The dragon flag is a great choice for developing your abs, upper back, and shoulder muscles. But not something you should start with. It’s not a beginner level skill.
Ever since I saw this exercise in Rocky IV I was impressed and also thought I would never be able to do it. Years after I forgot about it, this skill emerged in one of the calisthenics progressions I was working on.
How cool – I thought to myself. I will train like Rocky. It took some time and I was able to cheat my first dragon flag raises.
It felt so cool finally being able to do it. Even without proper form and still lacking the needed strength to really pull it off. Of course, after a few training sessions, I’ve put aside my ego and returned to tuck dragon flags. I was even able to pull off a few one leg versions.
Yes, I do dragon flag negatives, which to untrained eyes still look like a regular dragon flag raises. But I no longer care if I impress some innocent passerby. I do care about impressing myself and building strength for even harder skills.
What is a dragon flag
The dragon flag is one of the cool skills some may do as a party trick. It’s not something you will usually see in your local gym.
Seems like this move was invented by Bruce Lee. Even if he didn’t invent it, he was the one who made it “a thing”.
As already said, after Bruce Lee made it famous, this skill made its appearance in the Rocky IV movie by Silvester Stallone.
If you didn’t pick it up from Bruce Lee, you would have noticed it in Rocky. Now, you can find it all over YouTube.
There are two basic versions of this exercise. One is a dragon flag hold where you are just doing an isometric hold. To do it, you have to find some sturdy object to hold onto with your hands. You will raise your legs and your butt off the floor and hold your body in a straight line.
Another variant is a dragon flag raise. You can do this version by raising your entire body in a straight line from your upper back and shoulders down to your feet. And then you slowly lower your body down. Your upper back and shoulders will remain on the ground while your whole body will be lifted off the floor.
This hard skill is great for taking your core training to the next level. If you were able to slowly improve your strength through easier exercises, dragon flags will help you raise the difficulty of your training up a notch.
It will help you build your core strength and prepare your body for even harder skills like the front lever.
The strength gained with this skill will be well used in all other aspects of your fitness journey. A strong core is a base for most pushing and pulling exercises. It is also needed for most of the advanced skills.
So, working on this exercise will be well used in almost every other skill you are working on.
Dragon flag muscles worked
This skill will ask for serious strength of your core. So core muscles are the primary muscle groups that will fire in this move (mostly abs and lower back muscles). But there are also other muscles that will help you perform this skill:
- Lower back
- Latissimus dorsi
How to do dragon flag raises
To be able to do this move, you have to find something sturdy you can hold on to. This can be a pole, a table, a bed, or some other heavy furniture you can hold on to.
If you can grab this object with both hands in a way that your hands are placed beneath this object it would be the best.
Lay flat on your back in front of a sturdy object. Hold on to this sturdy object firmly with both of your hands.
Lift your entire body up in the air. Keep your entire body in a straight line from your shoulders to your toes. Your shoulders and your upper back will be on the ground. Your arms will have to counter the lever that your body forms.
Slowly lower your body back to the floor. Try as hard as you can to keep your body straight during the descent. Lower down until your body is a few inches off the floor.
Lift back up.
Repeat for reps.
Mistake 1 – Using momentum to lift your legs
When trying to do your first dragon flags you may find yourself leading by raising your legs off the floor using momentum. When you are able to lift your legs, you will be able to also lift your butt off the ground. After that, you may correct your posture and align your body to form a straight line. This happens when you still lack the strength needed to pull this off correctly.
When this happens, return to one leg dragon flags. If you can do one leg dragon flags keeping your entire body rigid without using momentum in any part of the move, continue doing the one leg version for a while. If you can’t, try with tuck dragon flags. After at least two weeks up to a month, try a harder version again.
Mistake 2 – Arching your back
Another mistake that might creep up on you is the arching of your back. You may arch your back when lowering yourself down, or initiating a rep. When your legs get higher up in the air, you will feel less tension. So, your body will get aligned more easily.
There are two approaches to correcting this mistake. One is returning back to easier variants like one leg and tuck versions of the exercise. The other is trying to concentrate more on keeping your body straight during the move.
Mistake 3 – Dropping your legs down
Another problem you may find is dropping your legs down rapidly without control. This may happen on the lowering part of the move while you still lack strength.
Again, try to do more tuck and one leg dragon flags. This will help you improve your strength. It will also solidify your feeling about the move. Both of which will help you pull off dragon flags with proper form.
If you can’t do this hard move at the moment, there are easier exercises you can do. Those exercises will help you build strength. Some of them, like tuck and one leg versions, will also help you get a better feeling for the move.
Here are some skills that will help you progress:
However impressive this skill is by itself, it’s just another step in a progression to even harder exercises. If you want to reach mastery, you will probably be working towards a full front lever. So, there are still more difficult skills you can do after you master dragon flags:
If you want to progress step by step on your way to mastery, a good idea will be to follow a front lever progression step by step. Start by finding the exercise that will be at your current level of ability. Then simply try to do more reps, or increase the duration of holds. In no time, you will be able to try more difficult exercises.
Dragon flags are an advanced skill for developing your core strength. It’s not suitable for beginners because it requires significant strength that needs time to develop.
It looks cool and impressive. But after you are able to progress further it will no longer impress you, just other people.
When you are able to build enough strength to do this exercise, it will help you progress further in other progressions too.