How to Dragon Flag – Even as a Beginner

Are you doing endless ab exercises but seeing no results? Learn how to dragon flag instead! If you only have time to do one core exercise to build a six-pack while creating incredible core strength for calisthenics, choose the dragon flag.

Welcome, my name is Summerfunfitness. I am a self-taught calisthenics athlete, meaning I have NO gymnastics experience. I help people learn how to master their body weight to be strong and mobile for life!

Dragon Flag Benefits

The dragon flag is an excellent calisthenics core exercise to improve strength for: planches, handstand push-ups, front levers, human flags and general athleticism. Plus, the skill progression component of learning how to dragon flag makes it a continuously fun and rewarding exercise to work towards (rather than just doing the same ab crunch year after year).

Wrists Need a Break? If you purely train calisthenics, you’ll know that you spend a lot of time on your wrists; because of this, I like to include core exercises that are off my wrists but still help me obtain my calisthenics goals. Dragon flags and box maltese raises are my current go-to calisthenics core exercises to do just that.  Find box maltese raises in my free planche workout routine >

How to Dragon Flag

Here’s how to dragon flag, regardless of the modification level you’re using.

  • Pull down on the bar (if using a straight bar, if using dumbbells, then push down)
  • Kick into the starting position.
  • Lock your legs into your chosen progression. Keep them locked throughout the entire movement.
  • Squeeze across your chest.
  • Using your lats and shoulders (not your hips), lower your body.
  • Keep upper body engaged (do not relax or allow your elbows to flair)
  • Maintain a hollow body/dish shape (not arched)
  • Lower until you feel a stretch in your lats
  • Pause for a moment then:
  • Initiate the lift from your upper body.
  • Exhale as you lift
  • As you improve, increase the range of motion by lowering more and lifting higher. As a beginner, you may have more of your back on the floor than I do, which will improve with time.
technique cues for how to dragon flag

Dragon Flag Progressions for All Levels

Despite what a quick google search tells you, anyone can learn how to dragon flag – even beginners. It’s just about choosing a variation suitable to your level.

How long it takes to learn how to dragon flag varies based on your current strength, experience with bodyweight exercises, and dedication to training. Here are my top recommended dragon flag progressions.

girl doing a full dragon flag in a squat rack

How to Set Up a Dragon Flag

My favourite dragon flag setup is on a straight bar as it mimics a front lever hold. Alternatively, you can do it on dumbells, a bench, a pole, or even under a couch. Add a towel under your upper back to prevent rubbing (I have a big blister from filming this video).

How to Dragon Flag – As a Beginner

When learning how to dragon flag, it’s important not to rush. Lock your body into a small, tucked position. Maintain that lower body position as you lower yourself. Use your lats and abs to control the movement – no swinging. Find your breath (rule of thumb, exhale upon exertion). Once you can do 10 slow and controlled reps, slightly open your tuck. Over time, level up to the advanced tuck. Wait till you can do 10 clean reps before moving on.

girl shows three beginner tucked dragon flag options

#1 Mistake When Learning How to Dragon Flag

The most common mistake is worrying more about what your legs are doing rather than focusing on engaging and activating the muscles you are trying to strengthen. Don’t waste your precious workout time cheating yourself; choose an easier variation, lock your legs into place and focus on generating the movement through your upper body, not from the hips.

As you lower, feel the stretch in your lats, find your breath, maintain a hollow body shape (don’t arch), then pull yourself back up, again, using your upper body, not your lower body, to do so. If you can’t pull yourself back up, choose an easier leg variation to lessen the load.

Intermediate Dragon Flag Progressions

At first glance, the single-leg dragon flags shown below look similar – yet the difference between the two is dramatic.

To go from a single-leg variation with your foot by your knee vs by your ankle requires so much more strength. If you train planche, you’ll know how challenging it can be to go from a tucked planche to an advanced tucked planche – it’s the same feeling with these two variations.

girl doing 2 versions of a intermediate dragon flag progression

Advanced Dragon Flag Progressions

These advanced dragon flag variations will seriously challenge your core, lats, hip flexors and shoulders.

I included the half-lay variation in this dragon flag series as it’ll help train the movement pattern for those working on back levers, front levers and planches.

demonstrating 3 different progressions of the dragon flag (straddle, half lay and full)

How to Do a Dragon Flag Workout

Here are 4 ways to program the dragon flag into your workout to increase core strength for calisthenics while developing a six-pack.

1. Full Reps
Do full reps of the dragon flag using a modification listed above. For beginners, this may mean doing the closed tuck or just leg raises.

 2. Hard Down, Easy Up
Lower in a harder progression, then lift up in an easier progression. Example: single-leg down, tuck up. Half lay down, single leg up.

3. Negatives
Add in controlled negatives (the lowering portion). Doing negatives is a common technique to get better at calisthenics. When an exercise is too hard, perform just the negative portion. This works for push-ups, pull-ups, handstands press and many more calisthenics exercises.

To improve your dragon flag:
Do negatives of the next progression up from what you can do for full reps
2. Ensure you are consistently moving throughout the negative.
3. Choose a variation you can lower for at least 5 seconds, if not more.

Beginners, try doing a negative of an advanced tuck.

 4. Perform Holds
Perform holds at the lowest position, right before your breaking point. Beginners, try doing an open tuck in the lower portion. 

Dragon Flag Workout Example

Do this workout routine at the end of your training session, before your cool down/stretching. Complete the full list without resting inbetween.

  • 6 full reps of a variation suitable to your level
  • 6 reps of the same variation down as the previous exercise, then an easier one up
  • 6 reps of 6-second negatives
  • Finish with a max hold at a medium height (not too low or too high). Choose an easier variation to get at least a 10-second hold

Repeat 3 times. 

Or, just set a total number you want to hit, then use as many variations as you need to get there. For example, I might do 50 reps in 3 sets, starting with full reps, and ending with tucked negatives.

girl doing a dragon flag on dumbbells

How to Do a Dragon Flag Summary

1. Know the different modification options (tucked, half lay, single leg etc)

2. Initate the movement through the upper body, not through the hips

3. Remember to breathe (exhale on exertion)

4. Do full reps, holds, and negatives to increase your dragon flag strength

5. Consistently train dragon flags to improvement. Stay committed for at least 6 weeks for maximum results.

6. Superset dragon flags into your training, incorporate them as a finisher or use them as a positional drill to prime your body for handstand push-ups, front levers, back levers, planches or human flags

Ready to make a commitment to calisthenics training? Try some of my free calisthenics workout routines!

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