The Dragon Flag

Savvy fitness enthusiasts know that doing endless amounts of crunches isn’t the smartest way to build a strong midsection. Planks and side planks are the most fundamental exercises to develop your core, but if you want to work toward advanced exercises like levers and human flags, the dragon flag can help you get there.

Though best known as a trademark move of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, the dragon flag has become a popular training tool amongst anyone who is serious about calisthenics and bodyweight training.

A dragon flag is typically performed lying face-up on a bench or on the ground with your hands grasping a sturdy object behind your head for support. From here, the objective is to lift your entire body up in a straight line, stacking it vertically over your shoulders in the top position.

Protect Ya Neck
When performing a dragon flag, focus on using your abs, lower back and glutes to control the movement. Your hands are there for support, but don’t pull the bench into the back of your neck! Instead, use your core strength to roll up onto your shoulders.

Just like learning to do a pull-up, start by practicing the negative (lowering) phase of the dragon flag. Once you get confident with negatives, try doing a static hold at the bottom with your body hovering an inch or two over the bench. When you can hold this position for 2 or 3 seconds, you’re ready to start working on full dragon flags.

While a dragon flag technically requires you to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your feet, it can be helpful to practice a modified version where you allow your hips to bend. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different progressions and variations on your way to mastering this exercise.

Watch the video below for more:

32 thoughts on “The Dragon Flag

  • By Dragonmamma/Naomi - Reply

    Boy, did I have my terminology messed up. The thing that you call the human flag? I always thought that was the dragon flag!

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      With a nickname like “Dragonmamma” this one should be right up your alley! Glad I could set the record straight regarding the nomenclature.

      • By Dragonmamma/Naomi - Reply

        Well, as soon as I read this, I had to try it out on my living room floor. I can’t keep my torso and legs totally straight, but I can do it.

        • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

          That’s a good start. Keep training hard!

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  • By Eddie - Reply

    Yikes! Now that’s some serious bodyweight control! Awesome Al!

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Thanks, Eddie!

  • By Mimi (Gingersnaps) - Reply

    Nice! I’m very interested in more bodyweight work, as I’m going abroad next semester and don’t know if I’ll be able to join a gym. Any must-do’s for starting a bodyweight routine? I just got a TRX.

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Thanks, Mimi! The only must-do with bodyweight training is to train hard and stick with it, but you definitely don’t need a gym! (And of course I recommend ordering a copy of my book!)

  • By Melantha - Reply

    Wow. This is almost exactly the exercise that we did in a pole-dancing class about a month ago to build strength towards inverted tricks. I didn’t even think about the fact that I could do it on a bench instead of with a pole.

    I love your website; found you from the MDA forum and now I’m going to start using a lot of your advice to try to strengthen for climbing and dancing.

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Thanks, Melantha! One of the great things about bodyweight exercises is that they can be modified to suit a variety of settings. I bet a lot of your pole dancing moves are similar to things I do in my training.

  • By Michael - Reply

    Hey Al, awesome post. I started doing these last week. I can Rep out about 3 good ones. How many reps should I be happy with? My goal is 20 pull ups 40 dips 100 push ups and X dragon flags…

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Thanks, Michael. How about you aim for 10 in a row? If only happiness were as simple as that!

      • By Michael - Reply

        Thanks man I’ll shoot for 10!

        • By Michael - Reply

          Hey Al,
          Have you seen this guys tutorials http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSaR4iwBcj8&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL
          He breaks down some nice progression stages to the Dragon flag. He also has some nice videos on the front lever as well…

          • By Al Kavadlo -

            Hey Michael – I had not seen this before. The instructor’s form is excellent but he talks way too much, so I found the tutorial quite boring.

          • By Michael -

            Totally agree Al, he’s no Anthony Robbins. But the things he teaches really work though in terms of the intermediate steps to achieving the dragon flag. I’ve found that using the one leg straight on leg bent method I can get 8 good form flags in.

          • By Al Kavadlo -

            Sounds like you’re doing good, Michael! Keep training hard.

          • By Michael -

            Thank’s Al. With the help of mainly your site and a few others like our Russian friend here I’m getting along alright – always room for improvement. Keep up the great work man, much respect.

          • By Psh009 -

            He usually does two vids for any excercise, one long tutorial talking about it, telling you basic info and stuff, one short no speech steps video tutorial.

            Liked your video of muscle ups with rick…………. stay fit.

          • By Al Kavadlo -

            Thanks – glad you liked the vid!

  • By Ascendant - Reply

    Hey Al, just bought your book and it’s very inspirational and motivating!  I’m in the military (so lack of equipment can often be a problem for me) was wondering if you have any progressions regarding the back bridge (maybe weighted versions or something)?  Also, how comfortable should I be with dragon flags before I’m lever and planche ready?

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Glad you are enjoying the book!  Check out this post I did on bridging: http://www.alkavadlo.com/2011/02/back-bridges/

      If you are at all comfortable with the dragon flag you may be able to
      start working on a lever.  I’m planning on getting a new front
      lever tutorial up in the next few weeks. 

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  • By Johan von Boisman - Reply

    Inspirational as always.

    Could be fun to know that 2012 is “the year of the Dragon” according to the Chinese zodiac! And that Bruce Lee’s Chinese name is “Little Dragon” (xiao long, 小龙)

    /johan

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Thanks for sharing!  Glad you liked this one!

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Thanks for sharing!  Glad you liked this one!

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  • By Rob White - Reply

    Hey Al, the thing you do at the end of the vid where you are doing it off a pole (i’ve seen it called a Shoulder Lever – i like to call it a ‘Flying’ Dragon Flag :) ), would you say that is a good progression from a dragon flag on a bench?

    I would love to see a tutorial on how to learn that – it looks cool as ….

    • By Al Kavadlo - Reply

      Flying Dragon Flag is a cool name!  And it’s definitely harder than doing it on a bench.

      Btw, here’s your tutorial: get really good at dragon flags, then try it on a vertical pole.

      • By Rob White - Reply

        Cheers Al. I like short, easy to follow tutorials! 

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