Reverse flys are a simple exercise you can do with a pair of dumbbells or a pair of resistance bands. It’s an exercise that doesn’t get as much emphasis as other strength-training exercises, such as presses, squats, and deadlifts. This isn’t surprising since these are compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. We get lots of “bang for the buck” from a muscle standpoint when we do time-tested, “big lifts,” where we work more than one muscle group at the same time and burn more calories. That’s a bonus! But reverse flys deserve a place in your routine as well. Here are some compelling reasons to include them in your strength-training routine.
Reverse Flys Help Counter Bad Posture
One of the biggest problems people deal with today, thanks to technology, is bad posture. How has tech contributed to the bad posture epidemic? Blame it on computers, iPads, and smartphone These days, most guys and gals work at a desk with their shoulders hunched forward in an unnatural position. Your head weighs 11 pounds and tilting it down to look at a screen increases the force it places on your neck and spine. The “looking down” position places considerable stress and strain on the muscles in your upper back and throws your head and neck out of alignment.
Even worse, your body learns to recognize this position as “normal.” So, you begin to walk around with your head tilted down without being aware of it. Plus, many people reinforce this posture even by texting when they stand and walk. If you do this repeatedly, you begin to walk around with kyphosis, a forward head tilt that’s unhealthy for your neck and back. Bad posture doesn’t look good either!
So, where does the reverse fly come in? Reverse flys work the muscles that help to alleviate bad posture – the posterior deltoids, trapezius, and the rhomboids. When these muscles are strong, they counter the tightness that develops in the front of the chest that comes from sitting at a desk and texting too much. When you do reverse flys, it helps to relax the tight muscles of your chest. Why is this important? When these muscles are tight, it contributes to another posture problem – rounded shoulders.
Reverse Flys Will Keep Your Upper Body Workout Balance
The bulk of the upper body exercises most of us do consists of pushing or pressing motions. These movements primarily work the muscles in the front of your body – the chest muscles, biceps, and the anterior shoulders. For balance, you need an exercise that works the posterior muscles. The reverse fly is an effective movement for doing that. Working opposing muscle groups creates muscle symmetry and balance and this helps prevent injury. Reverse flys is one of the few exercises that target the posterior shoulder.
It’s One of the Best Exercises for the Rhomboids
Most standard strength-training exercises don’t activate the rhomboids well, but you still need to get them in on the action. These are muscles that pull your scapula, or shoulder blades together, in the back. When you sit in a hunched over position and tilt your head forward, over time, the rhomboid muscles become overstretched. Strengthening the rhomboids helps to counter weakened, lax rhomboid muscles and restore balance. You need an exercise in your routine that specifically strengthens weak, stretched rhomboids.
They Help Prevent Neck Pain
Reverse flys strengthen the muscles in the posterior shoulder and the upper back. When these muscles are strong, it reduces the risk of developing neck and upper back pain, one of the most common problems associated with forward head posture. In fact, a study published in Arthritis Care and Research found that women with chronic neck pain who strengthened the muscles in their upper back experienced a 75% reduction in neck pain. These women all worked in settings where they typed on a keyboard daily. One of the exercises they did was reverse flys. They also did shoulder shrugs, one-arm rows, upright rows, and shoulder raises. So, these are good exercises to include in your routine if you have neck pain.
How to Do a Reverse Fly
· Pick two light dumbbells to begin. Choose a weight you can do 10 to 12 times.
· Place one dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet about hip length apart.
· Now, bend forward at your hips to an angle of around 45 degrees with your arms hanging down toward the floor and your palms facing each other.
· Slowly and with control raise the dumbbells up until they reach shoulder level as you exhale. Keep your back in a neutral position. (no rounding of the back)
· Hold the movement for a few seconds at the top and slowly return to the starting position.
· Complete 3 sets of 10 to reps.
If you don’t have access to dumbbells, you can do reverse flys with resistance bands. You can also do the exercise while sitting or standing. For a tougher variation, lie face down on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and slowly raise the weights up until they’re parallel with the bench. Then, slowly lower them in a controlled manner. Don’t use momentum as this will reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
Stretch Your Chest Muscles
Tight chest muscles also contribute to forward head posture. Get in the habit of doing chest stretches at the end of your workouts. If possible, do chest stretches at work as well. If you can’t do chest stretches on the job, every hour or so, do neck and shoulder rolls instead.
The Bottom Line
If you’re not doing reverse flys yet, add them to your routine, especially if you work a desk job or bend your neck to look at a device. With the sedentary lifestyles of today, working the postural muscles in the upper back is more important than ever. Don’t neglect them!
Harvard Health Publishing. “Strength training relieves chronic neck pain”
Arthritis Rheum. 2008 Jan 15;59(1):84-91. doi: 10.1002/art.23256.