Shape and Sculpt Your Chest With Incline Dumbbell Flyes

First impressions are not always correct, but they do provide lasting images of initial encounters with new acquaintances. Conveying your confidence during a first meeting, a casual conversation, a job interview or a date, is at least partly rooted in your self-perception and pride in your overall appearance. Sure, no one’s perfect (be sure those making the cover of Vogue have had their photos touched up). In real life, some touch-ups can be done effectively through weight training – and the good news is that the power to make changes to your body is largely in your hands.

Many women wish to reshape their chests. This can be done with safe and consistent weight training, either at home or at the gym. The tools in your workout offer you the opportunity to shape, or sculpt, your chest – or almost any other body part, for that matter – to enable you to exude confidence in your appearance.

If you’d like to improve the shape and appearance of your chest, consider that the upper chest plays an important role in your overall chest structure. Exercises that focus on the upper parts of the chest, such as incline dumbbell flyes, offer you the opportunity to tighten and lift your chest muscles, which of course, provide the frame for shaping your breasts. Dumbbell flyes also stress the outer and inner sections of the chest muscles, which impart greater depth to all areas of your chest. Thus, you can see that this is an all-around excellent exercise for improving the quality and fullness of your chest.

Form and Function

The pectoralis major muscle makes up the primary muscle of the chest. It spans across the chest like a fan, with its muscle fibers having different orientations and angles of pull in the upper regions of this muscle, as compared to the middle and lower regions. The pectoralis muscle resides on the anterior (front) chest wall, but it attaches to the humerus bone of the upper arm. Therefore, anything that you do to improve the pectoralis major must involve moving the upper arm, and by default, the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.

The pectoralis major muscle covers the upper (superior) part of the chest and its outside (lateral) border forms the front (anterior) wall of the armpit (axilla). The pectoralis major muscle has two heads. The clavicular head resides along the anterior lower surface of the clavicle (collarbone). The pectoralis minor lies deep to the clavicular head of the pectoralis major and attaches to the ribs and not the humerus bone of the upper arm. Therefore, the pectoralis minor has no important role in building your upper chest.

The sternocostal head of the pectoralis major begins along the manubrium (the top portion of the sternum or “breastbone”), the upper six costal cartilages (cartilages at the ends of the ribs that attach to the sternum) and from the tendinous-like portion of the superior part of the external oblique muscle (a lateral muscle of the abdominal wall).

The clavicular and sternocostal heads converge on a groove near the head of the humerus bone of the upper arm near the shoulder joint. Both sternocostal and clavicular heads of the pectoralis major muscle adduct the humerus (draws the arm towards the midline of the body) and they medially rotate the humerus at the shoulder joint (turning the upper arm inward toward the center of the torso). Both muscle heads also flex the humerus by moving the upper arm anteriorly (toward the front of the body). The shoulder angle helps establish the relative activation of the regions of the pectoralis muscle bellies.

Incline Dumbbell Flyes

1. Choose an incline bench that’s 30-35 degrees. If the bench is too steep (e.g., 45 degrees or more), this will place an increasing emphasis on the anterior deltoid of the shoulder and this detracts from activation of the pectoralis major.

2. Select a medium-light dumbbell and pick one up in each hand. Move to the incline bench and first sit down on it. Swing the dumbbells up one at a time, and let them rest on the tops of your thighs. Now, lie down on the bench so your head and back are comfortable. Use a thrust with your thigh to lift the first dumbbell to your shoulder area such that the dumbbell rests against the side of your chest (with your elbows bent). Repeat this with the other thigh to move the second dumbbell into position near the axilla.

3. Press both dumbbells up over your chest by straightening your elbows. Both dumbbells should be pressed upward at the same time so you don’t lose your balance. At the top position, the weights should be over your clavicle or eyes and your arms should be perpendicular to the floor. You should not let the dumbbells drift toward your feet as you are pressing the dumbbells upward. Do not completely straighten and lock out your elbows at the top. Instead, slightly flex your elbows, but keep them at this angle. This will reduce any unnecessary elbow strain during the exercise.

4. Turn the dumbbells so your palms are facing each other and your knuckles on each hand are just about contacting each other. This will be the starting position for the exercise.

5. Slowly lower the dumbbells down toward the floor with an arc-like movement of your arms. You should be able to feel your chest musculature stretch, as the dumbbells are moving toward the floor. Stop when you could draw a straight line parallel to the floor, running from the dumbbell on one side to the dumbbell on the other side. Lowering the weight more than this could injure your shoulders, so make sure you are fully in control of the dumbbells at all times. As you lower the weights, rotate your arms (at the shoulder) so the palms gripping each dumbbell are facing the ceiling when your arms are in the lowest position. Inhale deeply and expand your rib cage while the dumbbell is being lowered toward the floor. You are strongly activating the lateral (outer) regions of the pectoralis major, especially along the borders of your axilla as the weight is being lowered.

6. Start the dumbbells moving toward the top position over your clavicle or eyes, while you are exhaling. As the weight is moving upward in an arc, rotate your hands so the palms are facing your feet at the very top. Don’t hit one dumbbell into the other at the top, because this could cause you to lose control of the weights. The rotation of your arms (shoulders) on the way up is medial rotation of the humerus and this action increases the contraction in both heads of the pectoralis major muscle. The entire lift upward results in strong muscle activation along the inside, medial boundary of each pectoralis muscle, next to the sternum and manubrium bones.

7. The up and down arc-like movement is roughly the same as if you were to hug someone. Repeat the next repetition in the same way by lowering the dumbbells, as you laterally rotate your hands and inhale. Then, exhale as you medially rotate the dumbbells to the starting position over the upper chest. If you can do more than 20 repetitions, the resistance is likely too light, and you should choose a heavier weight for the next set. Aim to do 12-15 repetitions on most sets after your warm-ups. However, make sure your exercise form is perfect to avoid shoulder or elbow injuries.

Exercise Tips

Dumbbell flyes on the incline bench increase the emphasis on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, which gives the chest the additional lift and thickness. Both pectoral heads act to adduct the arms on the way up in incline dumbbell flyes. This recruits fibers from the inner portion of the pectoralis. Nevertheless, incline dumbbell flyes also activate the lower fibers of the sternocostal part of the pectoralis major, thereby thickening and shaping the lower chest and breast area.

Start with light weights until you have the feel of the exercise, because it is very important to maintain control and balance of the dumbbells at all times. Do not rotate your arms quickly during either the lateral or medial rotation, but keep the movement fluid from start to finish. This will maximize the muscle’s activation while minimizing the risk of potential injuries.

You will almost immediately feel the effects of the incline dumbbell flyes on your chest, and you will soon see the results, as you take possession of an outstanding new chest shape, complete with contours that you might not have thought possible. These changes are yours for the taking. With the new contours, you’ll be well on your way to higher levels of confidence, because you control your shape.


Basmajian JV and CE Slonecker. Grant’s Method of Anatomy. A clinical problem-solving approach. Eleventh Edition. Williams & Willkins, Baltimore, 1989 354-397.

Moore KL and AF Dalley. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. Fourth edition. Baltimore, Lippincott Williams & Williams, 71-85; 685-689, 1999.

Kuechle DK, Newman SR, Itoi E, Niebur GL, Morrey BF and An KN. The relevance of the moment arm of shoulder muscles with respect to axial rotation of the glenohumeral joint in four positions. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon) 15: 322-329, 2000.

Newton RU, Murphy AJ, Humphries BJ, Wilson GJ, Kraemer WJ and Hakkinen K. Influence of load and stretch shortening cycle on the kinematics, kinetics and muscle activation that occurs during explosive upper-body movements. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 75: 333-342, 1997.

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Train for Explosive Power With This Simple Dumbbell Exercise

If you start talking about building explosiveness with weights, someone always chirps about Olympic weightlifting movements. Learning Olympic lifts, though, is a slower and more arduous process than anyone who’s never tried it would think. There are more setbacks than breakthroughs. I should know, I dedicated a decade of my life to Olympic weightlifting.


If you have the time and energy to devote to it, it can be rewarding and mentally engaging. But if you’re looking to train explosive ability now, there are better ways. The dumbbell power shrug is one of your best options.



To train explosiveness, stick to fundamental movements, and learn to train these remarkably well.


If you want to learn more about the principles that set a foundation for all movement, see my two-week, in-depth online course teaching the unchanging principles behind all barbell lifts. How to restore resiliency and control of your body starts soon.


You won’t need a lot of equipment or coaching on an exercise like a dumbbell power shrug, and you can tailor it to your needs and make it more difficult over time.


You can build a base for athleticism, coordination, and explosive potential in the gym for whatever other physical hobbies you enjoy, but you need first to understand how.


The Benefits of the Dumbbell Shrug Does

The dumbbell power shrug builds athletic strength.



There are not many exercises that train these qualities in the gym outside of throwing or slamming heavy med balls.


The Benefits of Training for Explosive Power

If you don’t play a sport where you need to move explosively, you may not be interested in doing an exercise that develops this ability.


The ability to move quickly, to move or catch yourself when you stumble, or to change direction, is an explosive movement. It is a physical ability we often overlook. It’s vital, though, and not just for younger people trying to compete in some athletic practice.



As you age, explosive ability declines before other physical traits such as strength, flexibility, and even muscle mass. If you aren’t very explosive to start with, this decline will be an even bigger issue.


One of the most significant risks to injury as we age is losing this explosive reflex.


If we trip, and you can’t move your feet fast enough to catch yourself or put your hands out, you will get hurt. Knee, hip, and back injuries from falling can all be reduced as you age by adding some explosive training into the mix.


If you’re younger and looking to be more powerful, this is a great tool that doesn’t require you to learn a new or complicated skill. If you want to start training this hard, all you need to know how to do is squat properly, and remember how to jump.


The best part about this exercise is that it involves a forceful contact from just about every muscle starting in the lower body and moving up the chain.



The sequence of the movement teaches coordination that generally wouldn’t be learned in weight training unless you dedicated yourself to Olympic weightlifting.


A group of coaches close to me calls this coordination the chain of command.



Train for Explosive Power With This Simple Dumbbell Exercise - Fitness, Kettlebell, flexibility, dumbbell, explosive strength, eccentric training, quads, upper traps, hip mobility, rep tempo, resiliency, overhead medicine ball slam, shrugs


The idea is that big muscles should fire before smaller ones during complex explosive movement. For the power shrug, when you squat and start extending upward, the biggest most powerful muscles of the lower body fire.


Train for Explosive Power With This Simple Dumbbell Exercise - Fitness, Kettlebell, flexibility, dumbbell, explosive strength, eccentric training, quads, upper traps, hip mobility, rep tempo, resiliency, overhead medicine ball slam, shrugs


As you reach the top of the movement and extend, the traps should shrug at the same time as the ankles extend. These smaller muscles act only after the bigger muscles have initiated the movement, though.


How To Do The Dumbell Power Shrug


You’ll need a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand.


  • Grab them, and stand up. Then hinge over and squat down so that the dumbbells are at a height somewhere between your knee caps and ankles.
  • Push hard against the ground, as if you were trying to drive your ankles through the floor. (This will make you keep contact with the ground longer and not come up on your toes prematurely as many do when they think of doing a jumping action)
  • As you extend, keep pushing hard through your feet and think about stretching your body long as if you were trying to jump and reach your head to the ceiling.
  • Keep your arms long and elbows relaxed.
  • Push even harder through the ankles at the very top and think of shrugging your shoulders to your ears. If you focus on pushing hard through the ankles, you’ll come upon the balls of your feet, but your toes won’t lose contact with the ground.
  • Time your shrug with the exact moment when the heels come off the ground.
  • As soon as you fully extend, immediately drop your heels back down and go back down in a squat.
  • Try to make this a continuous, fluid movement with no pause for the set number of reps.



Once you get comfortable, change it up by starting from the floor. Touch the dumbbells to the ground every rep.


This deeper squat is more challenging than you think. It would help if you had plenty of hip mobility to squat that low with good posture and so it trains the hip musculature differently.


Mistakes to Avoid

A big mistake is to let your entire foot leave the ground and hop. Use light weights, and it’s not a big deal, but start grabbing heavier bells, and it could get you hurt.


If you extend hard, as you should, the heels leave the floor but always keep ground contact with part of your foot.


One off-balanced landing after an actual jump, and you’re looking at a foot or ankle injury.


A More Advanced Dumbbell Power Shrug

Once you’ve trained the movement and have gradually added weight, you can challenge yourself with some different tempos.


You could do a 6-count eccentric (lowering) of the weight into your squat position before extending as fast as possible. Or you could do something like a 3-count eccentric, with a pause at the bottom for another 3-counts.


A basic movement like the power shrug makes it easy to modify and make more challenging so you can keep training it hard.

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One Tip To Maximize Your Dumbbell Row

Most of you reading this have done the single-arm dumbbell row, and you know how effective it is for building a big, wide back.

So how did you position your body to perform this exercise? Did you use a flat bench and focus on keeping your torso parallel with the floor to hit your lower lats? Or did you lean against something a little higher to target more of the upper lats and back?

Both ways work; I’m not advocating one approach over the other. Instead, I’d like to show you how to get the best of both worlds.

The answer is an adjustable bench.

Yep, that’s it. Simple, right? Having an adjustable bench when you do the single-arm row gives you a chance to do both a superset and dropset in one. The result will be a complete upper-back blast.

How to Do It

Start by positioning the adjustable bench at an incline of 30-45 degrees, depending on your preferences. Starting with your weaker arm, row by pulling the dumbbell straight up. Focus not just on your lats but also on the rest of the upper back, including the rhomboids, rear delts, and traps. Perform 8-10 reps in this fashion.

One Tip To Maximize Your Dumbbell Row

Here’s where the drop comes in: Lower the bench angle so it’s flat. This is the second part of your single-arm row superset. Get back into position and resume doing rows, this time by pulling the weight up at an angle toward your hip. This shifts the focus toward the middle back and lower lat. Perform the same number of reps here that you did on the incline.

Now you’re going to do the same thing for the opposite side. Raise the angle of the bench back up and switch arms. Perform the same number of reps as you did the first side. When you finish here, you can finally take your rest break.

On the next set, start with the bench flat and adjust it to the incline second. This means the lower lats get the attention at the beginning of the set. Still start with your weaker side.

One More Twist

There’s one more way to do this move and see tremendous benefits in your back. You can perform reps with both sides on the incline, lower the angle, and then execute the reps on both sides with the flat bench. You might find that you can do a few more reps per side, since they have that brief period to rest while the other side is working. Next time, start with the bench flat, perform reps on both sides, and then adjust the angle before continuing!

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