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The Flag

The flag is a skill where one holds onto a vertical object and, with arms straight, holds their body horizontal to the ground. Correctly done, it’ll look something like this:

Easy to see why it’s called a flag.

UPDATE: I found this old photo of a balancing duo performing the flag. This was performed at the famous Muscle Beach in California, USA sometime in the 30′s, 40′s, or 50′s. Absolutely incredible. Just goes to show the long history of bodyweight strength skills.

Anyways, back to the tutorial…

Where to Practice

The skill itself is hard, but just finding a suitable place to practice might prove difficult as well. You’ll have to keep a sharp eye open for places. To give you some ideas and examples, I’ve done this skill on a secured ladder, a parking meter, a metal fence, a bleacher pole, my old front porch, my new back porch, inside a moving truck, a roll-off dumpster, a power rack, and a stack of chairs (see below)

                               

Each place will have its own problems that you’ll soon discover. Even my back porch (the first picture) is a bit of a pain due to a wider grip and slant to the top hand, but it’ll do for this purpose.

When scouting out a good spot to practice, I look for four things:

1. Correct height – I like my bottom hand to be about waist level or slightly below at the start of the skill. Too high or too low and it becomes a pain to press. If you have to bend your legs or get on your toes a significant amount, the spot may be at a bad height.
2. Correct hand spacing – This is one you may find the most difficulty with. Too close or too wide and the skill becomes close to impossible. I’ve found the arms should be coming off the midline of the body at about a 45 degree angle or slightly less. Take a look at the pictures to get the general idea.
3. Quality of hand holds – Can I actually get a good grip on the object? Or am I trying to hang off a telephone pole? This goes for both the top and bottom hand. A bad surface for the bottom hand makes it hard to push your body into position.
4. Stability – If the object is going to break in half or topple over when I put my weight on it, I’m not going to use it. Simple, but important.

Stability is the most important of the 4, and should be the one that you are always concerned with. The other factors may not always be the most ideal, but you’ll soon find out what you can work with. As you try different places, you’ll start to get better at spotting training locations.

The power rack is one location which may be the most widely accessible and easily adjustable. Take both of the spotter bars and put them on one side. You can easily change the spacing and height of the bars to get the best set up position.

Set Up

When you find a place to practice, you’ll want to start by getting your hands into position. If you can get your palms facing each other, I feel that’s the strongest position. On something like a pole, I find that facing your palms forward feels strongest, and for something like a parking meter, your hands will be in a mixed grip.

However your hands are placed, make sure they are in a straight line perpendicular to the ground. It’s important that you start getting every part of your body in the same vertical plane.

Lift Off

Now with your hands, head, and body in line, start to lift the outside leg.

 

I find that lifting the outside leg first further helps to line everything up, as well as make the press into the final position easier. And speaking of pressing, this is the time I start to press with the lower arm. I’ll further elaborate on the role of each arm below.

Anyways, you’ll lift the top leg, PRESS HARD with the bottom arm, bring your legs together, KEEP PRESSING!, and get yourself in a straight line.

Balancing to the front and back is not difficult at all if you kept your body in a straight line. The difficulty arises with getting yourself horizontal.

DANGERS

There’s only one major danger that can arise when working this skill – and that’s if your body starts to fall to your backside. If you start to fall towards your backside, let go of your hands immediately and fall to your feet. The reason for this warning is that if you keep on holding while your body falls backwards, you have a great chance of ripping up your shoulders. It would be akin to holding onto a failed snatch as it fell down behind your back. You’ll hurt your rotator cuffs if you try it.

Now the subtleties of the skill, as well as some ideas for progression.

The Top Arm

Despite what it may look like, the top arm really doesn’t do much. It DOESN’T pull you up horizontal, as I’ll explain below. Just keep the arm straight and hold on tight.

The Bottom Arm

The bottom arm is the secret behind the flag. It’s what will get your body flying horizontal, instead of just hanging there. What you want to do with the bottom arm is PRESS!!! Really press and work to extend your shoulder.  The shoulder itself has a very small range of motion, but this motion is important. If you’re in a flag and your shoulder is not fully extended, you need to PRESS your bottom arm out more.

I drew up some diagrams to illustrate my point:

 

The first picture illustrates someone performing the flag with an inadequate press of the bottom arm. While the top shoulder is fully extended (from the weight of the body), the bottom shoulder is set in the socket deeper. Since this person’s arms are the same length, the result is a downward tilt of the entire body.

 

The second picture shows what might be an instinctual reaction to try to level yourself out -  pulling with the top arm. This really won’t do much except make things look uglier. The top shoulder is still extended, and the bottom shoulder is not. The body will continue to remain below horizontal.

 

Now here in the third picture, we finally see what happens when you press out with the bottom arm. The shoulders are now extended to their limit. The top shoulder is being stretched into that position, while the bottom shoulder is being pressed into that position. Now the body is finally held in a true horizontal position.

 

Progression

The best way to progress towards the flag is to work on something that closely resembles it, but is a bit easier. A skill that fits the bill is a flag with bent legs.

The difference is simple enough to see; simply bend your legs when you go up into the position. This will put less stress on the arms and make it slightly easier to press into position. The balance is a little trickier because your knees and feet fall a bit out of the plane of your body, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice. Once you can hold this position for several seconds, give the full flag a try.

I understand it’s sparse, but this is the progression that I used to learn the flag. I also understand that the bent leg position may be impossible for some now, so I gave some thought to even easier flag-like positions. I didn’t want to recommend a position that might teach bad form and ultimately prove detrimental to performing the flag. So in the end, I couldn’t think of any progressive skills that would be as good as just general shoulder strengthening.

Such shoulder strengthening exercises could include working on/towards handstand pushups, with focus on strengthening your shoulder extension. If you can do several full range handstand pushups against the wall, then you’re well on your way to getting the flag.

 

While against the wall working on handstand pushups, you can also hold the handstand position and work pressing your shoulders in and out. This is the same motion as the shoulder shrug I mentioned in the handstand tutorial.

 

Another exercise I think would be helpful is to put a book or two on the ground, and kick up into a handstand with one hand on the floor, and one on the books. Work on pressing up and really extending with only the book arm. This will work one shoulder through the shrugging motion with more weight than the two armed shrugging exercise. The elevation of the books helps to take away any assistance from the non-book arm. You can add or subtract books to adjust the difficulty.

Depending on your current training level it may take several weeks to several months to build the requisite shoulder strength. Test yourself every couple weeks with the bent leg flag. Once you can press up and hold it for a second or two, make that your primary exercise for working towards the flag.

The End

This is a fairly advanced skill but is quite attainable if you give it some focused training. It’s tiring, so practice will be in short durations for short periods of time. Just always remember to keep your body in line, your arms straight, and to PRESS, PRESS, PRESS with that bottom arm.

So here it is again… the flag.

in position…

lift the leg up and press…

and done.

 

Good luck!


Aug 18, 2010 | Category: The Levers, Tutorial | Comments: 41

 

41 Responses to “The Flag”

  1. Nick

    okay once ive found a metal pole i can use thats stable ill get my hands in the right position, then i get my top leg up how do i get the bottom one up do i kinda jump into it or what?

  2. admin

    Nick,

    Jump or press. Either works.

    -Jim

  3. Marc

    Thank you very much for this instruction, Jim. I’ve been on a fruitless journey to knowledge about flag-training before. Let’s see if your ideas can help me. :)

  4. mark

    hey, is hand placement different for lefties?

  5. admin

    No! I’m left handed myself.

    -Jim

  6. Should your stronger hand be on the top or bottom?

  7. admin

    Bottom in many cases, but try them both!

  8. Dmitry

    Will this put pressure on either of my wrists? If so, which one gets more pressure?

  9. Yuri

    Although I’m unable to do a full flag, I like the variation called “clutch flag”. Google it. It’s fun, and perhaps a good progression for those of you like me ;)

    • admin

      Are you talking about the skill called the “flagpole”? It’s a great looking skill and still takes some effort!

  10. Alaina

    Is it possible for a female to learn this? I saw a couple videos where some could do a very bent legged version and one that was a very angled version, but never a straight flag as you have demonstrated.

    • admin

      I saw a video of a pole dancer (not kidding) who could “walk” through the position. Best I’ve seen. I’m sure a female can do it, just will be harder.

  11. Wayne Harju

    That’s awesome looking for word to trying the flag.

  12. good luck :)

  13. Thomas

    Sounds sound! I’ll give ist a try! ;)

  14. DAVE ROSE

    Fantastic website buddy, with some great tips.
    I’ve been working on the Flag for a year now and can do a 30 second hold on parallel bars no problem.
    I’ve just started work on a vertical pole and find that I drift backwards about 50% of the time. I’ve tried different top hand grips and pulling my hips forward as per handstand are there any other tips you could suggest to stop me rotating around the bar , Cheers.
    P.S I’m 85KG and Fifty this year :-)

  15. Dave Rose

    Great website bud, have learned a lot in the last year.
    When I do a flag on Parallel bars no problem, but when I do them on a vertical post I rotate backwards. I use a grip where both thumbs point down, any tips ?
    Cheers D

  16. Big Bear

    is the flag or back lever harder?

  17. Liam

    dude, i’ve tried to do this over my local park but i just can’t seem to hold it, does it makes it easier having bigger, stronger arms/shoulders, or stronger abs/obliques to hold it?

  18. aleksandar

    Jim,
    I can do 7-8 HDPU, and approximately 15 seconds L-seat.
    How many should I be able to do in a row to be able to hold the flag?

  19. Albert

    Great tutorial, thanks for sharing this. Now I have to get to work on it.

  20. Chase

    I always swing my left leg up and follow with my right leg. i also noticed that my flag is slanted upward. how do i fix the slant?

  21. Chris

    about how long did it take you to master this skill? I pick things up fairly quickly. Just mastered free handstand pushups. Is this something that takes a very long time to master?

  22. paul

    Hi man, ive hit a wall with this and the one arm pull up.
    at the moment my flag is looking something like picture 2, with my top arm being bent i can hold it for about 10 seconds on a good day but usually around 5 seconds. i try to do it atleast once a day to keep on top of it. at the start i was getting a lot of pain in the bicep of my top arm and shoulder but now its gone away, i try to straiten out my top arm but when i do that i just drop down. not sure what to do from here! unless doing it the way i am will eventually fix itself… as for the 1 arm pull up, i can do it with my left arm only but not from hanging, im having problems with the lower end of the pull but once im over the bottom i can get to the top pretty quick, my right arm is a bit weaker but i can still lift myself a bit but at a slow rate.. not really sure why im saying this but maybe you know what i can do to sort it! thanks

  23. Jaimee

    Hey … Thanks for this :) I’m determined to be able to do this … But I have a really long way to go !! Is there anything else you can suggest I do to build up my strength ? Ohh and I’m a girl … If that makes any difference to muscle building
    Thanks :)

  24. Jon

    When I try holding the flag, I get this stiff pain in my bottom shoulder. Is this a lack of shoulder strength or a cuff problem? I can do 5 full range HSP.


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