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The Reverse Fly: A Targeted Workout for Your Back Muscles

Updated: Feb 4

When I go to the gym, I'm not going to lie, I absolutely love the machines. I won't touch the free weights there. Not because I don't want to, but there's always usually a lot of people hanging out over there. I'm kind of the type of girl who likes to get in, complete my workout and get out. I don't really like to hang around and wait for someone to stop using the weights. Not because I'm impatient, but it's usually because I have a limited amount of time and I need to use my time wisely.

Anyways, so I've been in a schedule where I would jump on the treadmill for 20 or 30 minutes, then head up to the weight machine area.

When I first started going to the gym several years ago, I'll have to admit, I was very timid. I didn't know what half these machines did. So I did what any newbie would. I sat there reading how to do the exercises.

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Most gyms have stickers on their weight machines that explain the exercises. I've been to 3 gyms (24 Hour, Anytime Fitness and Gold's Gym). I think at this point in time, I was going to Gold's Gym. I had a wonderful experience there and they had plenty to choose from.

But, I was really intimidated by The Reverse Fly Machine. Looking back, I'm not even sure why I was. It just seemed complicated and weird I suppose. I'm telling you, it took me many months to be able to find the courage to even try to attempt this machine.

After getting over my fears, The Reverse Fly is now one of my favorite exercises that I never skip while I'm working on my upper body.

The reverse fly is a resistance exercise that works the rear shoulders and major muscles of the upper back.

As I mentioned above, you can usually find a machine at your local gym if you want to attempt The Reverse Fly, but you can also do it at home too. The only equipment you need to do it is a pair of dumbbells so that it can be performed in the gym or at home.

I highly recommended adding the reverse fly to your upper body strength-training workout.

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How to Do a Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is actually pretty easy once you take it step by step. Honestly, using free weights might actually be better than a machine.

You can start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold your dumbbells at your sides. Next, Press the hips back in a hinge motion, bringing your chest forward and almost parallel to the floor. Make sure to let the weights hang straight down (palms facing each other) while maintaining a tight core, straight back, and slight knee bend.

  1. Raise both arms out to your side on an exhale. Keep a soft bend in your elbows. Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you pull them toward the spine.

  2. Lower the weight back to the start position as you inhale. Avoid hunching your shoulders, and keep your chin tucked to maintain a neutral spine during the exercise.

Tip #1 - Benefits of The Reverse Fly

The reverse fly targets the posterior deltoids (rear shoulders) and major upper back muscles (rhomboids and trapezius). When you work on strengthening these muscles it helps improve poor posture, promotes an upright stance, and improves balance.(Atalay et. al., 2017)

The exercises applied to the upper part of the spinal muscular kinetic chain contribute to the relief of pain and disability in patients with chronic low back pain. (Atalay et. al.,2017)

If you spend a lot of time slouching over a computer, cellphone, or drive, this constant head-forward position can cause the rear shoulder and back muscles to lengthen while chest muscles become tight. This leads to pain and a reduced range of motion. Trust me, I've been here before when I worked at a Gastroenterology Clinic. I worked 8 hours at a desk just slapping on stickers for Medical Records. I felt this pain day in and day out.

Research indicates that including the reverse fly in your strength training routine can help reduce pain and disability in these areas.

When you include the reverse fly into your fitness routine, it can also improve your functional fitness. Walking and sitting with a healthier stance supports a healthier spine and can boost self-confidence!

I can't tell you how much better I felt when I started doing this exercise! It was truly a life-saver since I worked at a desk all day.

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Tip #2 - Other Variations of The Reverse Fly

One thing that is great about the reverse fly is that it can be performed in a variety of ways to accommodate your fitness level!

Seated Reverse Fly

This version of the reverse fly is performed seated on a bench if standing if a problem for you. When you are able to sit down, you can perform this exercise with more stability and eliminate the discomfort that is caused by standing. The hinge forward hip position and neutral spine are still implemented in a sitting position.

Upright Reverse Fly With Resistance Band

Call me crazy, but I really love any exercise you can complete with a resistance band . You can actually complete this exercise while sitting or standing as well. When you use a resistance band with the upright reverse fly, you are able to work the muscles while being able to limit bending.

This can become helpful for those who have back problems, or those who can't bend over. To do the exercise, place the middle of the band around a stationary object, then pull the ends toward you.

Prone Reverse Fly

This one is also an easy version as well. It can be a bit uncomfortable since you are lying forward at an angle. If this is uncomfortable for you in anyway, feel free to use another version.

You can perform the exercise lying prone (face down) on a bench or over a stability ball to eliminate any low back discomfort that may be caused while standing or seated. This will help you to focus on muscle movement and limit injury during the exercise.

Reverse Fly With Lunge

The Reverse Fly with lunge is really designed for advanced exercisers. When you perform this exercise in a lunge position increases the instability of the movement. When you are able to Hold this body position forces more core engagement and leg work to complete the exercise. The hip hinge and straight back body position are still maintained.

Tip #3 - Common Mistakes

When exercising, it is so important to be able to have proper form and to be aware of how your body is moving. There are also some mistakes that I've seen people do at the gym. But by avoiding these common mistakes can help you perform this exercise safely and effectively.

Rounding Your Back

It's so important to avoid rounding your back during the reverse fly. If you end up doing this, it can stress your lumbar spine. This mistake is easily fixed by paying attention to your body position. You can help prevent this by keeping your core tight (envision your navel sucked to your spine), chin tucked in, and a straight back to effectively complete the exercise.

Swinging the Weights

No matter how many times I'm at the gym, I see people swinging the weights for momentum instead of actually using your muscle. If you are strength training, I cannot stress enough the importance of form and to go slow and steady in order to prevent injuries and get the most out of your workout.

Lifting Too Heavy

It seems like I'm always next to the guy who seems he can lift more than what he can handle. When you first start out learning the exercise, it is so important to work on form first. As you feel more confident in the exercise, then you can add more weight if you feel up to it.

When you lift too heavy of a weight, you are hurting your ability to perform the entire range of motion, which in turn will hinder your progress or you may even injure yourself. The first step is always learn good form.

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Safety and Precautions

Any sort of weight lifting requires paying attention to your form. It's very important to be able to make sure your body position is accurate so that you can decrease your chance of injury.

It's also to be aware of any prior injuries with your back or shoulders before integrating the Reverse Fly into your workout routine. It's also important to talk with your doctor, or trainer if you do have prior injuries so that they can help you modify the exercise or recommend if this exercise is right for you.

As a personal trainer, I always recommend my clients to repeat exercises for 8 to 12 repetitions. Starting with one set is recommended if you're new to exercise. You can always work your way up to three sets if that is your goal.

If you have any tips on the Reverse Fly that wasn't mentioned, feel free to drop a comment below! If you liked this article and want to read more, subscribe to my email list so you can be the first to know about fitness tips, workouts and more!


Atalay E, Akova B, Gür H, Sekir U. Effect of Upper-Extremity Strengthening Exercises on the Lumbar Strength, Disability and Pain of Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Study. J Sports Sci Med. 2017 Dec 1;16(4):595-603. PMID: 29238262; PMCID: PMC5721192.

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