Floor Fly vs Bench Fly – Head to Head

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Last updated on September 4, 2023

When it comes to building full, thick chest muscles the fly is one of those fundamental chest exercises that makes an appearance in almost everyone’s routine. This exercise can be done in a number of ways, including with cables, on the floor or at various angles on a bench. While most people tend to use a bench or cables, the floor fly is an opinion that presents some unique advantages. In this article we put the floor fly and the bench fly head to head.

About the Chest Fly 


While the chest fly primarily works the pectorals, it secondarily works the front deltoids and the triceps. Contrary to popular belief, it is not possible to isolate certain parts of the chest with various exercises. The pectoralis major is the muscle that covers your torso from the sternum to the clavicles. It is one muscle with a single insertion point on the humerus (upper arm). It is impossible, therefore to isolate different parts of that one muscle. 


From the above, we can see clearly that the angle at which you do a fly on a bench (flat, decline or incline) will not target a specific area of your chest. So, the incline dumbbell fly does not target your upper chest!


The chest fly involves holding a resistance at arms length with your elbows slightly bent and locked in position. Keeping your arms locked in that position, you move solely from the shoulder joint to bring your arms out to the side. This has the effect of opening up your chest, which helps to reduce back pain, increasing range of motion and improving posture. 

The Bench Fly

The bench fly is the most common way that the exercise is performed. In fact, many people were inspired to get into the gym by seeing the unforgettable image of a huge chested Arnold Schwarzenegger performing bench flys in the docu-drama Pumping Iron. 


Perform dumbbell flies on a bench allows you to bring your arms down lower than the level of your chest. Many people consider this to be a good thing as it maximizes your range of motion. However, others state that this enhanced range of motion is a bad thing because it compromises your shoulder joint. So, which position is right?


When you are in the bottom position of the bench fly, your shoulders are not supported. That means that there is no protection against the over extension of the shoulder joint. Over extending may cause serious damage to the anterior shoulder capsule. 


Another problem with the traditional bench fly is that, at the top of the movement, there is no resistance on the pecs. That goes against one of the basic principles of an effective resistance exercise – early phase loading. A good exercise will be harder at the beginning than at the end. With the bench fly it is the opposite – the more your arms come down, the harder the exercise becomes. 


Many people also mistake the stretch in the bottom position of bench chest  flies. What they think is enhanced pec stretch is actually rib cage cartilage and bicep stretch.


If you are going to do the fly on a bench, you can minimize the risk by doing the following:


  • Not bringing your elbows down below the level of your shoulders
  • Slow down, especially on the descent – use a two count to get to the bottom position
  • Don’t use too heavy a weight – focus on technique, not on the number on the dumbbell!


The Floor Fly

The chest fly  on the floor is very similar to the bench fly except that you are lying on the floor rather than on a bench. Here is how to perform it:

  • Lie on the floor with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Raise them above your chest at about a 15 degree decline angle
  • Bend your elbows slightly and lock them in place in this position. Your palms should be facing each other
  • Lower the weights out and down by pivoting at the shoulder joint. Arnold suggested imagining that you are hugging a tree as you do this action. 


The immediate and obvious advantage of doing the fly on the floor is that you are not able to extend your arms lower than the level of your torso. That is because the floor gets in the way. This provides your shoulder joint with protection from over extension. 


Another advantage of the floor fly is that it allows you to use a heavier weight on what is arguably the most important part of the rep – the negative or eccentric portion. When you do a bench fly you have to use a relatively light weight due to the fact that you need to bring it back up during the concentric phase. 


However, when you are lying on the floor, you can use a heavier weight for the eccentric part of the rep and then, once you reach the level of the floor, press the weight back up to the start position. That allows you to perform heavy negative flys with a weight that is too heavy for positives. Because you have the floor underneath your triceps you are more easily able to push the weight back to the start position.


The extra weight and strength building benefits you get from doing heavy negatives will allow you to build muscle more effectively. 


A Better Alternative ?

Even though the floor fly is a better exercise than the bench fly, it still does not overcome the problem of not having early phase loading. This can be overcome by performing the cable fly variation of the movement. With this version of the exercise, you actually start in the fully extended position and finish each rep with the handles together in front of your chest. This gives you early phase loading, which is ideal for muscle building. 


When you do the fly on a cable machine, make sure that you do not start from a position which will over extend your shoulder joint.


The floor fly beats out the bench fly because it prevents over extension of the shoulder joint and allows you to go heavier on the eccentric part of the movement. As a bonus, you don’t have to spend money on a bench!

For a comprehensive workout plan please check our homepage for exercises for women and men.

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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