Crush Your Chest and Abs With This Unique Kettlebell Chest Fly
Dr. Joel Seedman
I’ve been asked quite a few questions lately about chest flyes and whether or not I recommend them. The answer is yes but only if they are done properly with very precise execution as shown here by one of my bodybuilders Ben Lai. If you’re performing chest flyes the way you see 99% of lifters on the internet doing them you’re setting yourself up for injury, ruining your shoulder stability, degrading your postural alignment, destroying shoulder mobility, and actually doing very little to stimulate size and strength gains in the chest.
Here’s the key; maintain nearly the same shoulder, scapula, and postural positioning that you would hold during a neutral grip dumbbell press, proper pushup, or proper bench press keeping the elbows pointed straight ahead and not using excessive range of motion. Focus on keeping the shoulders and scapula depressed, and retracted throughout while allowing them to medially rotate towards the spine the deeper you go into your position. Terminate the end range of motion when you feel the shoulders and traps begin to elevate and the elbows have to start pulling back.
And yes that means the optimal range of motion on a fly will be slightly more compact than what most coaches, trainers, and lifters would suggest but this represents the optimal way to perform them not only for joint health and muscle function but for maximizing the hypertrophy stimulus. In fact one factor that contributes to faulty chest fly mechanics is having the mindset of achieving as large of a stretching sensation as possible at the bottom of the movement. This is one of the most counterproductive cues as you’re essentially stretching the tendon insertion point rather than the belly of the muscle. Such a maneuver can create extreme soreness in the joints and surrounding connective tissue.
Contrary to popular belief this excessive stretch has little if any hypertrophy stimulating benefits as the muscles relax and go limp in order to allow this large amount of slack to occur. In contrast, the natural or moderate stretched position represents a lengthened yet tight and highly activated position. If you’re looking to tear a pec or ruin your joints then go for excessive stretch on flyes. If size and strength are more your thing then perform them as shown here.
On a side note I have Ben performing these with kettlebells as well as with a hollow core leg raise position. There are several reasons for this. First kettlebells provide more unique and constant tension on the chest due to the hanging and lateral pulling nature of the kettelbells. This makes them very conducive for creating abduction force vectors against the shoulder joint ultimately crushing the chest fibers through more direct stimulation.
Second, unlike dumbbells that tend to be fairly stable during flyes, kettlebells tend to be more unstable particularly as you go lower and the weights provide more of a hanging position. This instability helps to centrate and stabilize the shoulder joint thereby helping to eliminate excessive range of motion and faulty mechanics.
Lastly, the hollow body leg raise position helps keep his core engaged. As long as the core stays activated throughout the chance of losing spinal rigidity is markedly reduced. When the spine remains stable and properly aligned this directly impacts movement mechanics particularly in the shoulder joint as it becomes nearly impossible to collapse due to proper positioning of the scapula.
Single Arm Variations
Looking for a brutally effective way to crush your chest and core at the same time? Try this single arm chest fly on a stability ball as shown here by my awesome client Ben Lai. As previously discussed, the kettlebell tends to produce a slightly greater pulling sensation on the chest compared to dumbbells due to the unique hanging nature of the bells that creates more torque and constant tension on the upper body.
Even when performed on a bench or the floor, the single arm version crushes the core due to the intense levels of anti-rotation and rotary stability involved. When combined with the stability ball the core stimulus is exponentially greater due to the increased rotary stability component. You’ll also feel your hips and glutes working overtime to lock you. Oh and if you have a strong core you shouldn’t have to reduce your weight much if any from what you normally use for chest flyes.
Besides blasting the core and chest, this particular variation also does wonders for eliminating the all-too-common problem of over-stretching in the bottom of the chest fly similar to the hollow body floor fly above. Because of the increased core stability as well as full body tension, and slow eccentric needed to control these, the lifter automatically finds the optimal ROM which is more compact than what most coaches advocate. In fact the range of motion Ben shows here is what I advocate for all chest flyes.
If this still isn’t challenging enough, try closing your eyes to further increase the proprioceptive demands and stabilization components. Several sets of 5-8 strict controlled reps will more than suffice for finishing your chest and core while also reinforcing proper chest fly mechanics. Just don’t roll off the ball as you learn to master this deceptively challenging move.