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Unleash Your Chest: Mastering Cable Chest Flys for Maximum Results

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Who doesn’t want maximum chest gains? The chest is an integral component of daily activities and aesthetics. It helps you move your arms across the body and push things away, like moving a heavy fridge.

Most lifters look to movements like the barbell bench press or the incline dumbbell press to develop the chest muscles. But isolation exercises like the cable chest fly can unleash the potential of your upper body.

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So, how do you perform the cable chest fly correctly, and what are the benefits? We cover everything you need to know to build a bigger, stronger, and well-balanced chest in the article below. 

What Is the Cable Chest Fly?

The Cable Chest Fly Exercise, or Cable Crossover,  is an isolation movement primarily engaging the pectoral muscles. Despite being used for chest development, cable flyes also engage secondary muscles like the front deltoids, triceps, and core for stability. 

Unlike traditional chest exercises, like flat bench presses, the cable fly offers resistance throughout the entire movement.

Engaging the chest muscles during the concentric and eccentric phases recruits more muscle fibers, leading to more growth. 

Why Choose Cable Machine Exercises?

So, why use a cable setup over the dumbbell fly or the chest fly machine? 

The dual-cable machine makes the isolation exercise more challenging as there’s constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. In comparison, dumbbell chest flyes don’t provide as much resistance at the top of the exercise, 

The consistent resistance from cable flyes offers more time under tension, which may provide more muscle growth. Additionally, this variation may place less stress on the shoulder joint and lower the risk of potential injury. 

What Muscles Does the Cable Chest Fly Work?

As the name suggests, cable chest flyes primarily engage the chest muscles. The chest is composed of two muscles, the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor, alongside the intercostal muscles. 

The pectorals are fan-shaped muscles stretching from the armpits to the center of the breastbone or sternum. Adjusting the position of the cable handles can emphasize the lower and upper chest more. 

Besides the chest, the movement also engages the front deltoids, triceps, and core for stabilization. 

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major rests on top of the pectoralis minor and is the most superficial muscle in the area, meaning it sits closest to the surface. 

The pec major has two muscle heads, the upper head (clavicular head) and the lower head (sternocostal head). You can change whether you target the upper or lower head of the pec major by adjusting your technique. 

  • It allows you to bring your arms across your body, such as when performing exercises like the chest fly or hugging motion.
  • Assists in lifting the arms forward and upward, as in movements like reaching or throwing a ball overhead.
  • The pec major helps rotate the upper arm inward, like when you’re reaching behind your back or throwing a punch.

The pectoralis major is the primary muscle responsible for the development and strength of the chest area. It contributes to the overall shape and size of the chest.

Pectoralis Minor

The pectoralis minor has a triangular shape and rests under the pec major. The muscle’s primary purpose is the stabilization, depression, abduction or protraction, internal rotation, and downward rotation of the scapula.

  • During deep breathing or when you take a large breath, the pectoralis minor contracts to lift the ribs and expand the chest cavity, aiding in inhalation.
  • The pectoralis minor pulls the scapula forward and around the ribcage, contributing to movements like reaching forward or pushing objects away from the body.
  • It helps rotate the scapula downward, as in movements like pushing down on a lever or performing a downward pulling motion.

The pectoralis minor assists in stabilizing the shoulder joint by working in conjunction with other muscles, helping to maintain proper alignment and control during various upper-body movements.

Benefits of the Cable Chest Flye

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So, why incorporate the cable fly exercise into your chest routine? What are the advantages compared to other compound chest lifts? It’s an effective movement for building a bigger chest, placing less stress on the joints, and adding variety to your training plan. 

Build a Bigger Chest

Cable fly movements are effective exercises for chest engagement. The movement has a greater range of motion compared to other workouts. With this exercise, you move the arm in a wide pattern, stretching and challenging the chest muscles

This can lead to more balanced chest growth as you target the outer and inner areas of the muscle. Engaging the entire muscle can also improve flexibility, mobility, and strength. 

Constant Time Under Tension

As mentioned earlier, the main advantage of the cable pulley machine is consistent tension throughout the chest workout. 

Other variations, like the dumbbell flye, don’t offer the same amount of tension. With dumbbells, you have tension when your arms are spread out wide but not at the top of the movement. 

The consistent tension from the cables creates more chest activation, as they’re challenged throughout the entire range of motion. This can help you get a massive chest pump and build more muscle mass. 

Places Less Stress on the Joints

The cable machine provides a smooth and controlled movement pattern, reducing the stress on the joints compared to some free-weight exercises. 

There’s a higher chance of injury with dumbbells or free weights, as you can overextend the shoulder. This is less likely with cables, as you have more control and typically use lighter weights. 

This can make cable chest flyes a suitable option for individuals with joint sensitivities or those who prefer a lower-impact exercise.


The cable machine allows for more variety compared to other exercises. For instance, you can modify the cable height to target different portions of the chest.

You can engage the lower chest with a high cable position and a downward movement pattern.

With a lower cable position and an upwards movement pattern, you engage the upper chest muscles. 

You can also perform the chest isolation exercise with a single handle, allowing you to train each side of your body independently. This provides more balanced muscle development and can help you address any asymmetries or weaknesses. 

How to Perform Standing Cable Chest Fly

Although the Cable Chest Fly is a safe and effective movement, the incorrect form can lead to less muscle engagement. Maintain constant tension within the chest, stabilizing through your core. You can take a staggered or traditional stance, depending on your preferences. 

  1. Start by adjusting the height of the pulleys on the cable machine to about shoulder height. Make sure the pulleys are at the same level.
  2. Stand in the center of the cable pulley machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Grasp one handle of the cables in each hand, with your palms facing forward and your arms extended out to the sides. Your elbows should have a slight bend in them.
  4. Take a step forward to create tension on the cables. This will be your starting position.
  5. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, exhale and slowly bring your arms forward in front of your body in a hugging motion. Imagine you are wrapping your arms around a large tree trunk.
  6. At the end of the movement, your hands should meet in front of your chest, but avoid touching them together.
  7. Pause for a moment, then inhale as you reverse the motion and slowly return your arms to the starting position, keeping the same controlled movement.
  8. Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

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Like other exercises, there are common mistakes you can make when learning the movement. Mistakes aren’t a sign of your skill level; they just need to be worked on to get the most out of your gym session. Addressing these pitfalls early on will ensure you’re not developing bad habits and reducing the risk of injury. 

Using the Wrong Body Position

The chest fly involves a deep stretch in the chest muscles. To do this correctly, you need to position your body at the right angle.

Make sure to keep your shoulders pulled back and down. Also, focus on keeping your chest open, which helps create tension in the chest before you start the fly movement. Once you start moving, maintain the tension.

Maintaining a staggered stance, slightly tucking the pelvis, and engaging the core can also help your technique. Concentrate on moving only your upper body while keeping the rest of your body stable and resisting any rotation.

Using Heavy Weights

Cable machines have a larger range of motion compared to stationary machines. If you use too much weight, it’s possible to lose control and use the incorrect technique. Heavier weights can cause your shoulders to roll forward, placing stress on the joints and recruiting other muscles.

This increases the chance of injuries and strain on the joints.

Instead, use lighter weights to learn the technique and maintain control. If you’re not ready to increase the load, you can perform more reps or adjust the tempo. Prioritizing your technique should come first, as that will provide you with the fundamentals for future loads. 

Overextending the Shoulders

It’s possible to overextend the shoulders past a comfortable point on the cable machine, just like with dumbbells. You can avoid this by using lighter weights and ensuring the upper arms are roughly 30 degrees away from your core. 

Going past this point places excessive stress on the joint. You can work your way up to this range by slowing down as you near the end of the repetition. Don’t let the weights pull you, maintain tension and control throughout the range of motion. 

Cable Chest Fly Variations

There are several chest flyes variations and modifications you can incorporate into your training schedule. These alternatives can emphasize different portions of the chest, help you build a well-balanced physique, and spice up your chest day routine. 

Single-Arm Cable Chest Fly

The Single-Arm Cable Chest Fly is a straightforward modification allowing you to engage one arm at a time. Unilateral movements are fantastic for identifying muscle weakness and correcting imbalances. The starting position requires you to be sideways toward the front of the machine. 

  1. Start with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders, facing sideways to the machine. Extend your arm and hold the handle at shoulder height.
  2. Bend forward slightly, keeping your arm straight. Breathe out and swing your arm diagonally across your body.
  3. Keep going until your arm reaches the same level as your opposite hip.
  4. Breathe in and let your arm rise back up and go behind you, returning to the starting position.
  5. Once you’ve completed all the repetitions, switch sides and repeat the same movement.

Low Cable Chest Fly

Low-to-High Cable Flys are excellent for targeting the upper chest muscles, which is a crucial area for enhancing the appearance of the chest.

During low cable flys, it’s common for the lower back to arch as compensation. If you feel this is happening, make sure to correct your form and posture.

  1. Set the cables to the lowest position. Hold the handles and step forward with a staggered stance.
  2. Keep your palms facing forward and maintain an upright posture.
  3. Bend your elbows slightly and keep them by your sides. Breathe out and bring the handles together until your elbows align with your chest.

Remember, maintaining proper form and technique is important to ensure effective targeting of the upper chest muscles and minimize the risk of injury.

High Cable Chest Fly

High-to-Low Cable Flys target the medial chest, and lower chest, as well as activate the front deltoid and triceps muscles due to the angle of movement.

The form for high to low cable flys remains the same as a standard chest fly, although you may feel a different sensation as more muscles are engaged from this angle.

  1. Set the cable handles to the highest position. Hold one handle in each hand, facing away from the cable machine, with palms facing forward.
  2. Keep your arms close to your body and take a step forward until you feel the resistance of the pulleys.
  3. Stagger your feet and slightly hinge from your hips, leaning your torso slightly forward while keeping a squared stance towards the front.
  4. Press the pulleys forward until your hands meet, slightly below chest height.
  5. Bend your elbows and open your arms out to the sides in a controlled manner until you feel a deep stretch in your chest.
  6. Press the handles back to the starting position, focusing on a strong contraction from your chest. Reset and prepare for the next repetition.

Dumbbell Chest Fly

The Dumbbell Chest Fly is a classic movement, only requiring a bench and a pair of dumbbells. This makes it more accessible as you can do it in most gyms and even at home in some cases. 

One of the downsides of this exercise is that the resistance isn’t as evenly distributed compared to the cable variant, so your chest muscles may not receive as much activation. 

  1. Lie down on a bench with your feet on the floor, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Press the dumbbells straight up and over your chest, with your palms facing each other.
  3. Keep your elbows braced and begin lowering the dumbbells out to the sides, stopping at a comfortable position for your shoulders.
  4. Contract your chest muscles and use them to pull the weights back over your chest.

Standing Resistance Band Chest Fly

If you don’t have a cable machine or dumbbells, you can still perform standing chest flyes using a resistance band. 

Attach the band at chest height and focus on one side at a time. The movement will provide a continuous tension similar to the cable version. However, one drawback is that it’s more challenging to adjust the resistance level with the band.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are Cable Chest Flys Good?

Yes, cable chest flyes are an effective exercise for developing the chest muscles. The cable machine provides constant tension throughout the exercise, which can activate more muscle fibers. It can be a useful accessory movement alongside the barbell bench press and incline dumbbell press. 

What Is the Best Height for Cable Flys?

For traditional cable flyes, you want the cable to be a bit above shoulder height. You shouldn’t have to bend your body forward in order to perform the exercise. You don’t want to bend too far forward or roll the shoulders. Instead, maintain control and tension throughout the chest. 

How Many Reps of Cable Fly?

Using moderate weights on the cable machine is ideal. Avoid heavy loads and use a weight that you can perform 8–12 reps for three sets. You should be close to failure at the end of each set but not to a point where you’re sacrificing form and strain the joints. 


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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