Don’t be afraid to flye

When most of us picture a perfect chest, we imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger or The Rock strutting their half-naked, action-hero physiques across movie screens. Good pecs are usually prized on men, and they should he a focal point on women as well.

The pectoral muscles fan out from a narrow point at the shoulder joint and widen all the way to the clavicle (the hones that run from the shoulder to the throat), the sternum (breastbone) and ribs. These muscles assist in pushing, throwing and hugging and, independent of breast size, also add muscle cleavage.

Chest exercises come in two main varieties: the flye and the press. The pressing motion is a multijoint exercise because the motion recruits both the elbows and the shoulders. Flyes use only the shoulder joints. Unfortunately, many people fail to make a distinction and end up doing some sort of hybrid of the two! While it’s a great idea to use both varieties, success will be achieved much faster if you use proper form when training.

The chest muscles can also be trained from several different angles to focus the work on one section of the chest. Working the chest on an incline emphasizes the upper portion of the muscle, enhancing the muscle cleavage. Using a flat bench focuses the workload on the center part of the chest and is good for overall strength. A decline angle focuses work on the lower part of the chest. This part of the muscle is covered with breast tissue in women, so working this area won’t yield visible results.

The following routine uses an exercise ball for the added benefits of improved balance and strength of the core muscles. However, these exercises can also be done using a step or workout bench.


Get into a push-up position with the ball placed under your shins. Hold your spine in a neutral position so your hips are in line with the shoulders as you’re perched up, ready to lower. Your hands should be placed a little wider than shoulder-distance apart; your neck should be in line with the spine. Lower your chest only as far as your shoulder comfort will allow. Remember to keep your chest lifted as you press up.

If you’re a beginner, position the ball farther toward your hips for more support and progressively lower the ball down your legs as you become more comfortable with the exercise.

Caution: Don’t allow your lower back to arch or hips to sag. Your chest should be the lowest point.

If this bothers your wrists, spread your fingers out and balance on fingertips or try doing the movement on your fists.

Incline Ball Flye

Position yourself on the ball as described for the incline press variation (at right, under the Chest Press description). Your torso should be at about a 45-degree angle, hips low and knees high. Feet are wide and flat on the floor. Start with a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended directly over your shoulders with your palms facing each other. With your elbows slightly bent, slowly lower the dumbbells out to the sides. stopping when your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Maintaining the angle of your elbows, return to the starting position by following the same arc.

Caution: You’ll need a lighter weight when performing the flye because it’s a single-joint exercise. Don’t go too far down with the weights; this puts undue stress on the shoulders.

Be careful not to position your torso too upright, or you’ll work your shoulders more than your chest!

Chest Press

Position yourself comfortably on the ball with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart for better balance. Your upper torso, neck and head should be resting on the ball. Keep your torso tight in an attempt to keep your upper body and thighs parallel to the floor. With a dumbbell in each hand, bring the weights to a point just above your shoulders, palms facing your feet and arms extended. Slowly bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells toward your shoulders until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Exhale as you reverse the motion and press the weights back up, being careful not to bang them together.

Variation: To perform an incline chest press, instead of being on top of the ball, position yourself on the ball so your torso is at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. Your hips should be low, and your knees high with your feet flat on the floor. Perform the exercise as described above.

Caution: Don’t let the dumbbells sway backward and over your face! Keep your head and neck in line with the rest of your spine to avoid discomfort and added stress.

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