, BA, CPT, PAS, GIPS, CFMSP, Pn1

Why the weird spelling?  There is a difference between flying and flyeing – flying is what you normally think of when hearing that word while flyeing specifically refers to an exercise.  I don’t know the origin of that particular spelling but it’s at least as old as the 1970s and refers to any exercise involving a single-joint shoulder adduction.  In other words, any time you are pressing your upper arms together in front of you without changing your elbow angle you’re doing a flye (more specifically a chest flye or pec flye).  This is a classic exercise for the chest muscles and can be done with specially-designed machines, dumbbells or cables.  But there is a variation to this which strengthens the muscles on the backs of the shoulders & upper back and it simply involves doing the flye in reverse, i.e. pulling your upper arms away from each other without changing elbow angle (or shoulder abduction).  What benefits can you get from incorporating this exercise?

Besides the aesthetic benefit of having nice shoulder and upper back definition, exercises that focus on the rear deltoids, rhomboids, and lats help to “set” your shoulder blades where they need to be, allowing you to stand straighter and with less stress on the shoulders & neck.  I’ve written many times about posture and the importance of balancing out “pushes” & “pulls” so I won’t get into that here – but Reverse Flyes are one exercise that target the muscles which tend to be deconditioned in people with rounded shoulders.  They can be done a few different ways but I’ll describe the dumbbell variation because that is the most accessible way for most people.

Take a pair of light dumbbells (we start light to work on exercise form prior to increasing to a more effective weight).  Hinge your hips by pushing them back and leaning your torso forward to an approximately 90-degree angle without rounding your back.  Hold the dumbbells below you, palms facing each other.  Keeping your arms straight raise them out to your sides level with your shoulders.  As you near the top be sure to pinch the shoulder blades together.  Pause for a second then return to the start position.  Be sure to do this without standing up or coming out of position.  Even with a light weight you should feel this in your rear delts (backs of your shoulders) and upper back.  Keep your jaw relaxed the whole time and focus more on the squeeze at the top.

Other variations include doing this on a machine, with resistance bands, or with cables.  I prefer the cable variation due to the more constant resistance through the full range of motion which is something lost when using dumbbells or bands.  But no matter which tool you use for this make sure you are feeling this in the backs of your shoulders and upper back.  You should NOT be feeling this in the neck or fronts of the shoulders – if that is the case consult with a trainer to find out what you’re doing wrong. 

Does everyone need to do this?  No, like most exercises mileage will vary with each person and there are cases where time would best be spent doing another exercise instead.  But in today’s age of busy people with rounded shoulders & forward necks this is a relatively simple exercise to incorporate into your routine and doesn’t require a big expense.  Flyeing backwards may look & sound funny but there can be benefits to it.

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