How to Do a Dragon Flag

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Dragon Flag exercise
Dragon Flag core exercise. gilaxia/Getty Images

Targets: Core

Equipment Needed: Bench

Level: Advanced

The dragon flag is an advanced bodyweight core exercise that can help build great overall core strength and incredibly strong, defined, six-pack abs (also known as dragon flag abs). It is credited to martial arts master Bruce Lee and is one of the more advanced ones he used in his physical training. Because it is not only difficult but places a lot of strain on your joints, it should only be attempted by more advanced exercisers and athletes with a high level of overall body strength.

Benefits

This advanced move works the entire torso from head to toe. It's hard to find one exercise that can engage so many muscles at one time. This move works all the core stabilizers, and because it requires a controlled eccentric movement, it builds strength more quickly than isolated core exercises. The longer you hold the dragon flag, and the longer you take to complete each repetition, the more you get out of the exercise.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Get into proper position by locking your arms in a fixed overhead position. You can do this on a bench, with your hand next to your head and gripping the sides of the bench, or you can grip a stable object overhead. Some people use kettlebells or a barbell, but using something fixed and stable is a bit more practical, and quite a bit safer.
  2. Contract your torso and drive your legs up as if you are performing a reverse crunch, but keep your body rigid from your shoulders to toes, and avoid bending the hips. Point your toes to help maintain proper body alignment.
  3. Once lifted, slowly lower your legs in a controlled motion without letting any part of your body touch the bench other than the upper back and shoulder. If you cave in, drop your hips, or arch your back, you don't have the strength yet and you should not continue the exercise.
  4. Lower your body until it is hovering just over the bench.
  5. Repeat as possible. Once you break form, you are done.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most from this exercise and reduce the risk of strain or injury.

Arching Back

Arching the lower back takes the emphasis off of your abs and transfers it to the lower back, with a risk of strain.

Poor Warmup and Rest Between Sets

Make sure you are warmed up before doing the dragon flag. Rest completely between sets for one to three minutes.

Modifications and Variations

You can do this advanced exercise in different ways to build up to the full exercise or to progress further.

Need a Modification?

Before attempting the dragon flag, make sure you have worked your way up to advanced core training. You should be able to complete the core strength and stability test to completion. You should also be able to do reverse crunches, hip lifts and V-sits with little difficulty.

If you can't do the dragon flag, you can build up to it by performing a dragonfly with your torso rigid only from the shoulders to the knees, with the knees bent at 90 degrees and allowing your feet to hang down and reduce some of the weight being lifted. Here is how to do the dragonfly:

  1. Get into position on a bench with your hands next to your head, gripping the edges of the bench.
  2. Bend your knees and bring your thighs to 90 degrees, and then in one full effort, contract and pull your torso up towards the ceiling. You should have a partial dragon flag with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly lower your torso until just slight hovering above the bench.

Once you can do this movement, you can gradually work towards extending your legs until you can do the dragon flag with your legs completely straight.

Use a spotter if you are not quite able to do the movement without sagging, or arching your back.

Up for a Challenge?

At first, you will likely only be able to do one repetition and work at holding the position. Once you have perfected your form, doing more repetitions and sets is the first progression.

Using a decline bench will give you a bigger range of motion and much more engagement of the muscles.

For a further challenge, do the dragon flag with ankle weights.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have any injury to your back, neck, or shoulders. Ensure you meet all of the prerequisites. Stop if you feel any pain. Do not do this exercise after the first trimester of pregnancy.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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