The flat bench cable flyes are a great isolating (single-joint) exercise to shred and add definition to your chest muscles. Basically this is identical to the flat bench dumbbell flyes, except that you use cables instead of dumbbells. Therefore, it is easy to get the false impression that these two exercises are equally effective. However, this is not the case. And here’s why…
Cable flyes versus dumbbell flyes
Flat bench cable flyes are much more effective than dumbbell flyes. This is because cables provide resistance to the chest muscles more evenly throughout the entire movement (range of motion) of this exercise. In other words, there is no “resting point” while using cable machines. This is, however, not the case with dumbbells. When you are holding the dumbbells at your sides, the tension on your chest muscles is at its peak. As you begin to do the fly movement, the tension begins to reduce and at the top position, the tension on your chest muscle is virtually zero. You are just balancing the dumbbells against gravity. Hence, you are not getting the maximum muscle stimulation, resulting in compromised hypertrophy. Cable flyes provide resistance even at the point where the handles touch. This is one of the clearest examples that free weights are not always better than machines.
Exercise instructions for the flat bench cable flyes
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Put a flat exercise bench between the columns of a cable crossover machine. Set the pulleys at the floor level (lowest level possible on the machine that is below your torso). Lie back on an exercise bench and place your feet flat on the floor directly under your knees. Hold a handle in each hand, arms extended above your chest, palms facing one another (knuckles outward).
ACTION (MOVEMENT): Keeping your elbows slightly flexed, lower the cables laterally until they are in a “T” position. Keeping your elbows slightly flexed, bring the cables back to the original position above your shoulders. Repeat.
Key points to remember
Some helpful hints (key elements to consider) on how to perform flat bench cable flyes safely and effectively.
- Maintain a slight bend in your elbows throughout the entire range of motion in order to prevent stress at the biceps tendon which would occur if you would keep your arms completely straight.
- Keep in mind that throughout the movement, the arms should remain stationary. The movement should only occur at the shoulder joint.
- Bring the cables together over your chest until the handles barely touch. You can also lift the cables slightly past the point where the handles touch for an increased range of motion.
- Lower your arms down and back toward your ears until your elbows are about even with the bench. Then stop and don’t go any further down.
- Keep your elbows perpendicular to and away from your body.
- Always try to bring the handles up in a wide, arching motion, as if you were hugging a barrel, squeezing your chest when your hands are above your torso.
- Breathe in as you open your arms to lower the cables down to the level of your chest. Exhale on completing the lift.
Here’s a list of common mistakes people often do when performing flat bench cable flyes.
- Short movement because the cable is not long enough or the pulleys are too far apart.
- Doing a press rather than flyes. Flexing the elbows too much turns the exercise into a press (this is not harmful, but you are no longer doing flyes).
- Deficient concentration of work on the pectoral muscle because too much of the strain is taken by the deltoids.
- Excessive weight load, which risks damaging the joints.
- Incline cable fly. To move emphasis to your upper pecs, use an incline bench, starting and finishing with the handles over your upper chest or collarbone.
- Decline cable fly. To move emphasis to your lower chest, use a decline bench, starting and finishing with the handles over your lower chest.
- Swiss-ball cable fly. Place a Swiss ball between the columns of the crossover station, grab the low-cable stirrup handles, then lie on the ball with only your shoulder blades touching it. It’s o.k. to hook your insteps beneath some heavy dumbbells on the floor as you lie on the ball (for stability reasons). Your knees should be bent 90 degrees, and your torso and thighs should be parallel to the floor. Then do a standard cable fly already described above.
Muscles involved in flat bench cable flyes
- Main muscles: pectoralis major, deltoids (anterior), serratus anterior
- Secondary muscles: coracobrachialis, subscapularis, m. biceps brachii
- Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, deltoid (posterior), triceps, trapezius, rhomboids, teres
Closing thoughts about flat bench cable flyes
The inclusion of the cable flyes in your training routines is highly recommended. The flyes are considered a good finishing chest exercise because of this muscular isolation, as well as the nice stretch they provide. Cables provide many benefits over dumbbells: you’re able to maintain steady, constant tension throughout the entire exercise (range of motion).
During a free-weight fly, the resistance is very uneven over the range of motion. The tension is very high in the stretched position, which increases the risk of overstretching the tendons of both the chest and the long head of the biceps. As you bring the weights up, the resistance decreases dramatically. It is almost null at the top of the movement.
The second advantage of the cable over dumbbells is that you can bring your arms either toward your abdomen or toward your head (or anywhere else between these two points) to change the angle at which the pectoralis muscles work. This is definitely not an exercise for heavy weights.