Decline Cable Fly: Benefits, Muscles Worked, Variations

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 13, 2022

A decline cable fly is a lower chest isolation exercise. It features a more uniformly distributed resistance curve than dumbbell chest flyes, resulting in more load consistency on the chest muscles throughout the whole range of motion. This workout may be modified by connecting the handles to the highest pulleys of the cable cross and bringing the handles together in a downward motion while standing with a split stance.

Decline cable flyes are performed with a neutral grip on D-shaped handles, placing the arms lateral to the body but aligned with the shoulders and spreading them slightly further than one normally would for a dumbbell chest fly. This allows a person to maximize the range of motion at the bottom of the exercise while maximizing muscle activation at the top.

Benefits of the Decline Cable Fly

1. Teaches Scapular Retraction and Control

The decline cable fly is phenomenal because it is a great chest exercise that teaches beginners scapular retraction. Scapular retraction is the ability to pull the shoulder blades together, which is critical for overcoming poor posture and provides a stable base for the arms during a bench press or pushing movement. 

Because the shoulders and elbows are the primary joints used in the bench press, keeping the shoulder blades retracted reduces stress on these joints and allows them to move the weight more effectively.

2. Constant Tension throughout the Range of Motion

Changing the body's position and the cable's direction allows one to work out different parts of the pectoral muscles. Working other parts of the pecs through a full range of motion is critical because they provide a lot of power for upper-body push movements and are very effective on the bench press.

The cable setup provides continuous time under tension and a massive pump to the muscles, which can help optimize muscle growth. Cable flyes can be well worth the effort when performed with proper form and technique. The load on the chest muscles is more evenly distributed throughout the range of motion.

3. Safer for Joints

Decline cable fly exercises are an excellent alternative for people who experience joint pain when performing the decline bench press. One can manipulate the angle of the cable enough to limit the potential stress on the joints with proper shoulder-blade stability.

Muscles Worked by the Decline Cable Fly

The decline cable fly mainly targets the pectoralis major muscles. Several synergist muscles are engaged in the movement including the lats, rhomboids, levator scapulae, and anterior deltoids. Wrist flexors, biceps, brachialis, abdominals, and lower back muscles are among the other muscles that operate or perform the role of stabilizer muscles.

decline cable fly

The pectoral area consists of the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius. These four muscles apply a pushing force on the upper limb. A decline cable fly exercise targets the lower part of the sternal head of the pectoralis major muscle.

How to Perform a Decline Cable Fly

D-shaped handles must be attached to the lowermost pulleys of the cable machines. The desired weight must then be set on each device. Next, position a decline bench in the middle of the two cable towers. Finally, adjust the position of the bench so that the pulleys are directly perpendicular to the shoulder when lying down. 

Grab a handle on each hand using a neutral grip and pull them close to the chest while lying on the bench. Retract the shoulders and spread the arms to the sides of the body. Keep the wrists and elbows aligned in a straight line with the shoulders. With a slight bend on the elbows, tighten the core as the arms start to pull on the handles. 

decline cable fly

Take a deep breath and exhale slowly as the arms start to pull on the cables towards the front of the chest. The hands should meet directly above the lower portion of the sternum. Maintain the elbow's slight bend throughout the range of motion. Pause for a second, then slowly return to the starting position. Keep the lower back from arching throughout the exercise by maintaining a tight core.

Inhale slowly as the arms return to the starting position while maintaining scapular retraction and a slight bend in the elbows. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Decline Cable Fly Tips

To perform the decline cable fly optimally, one should maintain moderate abdominal tightness while avoiding excessive lower back arching. Gripping the handles too tightly might over-recruit the forearms and biceps, resulting in reduced chest muscle activation.

Avoid smashing the hands together at maximal contraction to maintain continuous tension on the intended muscle groups. Maintain scapular retraction and a slight bend in the elbows. Never drop the arms so much that they produce pain or pressure at the front of the shoulder joint.

Decline Cable Fly Variations

1. Standing Decline Cable Fly

The standing decline cable fly, or the high-to-low cable fly, is a variation of the decline cable fly that engages more body muscles. However, this variation is not recommended for heavier weights due to the difficulty of maintaining stability.

Attach D-shaped handles on the top pulleys of the cable machines. Grab a handle in each hand using a neutral grip. Pull them close to the chest with the elbows tucked at the sides of the body. Take a step forward and go into a split-stance position. Bend the front knee until it is directly over the toes. Place the body's weight on the front foot by bending at the hip of the front leg. The rear leg is aligned straight with the upper body.

standing cable chest fly

Tighten the abdominal muscles and retract the scapula to go into the starting position. Next, extend the arms until the hands are directly in front of the lower part of the sternum. The palm of the hands should face each other, and the elbows should be slightly bent. 

Inhale slowly as the arms spread wide in an upward motion (like a bird spreading its wings) until the hands are at the level of the top of the head. Maintain scapular retraction and the elbows' slight bend. Stop the movement when a stretch on the shoulders and chest is felt. 

To reverse the movement, exhale slowly and squeeze the chest muscles to move the arms forward until the hands meet and are back at the starting position, front of the body, and below the chest level. Throughout the exercise, keep the elbows slightly bent, the grip neutral, the shoulders retracted, and the abdominals tensed at all times. Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.

Bend the elbows and bring the handles towards the chest and elbows to the side of the body after the final repetition. Next, raise the body upright and step back with the front foot. Then, one at a time, slowly dropping the weights from each hand.

2. Seated Single-Arm Decline Cable Fly

This decline-cable fly variation engages more abdominal muscles, especially the obliques. Position an inclined bench with the backrest facing away from the cable machine. Attach a D-shaped handle on the topmost pulley of a cable machine.

Grab the handle in one hand using a neutral grip and sit on the bench. With a slight bend on the elbow, the starting position should be with the hands at level with the top of the head, and the upper arm should be parallel to the ground and aligned straight with the shoulder. For better stability, the other hand should grab the bottom of the edge of the seat just beneath the thigh.

Tighten the abdominal muscles and retract the scapula. Take a deep breath, then exhale while pulling the handle downward. At the top of the movement, the hand should be directly in front of the lower part of the chest. Maintain the elbow's slight bend throughout the range of motion.

Slowly return the arm to the starting position at the motion's top, using the same path for the downward movement while inhaling slowly. Keep the elbows slightly bent, the grip neutral, the shoulders retracted, and the abdominals tightened throughout the workout. 

Final Thoughts

Unlike bench presses, which are conducted with a barbell or dumbbells, decline cable flyes are a single-joint movement performed using cables that allow for more significant muscular isolation and activation from the bottom to the top of the action. It is a great workout to complement those bench presses and give those pecs the final squeeze they need.

References

1. Miniato MA, Anand P, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Shoulder. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536933/

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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