When lifters talk wanting to about build a “barrel chest,” they’re often recommended to emphasize the upper portion of their chest muscles. Indeed, this typically neglected body part can create a fuller, more rounded chest.
But what if your lower chest actually needs attention or what if you want to harmonize every section of your pecs? Enter the lower chest cable flye. If the decline bench press is a lower-pec blasting chainsaw, this exercise is a fine-tuned scalpel.
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This isolation movement will zero-in on the lower portion of your chest with minimal involvement from other body parts. This is the perfect fit for a chest workout aimed at emphasizing this muscle section. Take a sidestep from the basic cable crossover and hone in on the lower chest cable flye.
Lower Chest Cable Flye
Isolation (single-joint) exercises aren’t always the most complicated movements available, but the freedom allowed by the cable pulleys can sometimes prevent a reckless lifter from performing the lower chest cable flye correctly. Take your time and apply perfect technique for optimal lower chest recruitment.
Step 1 — Stand Between the Cables
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Nestle yourself between a cable machine’s upright pulleys. Set the pulleys sky high with a single handle on each. Grasp those handles as if they’re your tickets to Pecsville and step forward just enough to feel the weights ascend slightly. Plant your feet firm, in a staggered stance to maximize stability.
Take a deep breath and flex your abs to improve your bracing and balance. Bend your elbows slightly to protect your joints, and pull gently on the handles until you feel tension applied to your chest.
Form tip: Balance can be especially tricky when you eventually increase weight. You can tilt your body forward at the waist slightly to prevent this. A staggered stance will also be your best friend in most cases.
Step 2 — Pull Your Hands Forward and Down
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With a bend in your elbows that’s less “T-rex” and more “casual embrace,” initiate the motion. Picture the handles as two magnets drawn together in a sweeping arc, pulling themselves together in front of your hips. The unique arc motion — going from the top to bottom — is what will put stress on your lower chest.
Form tip: You can take your thumbs off the handles and rest it alongside your index fingers to further improve your chest feeling. This will decrease involvement from your arms and shoulders.
Step 3 — Reverse Direction
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Reverse the motion, letting the cables arc upwards, indulging in the pec stretch. Concentrate on feeling your chest working, not your arms or the fronts of your shoulders. Don’t bend or straighten your elbows — keep the same angle. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Form tip: Controlling the eccentric (stretching phase of the motion) will prove superior for muscle gains. (2) Don’t rush it! Take two or three seconds to return your hands to the top position.
This exercise is not exempt from avoidable mistakes. These common errors could not only result in less muscle mass and strength, but also irritate and injure your elbows and shoulders. Let’s check these flye faux-pas to make sure you’re not doing them.
Extending your arms too straight? That’s an invitation to Injuryville. Instead, embrace the bend. Keeping your arms straight will put more stress on your elbow joints as your biceps tendons will be stretched and the exercise will act as a weighted, dynamic stretch on the vulnerable tissue.
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Working with straight arms will also increase shoulder tension and activation, as your biceps tendons go up through your shoulder joints. Because the lower chest cable flye is an isolation exercise, you really want to make sure it remains a chest exercise and avoid shifting the workload to your shoulders.
Avoid it: Always keep your elbows slightly bent during the execution. If you feel some tension in your elbows, bend them a little bit more. But don’t use it as an excuse to use as much weight as possible by bending them into a half-curl.
Turbo Speed Temptation
Speed is for the racetrack, not the cable flye. Savor each rep and soak in the tension. Going too fast will make you focus more on the simple output and less on the muscle. This could lead to lesser muscle gains, especially if you’re a newer lifter with poor motor control.
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The importance of a strong mind-muscle connection is not to be underestimated, especially during isolation (single-joint) exercises like chest flyes. (3) Also, if you’re speeding up the reps, you might use momentum, thus diminishing the muscle’s time under tension, which is a key component of muscle gain. (4)
Avoid it: Force yourself to slow down by using a deliberate two-to-three count during each eccentric.
The Slouching Sinner
Keep that spine straight and regal. The Quasimodo look is so 15th century. When you use too much weight, or when fatigue sets in, you might lose posture and roll your shoulders forward to unconsciously bring more muscle into assisting performance of the exercise.
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The problem is that your shoulder joint — one of the most complex and potentially delicate joints in the entire body — is put into a dangerous position, and you might injure yourself in the long run or irritate any existing shoulder problem.
Also, by adding other muscles into the equation, you’re defeating the purpose of the exercise — which is to focus on your lower chest. A multi-joint exercise like the dip or decline bench press would be more suited to lifting heavy weights if your goal was just to recruit as many muscles as possible. With the lower chest cable flye, use relatively lighter weight and focus on recruiting the target muscle with perfect form.
Avoid it: Keep your chest puffed up “proud” and hold your shoulders blades packed and down at all times during the lift. Even when the repetitions become challenging, never sacrifice your posture.
For someone just starting their fitness journey, mastering the lower chest cable flye can be a tad challenging due to the coordination and strength needed. For the well-seasoned athlete, the hunger for more challenging variations never ceases. Dive into these exercise progressions based on your proficiency and thirst for challenge.
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press
The decline dumbbell press is a fantastic starting point for those new to chest exercises. This movement, performed on a decline bench, targets the lower chest region and mimics the effect of the lower chest cable flye. With the bench supporting your back, the risk of compromising form is minimized.
Beginners can utilize this dumbbell bench press variation to build foundational strength and become acquainted with the feeling of isolating the lower chest. Once you’re confident with your form and strength on this exercise, transitioning to the cable machine will be a smoother ride.
Single-Arm Lower Chest Cable Flye
Feeling like the standard version isn’t enough of a challenge anymore? Introducing the single-arm variation could be your next step. Instead of using both hands to pull the cables simultaneously, focus on one arm at a time. This not only emphasizes unilateral (single-side) strength and muscle imbalances, but also challenges your core to stabilize against the pull of the cable.
Using one arm to perform the flye requires a solid mind-muscle connection, but is sure to deliver an intense contraction. This variation was a favorite of four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler — the legendary bodybuilder swore by its effectiveness for sculpting a well-defined lower chest.
The lower chest cable flye is mostly used by aesthetic enthusiasts and bodybuilders to develop that body part feature, but it’s for more than just building a pretty pec. Here’s a deeper look into the benefits of this flye exercise.
More Lower Chest Muscle
If you’re looking to develop this detailed body part, look no more. Research has consistently shown that isolation exercises, like the flye, garner pronounced muscle activation. (5) The lower chest cable flye, in particular, zeroes-in on the hard-to-target lower pectorals, ensuring both aesthetic appeal and functional prowess.
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This movement is one of the few ways to target your lower chest with minimal involvement from other muscles. As such, if this body part is lagging, you’ll be able to bring it up to par without further stimulating already-dominant muscles. This is a key principle used by bodybuilders when trying to build a symmetrical and balanced physique.
By promoting muscular balance and symmetry, this exercise can aid in preventing muscular imbalances and, subsequently, may help to reduce the risk of injuries. (6) A well-balanced chest is not just visually captivating, but it’s biomechanically sound.
Lifters often think about balancing their posterior development with their anterior half by doing more overall back exercises and rotator cuff work for shoulder health, but it’s often forgotten that imbalances within a muscular chain can also lead to problems. If your lagging chest is completely dominated by your shoulders, for instance, you might risk overuse of tendons and joints in the long run.
The cable pulley station offers a significant benefit over dumbbell or machine flye exercises in terms of customizing the movement to your body. It grants the freedom to experiment with different hand positions and pulling angles, along with the ability to fine-tune the weight in small increments, all while maintaining muscular tension throughout the entire range of motion.
You also have the ability to position yourself anywhere within the station, allowing you to find your balance and select a cable angle that best suits your preferences. This level of individualization adds versatility and effectiveness to your workout, enabling you to discover the ideal setup that effectively targets your lower chest.
As an isolation movement, the lower chest cable flye predominantly targets your pecs. However, given the intricate nature of our body, no activity exclusively engages a single muscle. Other muscles also play supportive roles when performing the exercise.
More commonly referred to as the chest muscles, your pecs stand out as the most powerful pressing muscles in the upper body. They connect your humerus (upper arm bone) to your clavicle (collarbones), sternum, and upper ribs.
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In the flye movement, your chest is primarily activated by drawing your arms inward, while also facilitating internal rotation and flexion. In the lower chest cable flye, the high-to-low angle will focus more on the sternal portion of the pecs — your lower chest.
The deltoids, or shoulder muscles, Are composed of three distinct segments: the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (back). During the lower chest cable flye, your anterior deltoid aids the chest in the internal rotation and adduction (drawing the arms toward the body) of the humerus.
This dual-headed muscle spans from your upper arm — crossing over the shoulder to connect to your scapula (shoulder blade). Serving as a vital component in the shoulder complex, your biceps provide stability during this exercise. The biceps also serve a more direct purpose during the lower chest cable — maintaining a bent arm position, emphasizing its function as an arm flexor.
Since this is a single-joint exercise, utilizing a single muscle to perform the majority of work, avoid using relatively heavy weights. Proper programming can maximize benefits and reduce the risk of injuries. Consider incorporating the lower chest cable flye as a “supplementary” exercise after a bench press variation or use it as a finisher for your workout.
Moderate Weight, Moderate Repetitions
The typical hypertrophy protocol of three to four sets of eight to 12 reps is effective for chest development. This is the generally the lowest rep range, and “heaviest” weight you use with the lower chest cable flye, as going even heavier for fewer reps would increase the risk of injury and decrease your ability to feel the target muscle working.
Light Weight, High Repetition
There are moments when you seek that intense burn. Executing two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps can be equally advantageous for muscle growth compared to more moderate loading. The increased time under tension from a higher rep range could further enhance the mind-muscle connection, letting you deeply engage with your lower chest muscles. This approach is ideal for a powerful workout finisher, after your pecs are already fatigued from previous exercises.
The cable crossover is advantageous due to the pulley station’s ability to quickly adjust the exercise. By merely altering the height of the cable, you can shift the focus on a different part of your chest.
Upper Chest Cable Flye
This is the exact opposite of the lower chest cable flye. Set the cable pulleys at their lowest point and grab the handles using a supinated grip (palms upward). Stand tall and balanced with your chest up, like any other cable flye. From there, bring your arms upward to around face level.
This motion will recruit more of the clavicular portion of your pecs (upper chest). Since the upper chest is underdeveloped with many lifters, you should give this variation a go, especially if your chest session did not have any incline pressing.
The standard cable crossover is a classic for a reason. Adjust the pulley so that they are around chest level, and this time bring your hands right in front of you, aligned with your pecs level.
This standard movement will uniformly recruit your chest as a whole, and is an excellent choice if you don’t have any blatantly lagging muscle.
Not better, just different. By changing your pulling angle, the movement focuses on your lower chest muscles and targets the lower pecs more intensely. Use it if you have a lower chest deficiency.
The lower chest cable flye, while delivering an effective chest workout, can also provide some variety to your routine. This helps avoid plateaus and can promote muscle growth even more. If you’ve always done the classic movement, switch up your angle.
Cable flyes, when performed at the end of a training session, can serve as an effective finishing move for the chest. Since they are isolation exercises, they precisely target the pectoral muscles without much involvement from secondary muscle groups, like your shoulders or triceps, which are worked during presses.
Ending your workout with cable flyes after compound movements will ensure that your chest muscles are thoroughly recruited. This helps in achieving better muscle development and encourages growth due to the increased time under tension, so using the exercise as your last movement of the session can maximize the benefits of your chest workout.
Also, cable flyes particularly emphasize the stretched position, so performing it last will make sure your joints really warmed up to reduce the risk of potential injuries injuries.
For beginners, diving straight into lower chest cable flyes isn’t quite the most efficient approach. Cable flyes are isolation exercises that require a certain level of muscle coordination and understanding of form.
It’s better for less experienced lifters to focus on foundational compound movements, which build overall strength, and establish a base of muscle and coordination. Only after mastering exercises like the bench press and dip should they consider incorporating more fine-tuned isolation exercises like cable flyes. However, once a beginner learns good form, flyes can help improve their mind-muscle connection wich can lead to more long-term muscle growth.
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