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Flying showdown: Dumbbell fly vs cable fly
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Flying showdown: Dumbbell fly vs cable fly

Dumbbell fly and cable fly both target chest region but activate the pectoral muscles differently in tension and load duration. Here are the dynamics to help you pick the right one
The range of motion, total amount of weight lifted, breathing and body posture play an important role in avoiding injuries in both variations. (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

Chest day in the gym is incomplete without performing the fly exercise along with the barbell and dumbbell press. The exercise has two variations – one is done with a dumbbell, while the other one is done with a cable set-up. While both the exercises target the same set of muscles, the choice is not simple, say experts, explaining the dynamics to help you pick the one that works for you the best.

The two variations target the pectoral muscles in the chest and have a similar range of motion. Yet the two differ distinctly – one is a free weight workout while the other is not; they also differ in terms of the activation of the pectoral muscles and the tension created on them.

Difference between dumbbell fly and cable fly

“Both the workouts, though they seem similar, are different,” says Lucknow-based ACE certified fitness expert and former competitive bodybuilder Swapnil Mishra. “In dumbbell fly, the resistance created by gravity slowly decreases as the hand is raised. Whereas, in cable fly, there remains a constant tension right through the exercise, both during the eccentric muscle contraction and the concentric muscle contraction phase.”

This difference in tension has a direct correlation in pectoral muscle activation. “A higher muscle activation is achieved through cable fly,” adds Mishra. “This is because of the constant tension during the entire range of motion. Whereas in dumbbell fly, when the hand is raised, the pressure on the pecs muscles decreases.”

While being a free weight workout, the dumbbell fly variation has an upper hand when it comes to improving shoulder stability since the stabilization of the weight completely depends on the shoulders.

Injury risks and precautions

The range of motion, total amount of weight lifted, breathing and body posture play an important role in avoiding injuries in both variations.

“When it comes to injury, I would say both forms present an equal risk if not done properly,” says Mishra. “We see individuals sometimes opening their arms too wide and taking the elbows back beyond the line of the body. This is not safe as the range of motion needs to be proper and individuals should also be careful while selecting the weights. Sometimes people lift excessive weights which also increases the chances of injury. Also, the breathing should be proper [breathe out during push action].”

Improper body posture or position can lead to muscle pull.

“Sometimes we see people not relaxing their neck and keeping it in an improper position. This increases chances of a muscle pull in the neck,” says Kishan Thapa, a fitness trainer from Ahmedabad. “The neck should remain supported throughout the workout, and it should be kept relaxed. Sometimes people also bring an arch to their back while doing the seated and standing cable fly variation. The back needs to remain straight throughout the workout.”

The cable fly has two variations – standing and seated. Beginners are advised to start with the dumbbell and barbell bench press for increasing muscle mass and stability. However, when it comes to the fly exercise, they should stick to the cable variant.

Takeaways

  • The difference between dumbbell fly and cable fly lies in the overall tension created during the workout, which directly influences pectoral muscle activation.
  • Pectoral muscle activation is higher in cable fly as there is continuous tension during the entire range of motion. While in dumbbell fly, the resistance by gravity decreases as the hands get raised.
  • Being a free weight workout, dumbbell fly improves shoulder stability more than cable fly.

 

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