Your shoulder joints are the most flexible in your body. However, this freedom of movement comes at a price. The shoulder is a relatively unstable joint, which requires a lot of muscular control to maintain stability and normal function. One of the best ways to develop this control and complement the more common shoulder exercises performed in the gym is to incorporate reverse flyes into your routine.
WHAT ARE REVERSE FLYES?
As the name implies, reverse flyes are a reverse movement of the commonly performed chest flyes. It works the rear shoulders and upper back instead of the pectoral muscles of the chest. Rather than lying face-up, we adopt a face-down (or prone) position on a bench.
The reverse flye movement involves lifting dumbbells away from the floor and out to the side of the body. We hold this top position briefly before slowly lowering the arms back to the start position.
WHY PERFORM REVERSE FLYES?
Many shoulder exercises performed in the gym target the front and mid-portion of the shoulders. On the other hand, reverse flyes target and develop the rear portion.
This is not only aesthetically pleasing, adding balance to the look of the shoulders, but also has important functional benefits.
Many gym trainers pump out set after set of bench presses, chest flyes, and shoulder presses. As a result, there can be disproportionate development of the anterior (frontal) deltoids.
Additionally, these can lead to underdeveloped rhomboids (upper back) too. Consequently, they may also have insufficient flexibility around the shoulder capsule, better known as the rotator cuff.
This posture and strength imbalance not only leads to a round-shouldered appearance but also destabilises the shoulder. As a result, this greatly increases the risk of impingement injuries.
Unfortunately, many gym users and even some instructors fail to appreciate this fact. They continue with their imbalanced and potentially injurious training programs until injury strikes.
Incorporating reverse flyes can help address this strength imbalance. They can also help develop the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff. Consequently, you'll keep your shoulders safer from injury.
HOW DO I PERFORM REVERSE FLYES?
Throughout the movement:
REVERSE FLYES WITH EXTERNAL ROTATION
If you've ever suffered from a shoulder impingement injury, you'll know how debilitating the condition can be.
Adding some external rotation into the reverse flye movement increases the development of the rotator cuff. More specifically, infraspinatus and teres minor muscles.
This helps to improve the posture, alignment, and function of the shoulder joint. As a result, this variation helps to prevent impingement injuries.
To incorporate some external rotation, you perform reverse flyes exactly as described above. However, as you approach the top of the movement, begin externally rotating your arms. For example, as if you were attempting to make your palms face upwards towards the ceiling.
Viewed from your prone position looking down the arms, the right palm is rotated clockwise and the left palm anticlockwise.
Pause at the top of the movement for a second then lower slowly. As you do, rotate the palms in the opposite direction.
WHICH MUSCLES ARE USED IN REVERSE FLYES?
Much of the work is done by the rear deltoids. However, near the top of the movement, the rhomboids become progressively involved.
Adding external rotation also increases the involvement of the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff group of muscles that help to stabilise the shoulder.
HOW SHOULD I CONSTRUCT A REVERSE FLYE ROUTINE?
The rear deltoids are small muscles. So if you want to perform strict, full-range movements, you need to go very easy on the dumbbell weight.
If you're into boosting your ego rather than performing a really valuable exercise, reverse flyes are probably not for you!
Select a low enough weight that just enables you to perform 10-12 strict reps and aim for 2-3 sets.
HOW SHOULD I INTEGRATE REVERSE FLYES INTO THE REST OF MY WORKOUT?
The most natural place to include reverse flyes is with your other shoulder exercises.
Being an isolation exercise, beginners should probably perform them after any compound shoulder movements (such as shoulder press, etc.) have been completed.
More advanced trainers might want to try a pre-exhaustion routine. For example, where a set of reverse flyes is immediately followed by a compound movement that also involves the rear delts (e.g. behind the neck press). This enables the already fatigued rear deltoids to be driven into an even deeper state of exhaustion by the (relatively) fresh triceps and anterior/lateral deltoids.