The human flag is a calisthenics power move where you lift your body sideways whilst holding on to a pole or a stall bar so that your body is parallel to the ground. This gravity-defying skill displays a combination of brute strength, stability, and control. It will eye-catch a crowd at any given moment.
According to the Guinness of World Records, the longest duration to hold a human flag for males is 1 minute 5.71 seconds, and the longest for females is 36.80 seconds. The trick lies in having an extensive upper body strength, especially your obliques, shoulders, and back muscles.
The human flag is a full-body exercise as you will have to actively engage both your upperbody and lower body muscles to elevate your body up sideways. The primary muscles worked are the deltoids (posterior and anterior deltoids), latissimus dorsi, obliques, and abdominals. The secondary muscles worked are the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
This is an advanced level skill because you will require a solid foundation in calisthenics (pull-ups, push-ups, dips) before you begin training for the flag. Moreover, your proprioceptors (sensory capability to feel various parts of the body moving through space in relation to each other) will be put to a challenge as you will need spatial body awareness to coordinate your body to be in a correct position. The prerequisite to start training for the human flag is to do able to do 15 pull-ups for 5 sets.
The human flag comes in different progressions that you must go through to know your current level and what the next step would be. These progressions will help you to develop the strength, stability, and coordination required for the flag. Let’s look at these in more detail.
The technique to the human flag is that you will be pushing and pulling simultaneously to lift your body sideways. The top arm is used for pulling, and the bottom arm is used for pushing. Moreover, the hand position of the flag requires a supinated grip on the bottom hand and a pronated grip on the top hand. Your hands must be in line with each other.
It is slightly easier to perform the flag on stall bars as there is more of a stable foundation due to the hand being in a neutral grip. So, it is highly recommended that you start practicing with stall bars if you have access to it. The key is to have a firm grip on the base (bottom hand).
The first progression will start from the ground up. The side plank flag is the most simple form of the flag as both of your hands and your feet will on the floor in a side plank position. This will get you used to the hand position, as well as developing your straight arm strength and condition the lats, shoulders, and obliques. To perform this, you will:
Flag kicks are a great progression that develops the swing transition into the flag. Your aim is the kick up so that your body is sideways up, and parallel to the ground. To perform this, you will:
At this stage, you should comfortable with kicking up and having enough upper strength to be able to hold an inverted tuck. To perform this, you will:
This progression will require you to get into an inverted tuck hold position, followed by extending one leg out to increase the load on the shoulders, core, and lats. To perform this, you will:
The 45° flag increases the leverage significantly as you would lower down at approximately 45 degrees from the one leg inverted tuck hold position. The goal is to keep increasing the angle so that eventually your body becomes horizontal. To perform this you will:
180° One Leg Flag
Once you can hold the 45 degrees flag comfortably, you can progress by lowering your body further to be horizontal and parallel to the ground. To perform this, you will:
The straddle human flag will require you to get your body into a horizontal position and spread your legs away from each other to form a straddle. To perform this, you will:
This variation looks like the front lever as your stomach will be facing upwards, whilst you are pushing and pulling with both arms. To perform this, you will:
Finally, after you have completed all the progressions above, you will have enough upperbody strength to be able to hold a full human flag! Note that you can transition into the flag either from the top-down or from the bottom up. To perform this, you will:
It is highly recommended that you practice the human flag 3 times a week as this will give your body enough time to recover and grow stronger from the new stimulus. You should implement 2 exercises from the progressions, along with 2 conditioning exercises in a single session, and take 2-3 minutes rest in between sets (always time your rest!).
Conditioning exercises include:
Let’s face it, the human flag is debatably one of the most impressive bodyweight displays of strength that anyone has ever invented. Whenever someone does a human flag, no doubt, it would attract a lot of attention as this is an eye-catching skill.
The human flag will increase your body awareness, also known as proprioception. We have touched on this topic briefly. For example, the ability to elevate your entire body sideways with only contact points being your hands holding onto the pole or the stall ladder. Your body and mind coordination is key to mastering this skill, as you will gradually be able to sense when your body is in a perfect horizontal line.
Develop Upper-Body Strength
Training for the human flag will strengthen almost every muscle in your body, along with reinforcing your connective tissues, tendons, and ligaments. The process of obtaining this skill will work on the deltoids, abdominals, obliques, and lats. Along with lower body muscles such as the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, as they will have to be engaged to form a straight line with the body.
The dragon flag is an advanced-level core exercise that requires significant core strength. It targets the entire body from head to toe as you will have to actively engage almost every muscle to keep a rigid body. You can achieve a great upper body physique from this, and itt will give you shredded six-pack abs.
The front lever is a power move that displays a substantial level of core strength and pulling power. This is a truly gravity-defying feat and would be considered to be on a similar difficulty as the human flag. By doing the front lever, you can build exceptional strength in the back muscles. You can learn all of the progressions towards achieving the front lever in this front lever guide!
My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.