The 9 Best Reverse Flye Variations to Boost Your Back Training

You'll get your wings with these reverse flye variations.

If you’ve been trying to develop a strong and muscular upper back, finally getting your wings is a thing of beauty. Barbell rows, chin-ups, and lat pulldowns are great exercises to craft a thicker, wider back. But when you’re looking to add volume and train from different angles, it’s hard to move on without paying your respect to the reverse flye.

The reverse flye is as close to an isolation exercise as there is for the upper back and posterior deltoids. When you take elbow flexion out of the equation, you’ll focus more on this important — and often neglected — area. This move will help improve your posture and it can have a direct carryover to your performance with big barbell lifts.

A person performs a dumbbell reverse flye on an incline bench.
Credit: Max kegfire / Shutterstock

Here, we will go into the best reverse flye variations for every experience level and the benefits of training these moves. You’ll also learn programming tips and suggestions for you to get the most out of this movement.

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Beginner Reverse Flye Variations

Intermediate Reverse Flye Variations

Advanced Reverse Flye Variations

Beginner Reverse Flye Variations

These three beginner reverse flye variations will teach you good form while building strength in your upper back and delts. You’ll also start combating imbalances between sides. These variations will be easier on your lower back than more advanced versions that might challenge your full body.


Why Do It: The TRX T strengthens the muscles surrounding your shoulders, particularly your traps, rhomboids, and upward rotators. You can control your intensity by moving your feet closer or farther away from the anchor point.

Coach’s Tip: Avoid shrugging your shoulders to your ears while pulling yourself up.

Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Standing Cable Reverse Flye

Why Do It: With the standing cable reverse flye, you’ll get the constant tension of the cable machine throughout the range of motion for better muscle-building potential. This is easier on your lower back than the bent-over variations — since you won’t be fighting to maintain as strong of a hinge — while still focusing on the posterior deltoids and upper back. 

Coach’s Tip: Set the cable handles at shoulder height to start with. Then, play around with the height to hit your upper back from different angles.

Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of eight to 15 reps.

Standing Unilateral Band Reverse Flye

Why Do It: The unilateral band reverse flye will combat pulling strength imbalances between sides. But, you’ll be in a beginner-friendly, stable position from holding onto a squat rack. The ascending resistance of the band is more of a challenge for your muscles while going easier on the joints of your elbows and shoulders.

Coach’s Tip: Start with a light resistance band because this sneaks up on you.

Sets and Reps: Three sets of 12 to 15 reps per side. 

Intermediate Reverse Flye Variations

With these intermediate variations, you’ll be in a hinge position. This trains your upper and lower back at the same time. These variations work more total body muscle while changing the angle. Therefore, these reverse flye variations prove more difficult.

Dumbbell Chest-Supported Reverse Flye

Why Do It: The dumbbell chest-supported reverse flye has you at the same angle as the more difficult bent-over variations. However, in this version, the weight bench supports your lower back. With your chest glued to the bench, it makes this more difficult to cheat. Avoiding kipping helps you focus better on your upper back muscles and rear deltoids.

Coach’s Tip: Get the bench on a 45-degree incline to start with. Eventually, you can go lower, which will make this variation harder. 

Sets and Reps: Three sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Bent-Over Band Reverse Flye

Why Do It: With the bent-over band reverse flye, the ascending resistance will challenge your end range of motion. You’ll improve the lockout strength of your upper back. When the band isn’t stretched, it puts less stress on your elbow and shoulder joints than dumbbell and cable variations.

Coach’s Tip: Use either a looped band or a band with handles. Make sure to maintain a good hinge position the entire time.

Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of 12 reps.

Bent-Over Dumbbell Reverse Flye

Why Do It: With the bent-over dumbbell reverse flye you can adjust your grip to either overhand, underhand, or a neutral grip. This will target your upper back areas differently. The underhand and overhand grips emphasize the rear deltoids more.

On the other hand, the neutral grip focuses more on your upper back. This freedom of movement gives you more options within one exercise.

Coach’s Tip: Here, you can switch your grip to underhand and neutral to change the line of pull on your upper back and rear delts.

Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of eight to 15 reps.

Advanced Reverse Flye Variations

With the advanced reverse flye exercises, you’ll up the ante by using more load, reducing your base of support, and changing the angle of pull. These strategies can help further add muscle and strength to your upper back and rear deltoids.

Stability Bent-Over Dumbbell Reverse Flye

Why Do It: The stability bent-over reverse flye is used to add volume and to isolate your upper back and rear deltoids. When you hold the squat rack with one hand, you’ll even out imbalances between sides. The increased stability means you’ll be able to use more weight.

Coach’s Tip: Don’t be afraid to use more weight than normal here.

Sets and Reps: Two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Pterodactyl Reverse Flye

Why Do It: It’s got a funny name, and it’s a great reverse flye variation. The pterodactyl reverse flye variation has you in a split stance.

This variation reduces your base of support to hone in on your form. The split stance also makes it a little easier on your lower back. 

Coach’s Tip: Either do even reps on both legs within each set or alternate your leg across different sets. 

Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of 12 reps. 

Bent-Over Cable Crossover Flye

Why Do It: The bent-over cable reverse flye is as tough as a reverse flye gets. The constant tension of the cable machine while in the hinge position hones in on those upper back and posterior delts. 

Here, you can play around with the attachment height to change your angle of pull.

Coach’s Tip: Start on the lowest cable setting to start with. Experiment with the height to work your back from varying angles. You won’t need a lot of resistance to get a strong training effect.

Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of eight to 15 reps.

Benefits of the Reverse Flye

All of these reverse flye variations can help add size and strength to your shoulders. But it’s not all about aesthetics.

Better Big Three

When performing the low bar back squat, the upper back and rear delts provide a place for the bar to sit. Keeping your upper back tight prevents you from leaning too far forward in the squat, which can risk more tension on your lower back than necessary.

During the bench press, your upper back provides a better foundation for your press. Keeping your upper back engaged and strong supports a better bar path, allowing for good technique and — hopefully — pressing more weight

With the deadlift, contracting your upper back muscles plays a huge role in keeping a neutral spine. Upper back tightness keeps the bar close to you when you pull, which is essential for lower back health and a stronger pull.

Stronger Posture

The muscles of your upper back and rear delts are important for keeping your shoulders down and back. This helps you maintain a solid standing and lifting posture. Especially if you have an office job or are often hunched over your phone, that posture likely weakens over time.

This decrease in shoulder mobility can lead to poor form and, as a result, potential pain and injury risk. By strengthening your upper back muscles and rear delts, you’re enabling better posture and therefore better pulling and overhead pressing form.

How to Program the Reverse Flye

This is not an exercise you’re going to program for a one-max rep to build absolute strength. Rather, this move and its variations are all about adding volume, strength, and muscle to the upper back and rear shoulder area.

For Beginners

How you program the reverse flye depends on your experience level. If you’re new to this move, then performing the beginner variations like the TRX T will give you a better feel of what training the reverse flye feels like.

Training the beginner variations two or three times per week is your best bet. 

For Advanced Lifters

When you’ve moved on to the intermediate and advanced variations, you’ll want to perform them after your big strength move for the day. This can help add muscle and strength while addressing any weaknesses in your upper back area.

You can perform these moves on upper or lower body days. Training two or more variations for 10 to 15 reps twice a week can help.

No matter how advanced you are, your body always needs recovery. So, you probably want to avoid performing the most advanced variations too often. Stick to one to two times per week to ensure continued shoulder health and better muscle recovery.

More Back Training Tips

Ready to build the back of your dreams? These back training articles will give you even more ways to improve your V-taper game.

Featured Image: Max kegfire / Shutterstock