The Dragon Flag



Aside from being one of the coolest looking exercises anybody has ever seen, the dragon flag does more than satisfy.  This exercise was performed by the legend himself—Bruce Lee.  It is a much more manageable variation of the human flag and the front lever to challenge the core in a more difficult way than doing crunches.  More manageable does not mean easy in any way shape or form.  This is a very advanced exercise to build stronger abs.  But how do you even attempt this crazy looking exercise?


How To Perform

Grab onto a pole, chair or something sturdy and secure.  Tuck your knees into your chest and extend your feet straight up in the air over your face.  Your butt should be off the ground and the majority of your bodyweight should be resting on your shoulders.  Your body should be in a straight line from your feet to your shoulders.    

It helps to have a spotter when you first start attempting the dragon flag.  From the side the spotter can see the shape of your body and can notice if you are maintaining good form throughout the movement.  If you don’t have a spotter, that’s ok.  One way to tell if you are in the correct position is the feeing of weightlessness you should feel at the top position.

Once the body is in a straight line, maintain the position you are currently in and lower yourself until your feet are just barely off the ground.  Then from here, squeeze your abs and glutes very hard and bring your body back up to the top position.  Maintaining a perfectly straight line the entire time. 

That’s the dragon flag.

Unfortunately, most people I have met have never been able to accomplish this exercise on the first try, despite having very strong abs. 

As we all know, with bodyweight exercises we can’t just remove 10-50 lb. of weight so you can practice your form.  We have to start with variations of the dragon flag and work our way up to accomplishing the actual exercise.


The Progressions


Candlestick Hold


The candlestick hold is essentially the top position of the dragon flag.  Just tuck your knees into your chest and shoot your feet up over your face until you feel a feeling of weightlessness.  Once you feel this, hold the position for 1 minute for 2-3 sets. 

Most people I coach this progression to tell me that they feel their abs and glutes contracting.  This is because these two muscle groups are working to stabilize the hips and torso while inverted, similar to the handstand. 

Here we are getting the body used to being inverted and preparing the individual to stabilize themselves while inverted.   


Tucked Dragon Flag


Now we are beginning to add some movement into the picture.  Simply tuck your knees into your chest and lift your butt up off the ground until it is directly over your shoulders.  This exercises is not really that difficult, so aim to perform 8-10 reps for 2-3 sets. 

With the dynamic component added we are now building the foundation of strength necessary to perform the dragon flag.  With the candlestick hold we learned balance and stability now we are building strength. 


One Leg Dragon Flag


Same drill here as the tucked dragon flag, the only difference is that one leg is extended all the way while the other is tucked.  Don’t be fooled, this is much tougher than it looks due to the longer lever arm placed on the midsection.

Perform a tucked dragon flag and when you get into the top position, extend one leg all the way towards the ceiling until the knee is locked out.  Now lower yourself all the way down until your foot is just above the ground.  Contract your core, maintain stability and pull yourself back up. 

Now the midsection is learning to maintain and generate tension with a longer lever arm.  Your hips will want to dip in to try to shorten the lever.  You must fight against this as we want the exercise to be as demanding on the midsection as possible.  We also want the exercise to be aesthetically pleasing as well.      


Negative Dragon Flag  (Not Pictured)

The body is now being prepared for the full amount of weight of the dragon flag and the full length of the lever arm.  Simply perform a tucked dragon flag and extend both legs up above your face until you feel weightless.  Now simply lower yourself down as slowly and controlled as possible until your feet are just above the ground, and then drop.

Try to perform each repetition slowly and with perfect form.  Aim for 2-3 sets of 3-5 repetitions.   


Straddle Dragon Flag


The full weight of the body will now be lifted both concentrically and eccentrically, the only difference is that the length of the lever arm will be shortened do to the straddle position, thus making the exercise slightly easier than the full dragon flag.

Get into a candlestick position and spread your feet apart so that they make a “V” shape when viewed from above.  Maintain the straddle and lower yourself all the way down until your feet are just above the ground and pull yourself back up. 

All the rules of the one leg dragon flag and the negative dragon flag still apply here, so don’t cheat yourself short.  Aim for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps. 

After you master this you should be ready for the real deal, the dragon flag.   


The Dragon Flag


No explanation needed, you know what to do!


Final Thoughts

This awesome exercise can be thought of as a way to give your body the benefits of lever exercises (Front Lever, Back Lever, Human Flag, etc.) without putting in month to years worth of training.  So if you are a weightlifter, powerlifter or strongman, the dragon flag will help you to build a strong and stable midsection to lift heavy barbells and/or stones.  If you are a gymnast/calisthenics athlete it will help you to eventually progress to the more demanding lever exercises.  In the end, the dragon flag has something to offer everybody, regardless of sport.          

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