The Human Flag is one of the greatest bodyweight challenges of all time. When someone can hold a solid Human Flag, it always attracts the attention and admiration of onlookers. It’s one thing to be strong, it’s another thing to be a Human Flag!
A lot of people ask me how long it will take to learn the Human Flag exercise. It’s natural for beginners to ask this question, however, the best way to approach it is to refrain from thinking about the end result. It is a long road to the Human Flag, and people who go in expecting a quick fix will likely be disappointed. It takes a lot of practice, even if you’re already fit. However, if you focus on the process rather than the end result, I think you’ll find it a more rewarding experience. It also helps to set small benchmarks along the way, using easier variations to build your way up to the full Human Flag.
The key to progressing with the flag is to find similar positions that require less leverage. Part of what makes the Full Human Flag so challenging is that you’re using a relatively short lever (your arm) to hold up a very long object (your body). Since you can’t really make your arms longer, you need to find ways to make your body shorter in order to make the flag more manageable. One way to accomplish this is by doing a variation where your body is closer to being vertical than horizontal. Almost like a crooked handstand (handstands, by the way, are a great skill to practice alongside the Human Flag). Besides being easier on your arms, this puts a lot less stress on the obliques, lower back, and abdominal muscles, allowing you to get a feel for having your body up in the air while you build up the strength to fully extend your legs horizontally.
Once you can get the vertical flag, you can work towards lowering your hips down with your legs in a tucked position. From here you can progress to putting out one leg, and over time, both legs. Practicing with your knees bent also works well as a precursory way of working up to the Full Human Flag. Remember, any modification that gives you better leverage is a good way to work towards this skill. There are a lot of different ways that you can approach performing a Human Flag, but the most important thing is practice consistently.
Get A Grip
There are countless variations of the Human Flag, but basically only two primary grips. The one most people tend to picture involves grasping a vertical pole with the bottom hand in a supinated (underhand) position and the top hand in a pronated (overhand) grip. This is the classic\ position, and the harder of the two.
The second approach is to perform the Human Flag between two parallel bars. Not the type of parallel bars that you would use for a dip, but rather, bars that are stacked vertically in a parallel fashion. This allows you to put your hands into a neutral grip with your palms facing each other, which most people find a bit easier.
The Bottom Arm
The bottom arm is the foundation of the Human Flag. The job of your bottom arm is to support most of your bodyweight. To do this, you’re going to have to press as hard as possible. Try to fully extend your elbow and keep it locked out. It is essential to have a solid grip in order to execute the move properly, so squeeze tight!
It is important to note that the thickness of the bar can make a great difference in the difficulty of performing a flag (thicker bars are harder). When using a thick vertical bar (one that you can’t really get your hand around), I’ve found it best to employ an open grip with your wrist cocked back and your index finger pointing down. Think about Spiderman when he puts his hand out to shoot a web. This hand position allows you to press your palm into the bar and spread your fingers out. A full underhand grip with the hand completely turned over (thumb down, pinky on top) works well for some people on the bottom as well. Having your thumb pointed down is always a good thing for leverage regardless of which hand you’re dealing with. This is why the underhand grip is favorable for the bottom position, but not for
The Top Arm
When going for a Human Flag, you want your top arm to be stiff, but don’t think about pulling with that arm. If you pull, your elbow will wind up bending, which makes for a sloppy looking flag. Just squeeze the bar tightly while isometrically contracting your whole arm. The bottom arm winds up doing much more of the work. If the bottom arm is your anchor, think of the top arm as the steering wheel.
Gripping with the palm of your top hand facing down can be the best way to get leverage. If you have a set up that allows for this type of grip, it can be a good way to practice. Having the palm of your top hand facing away from your body during the flag is generally more challenging than this position. I’ve also done the flag with my palm facing towards my body. Experiment with different positions to find what works best for you.
Many people assume the flag is strictly an issue of upper body strength, but you must be able to use all of your muscles as one unit to generate total body
tension when performing a Human Flag. Your abdominals, lower back, and obliques (especially on the side that’s on top) play a big role in holding the
position. Exercises like planks, side planks, and one arm/one leg variations on planks can help you build that core strength, but none of those exercises are as intense as the Human Flag!
Places To Practice
Being able to perform a flag in one situation does not necessarily mean that you’ll be able to do it anywhere. I’ve done Human Flags on many different surfaces, including trees, mailboxes, and fences. I’ve even done the Human Flag on my brother Danny! I’ve also encountered potential flag sites that proved to be too difficult. Different contexts offer their own unique challenges. The little nuances in your flagging surface can make a huge difference to your capabilities. The thickness of the bar (or whatever you are gripping), the height of the object, and the stability are all factors to consider when finding places to practice your Human Flag. Keep these considerations in mind, but don’t be afraid to get creative.
Final Thoughts on Performing the Human Flag
The Human Flag is a very intense exercise. While you might be eager to learn this move, remember that you must gradually introduce your body to it. In the beginning, holding a simple bent leg Human Flag for a couple of seconds would leave my obliques sore for days afterward. Additionally, developing shoulder tendonitis can be a concern, especially early on. You want to be warmed up before practicing your Human Flag and make sure to give your body proper rest between efforts. Eventually, you may be able to practice Human Flags daily, but in the beginning, a few minutes every two or three days is a better way to ease yourself in. Be patient – anything that’s worthwhile takes time. If you want to acquire this skill, you can - you just have to want it bad enough and be willing to put in the work.
This article was featured in the Oct/Nov 2011 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. "A Salute to the Human Flag" was written by the Al Kavadlo. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine byClicking Here
Al Kavadlo, CSCS is one of New York City's most passionate and successful personal trainers. A fixture in the ever changing fitness scene, Al has worked with all types of clients including athletes, models and even an Olympic medalist. Al is recognized worldwide for his amazing bodyweight feats of strength and his blog (www.AlKavadlo.com) has become one of the most popular online resources for information about calisthenics and bodyweight strength training. Al is the author of two books: We're Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness and Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics. Find out more at www.AlKavadlo.com
|< Prev||Next >|