The dragon flag exercise is a fitness move that’s named for the martial artist Bruce Lee. It was one of his signature moves, and it’s now part of fitness pop culture. Sylvester Stallone also helped to popularize the dragon flag exercise when he performed in the film Rocky IV.
This exercise has gained popularity amongst fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders who want to master an intense move.
What are the benefits of the dragon flag exercise?
The dragon flag is an advanced exercise that’s thought to be one of the most challenging core exercises. You need to have your body in top physical form in order to do it. While this exercise requires abdominal and core strength, it also requires substantial full-body strength.
Your whole torso is worked, so it’s important you have a lot of strength in your entire upper body. Your hip flexors, glutes, and lower back are also being worked. You use your stabilizer muscles to maintain tension over your entire body. The dragon flag exercise helps you to build up shoulder strength and muscle mass.
How to do the dragon flag
- Lie on your back and reach your arms behind you to hold onto a sturdy pole, column, or bench.
- Lift up your hips as your roll your weight onto your shoulders.
- Lift your feet, legs, and torso to come in one straight line.
- Bring your body in a straight line so that your shoulders, hips, and knees are aligned. Don’t put the weight of your body on your neck. Keep the weight on your shoulders and upper back.
- Your upper back is the only part of your body that should be in contact with the floor.
- Hold here for up to 10 seconds.
- Slowly lower your body back down to the floor until it’s parallel to the floor, keeping your core and buttocks tight.
- Make sure you’re keeping your legs together and straight.
- For a challenge, you can hold your body just above the ground and hold this position before lifting up again.
Do 5 sets of 5 repetitions.
To add more of a challenge to the exercise, try:
- pointing your toes
- wearing ankle weights or heavy shoes
For easier variations try:
- mixing up the height to which you bring your legs and pause at different points
- choosing, in the beginning, to lower your legs only halfway down so that it’s easier to bring them up again
- doing the exercise with both knees bent (after achieving this, try doing it with one leg straightened at a time)
- doing the straddle leg version (the wider you open your legs, the easier the exercise becomes; you can progressively bring your legs closer together until they’re in the regular position)
- kicking up to the top dragon flag position and working on lowering your legs (you can do these negatives with the variations mentioned above)
It’s vital that you use proper form while doing the dragon flag. You need to make sure you are fit enough to do the exercise properly in order to avoid injury. Here are some important tips of which to be mindful:
- Do stretches and a warm-up before you being your practice.
- Keep your elbows tucked in close to your ears and don’t allow them to flare out to the sides.
- Avoid putting the weight of your body on your neck. Keep the weight on your shoulders and upper back.
- Don’t push your head down too hard on the floor.
- Keep your chin tucked into your chest to protect your neck.
- Maintain the pivot point at your shoulders and not your back.
- Keep your back straight.
In addition to the dragon flag variations, you can work on progression exercises that can help you build up the strength to do the full dragon flag.
It’s also recommended that you be in excellent shape physically and have shed any excess weight.
Remember to be patient as you build up your practice. It may take you a few weeks or months to gain the strength and stability necessary to do dragon flag.
- Come onto your hands and feet with your body in a straight line.
- Place your wrists directly under your shoulders.
- Keep your weight on your toes with your heels lifted.
- Tuck your chin slightly into your chest so that that back of your neck is straight.
- Engage your abdominals and keep your arms strong.
- Hold here for at least 1 minute.
Spend at least 10 minutes going through different plank variations.
Lying leg raises
- Lie flat on the floor with your arms alongside your body and your palms facing down. You can also interlace your fingers at the base of your skull to support your neck if this is more comfortable.
- Slowly lift your legs up toward the ceiling.
- Lower your legs as slowly as possible.
- Just before your legs touch the floor, lift them up again.
- Keep your lower back flat on the floor throughout this movement.
Continue this movement for 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
Use a yoga mat for this pose. Make sure to keep your neck in one position. Don’t put pressure on your neck.
- Lie down flat with your arms next to your body.
- While pressing your arms and hands into the floor, inhale and lift your legs up to 90 degrees.
- Roll back onto your shoulders and lift your legs over your head, balancing your feet in the air.
- Bring your hands to your lower back so that your pinky fingers are on either side of your spine.
- Your fingers should be facing up toward the ceiling.
- From here, press your hands into your back for support as you bring your legs up straight toward the ceiling.
- Try to bring your shoulders, spine, and hips into one straight line.
- Draw your chin in to your chest to support the back of your neck.
- Hold here for at least 30 seconds.
- Release by lowering your legs back down over your head.
- Bring your arms back down to the floor.
- Slowly roll your spine back onto the floor with your legs at 90 degrees.
- Lower your legs back to the floor.
- Then come into a seated position and let your neck hang back.
- Then bring your head back up again and gently tuck your chin in to your chest.
Hanging leg raises
- Hold onto a pull-up bar.
- Straighten your legs and keep your glutes tight.
- Lift up your legs as high as you can.
- Hold the top position for about 10 seconds.
- Slowly lower your legs back down.
Do 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
- Lie on your back with your arms extended over your head.
- Point your toes and extend your fingertips to lengthen your body as much as possible.
- Engage your abdominals and glutes as you lift your shoulders and thighs.
- Press your lower back into the floor.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
Repeat 3 times.
The bottom line
It’s important that you take your time to gain the strength you need to do the dragon flag. Never force yourself into any position. Enjoy the process and don’t rush it.
Remember that it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to master the dragon flag. Give your body plenty of time to rest in between workout sessions. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself too fast or too hard.
Before you start
- This is an advanced exercise, so use your own judgment about whether it’s right for you. Practicing good form is critical in reducing injury and ensuring your body benefits from the exercise. Be sure to consult your physician before starting any new workout program.