Don’t let the apparent difficulty of this move discourage you. It’s like learning to paint; before you can create intricate portraits that would rival Van Gogh’s most celebrated works, you first got to learn to draw a line, a shape… As your skills improve, you begin to understand how to use shading, how to make a piece more vivid or poetic.
Strength comes from practice. And in this area, nothing beats the basics. Put your pride aside and start at the very beginning; that’s how you’ll ensure you become a master. If your foundations are strong, nothing can go wrong!
Progression I: the Plank
The very first progression we’ll address in this part is the world-renowned plank. Like I said, don’t let your ego stand in the way. Don’t assume it’s too easy or you’re too good for it. Test yourself and only pass to the next move when you’ve demonstrated you can actually do the required time!
By the way, this goes for every progression : don’t change exercises UNTIL you’ve proven your worth by realizing the number or reps announced, OK?
You’ll notice, for the first few exercises, that the reps or time are pretty high, which would seem to go against everything I’ve been saying so far about keeping our sets short and intense… but those introductory exercises are not meant to build the size of our abs and make them more powerful. Not yet. They’re part of the preparation process that will get them abs in a decent enough condition to attack the “real” work.
Take the plank, for example, you’ll only be authorized to graduate to the next progression when you’ll have managed to hold the position for 60 seconds. The move is easy enough… but 60 seconds is no joke!
To realize a plank:
- Get in a push-up position with your elbows locked and your back straight;
- Maintain the position.
If you can’t do the full minute yet, note down how long you
lasted for each one of your 3 sets and try to increase the time at your next training session. Keep building until you eventually reach the target.
Progression II: the Elbow Plank
Just like the regular plank, this makes one great isometric exercise that will test the strength of your core.
Same deal: body straight in a line, but you’ll be resting on your forearms instead of your hands. By shortening the “lever”, you’ll be bringing your body closer to the ground and changing the angle, making the exercise tougher to hold.
Progression III: the Inverted Plank
This is our last isometric hold before we start actually working the flag move with dynamic exercises.
In a few words, you’ll be adopting a similar body position as you’ll be having when you’ll be doing the Dragon Flag, that is with your back to the floor in a straight line and every muscle of your body contracted.
- Lying on your back, with your arms extended behind you;
- Lift your head and your feet off the ground (don’t overextend your neck or you might get hurt);
- Contract your abdominals and the muscles of your legs to ensure your body is now one big solid piece with a slight curve;
- Hold it for 60 seconds.
When you look at it, this move might not seem that different from a regular plank. After all, you’re just keeping the same kind of position but the other way, right?
However, by inverting the move and having gravity pull down on your arms and legs, you’ll notice you’ll have a much harder time maintaining this posture.
Progression IV: the Hand Walk
OK, you’re still with me? Good! By now, your midsection should have improved noticeably. When you’ll attempt the next progressions, you shouldn’t feel any more cramps or pain from your abdominals overstretching a tad too much.
You’ve laid down the groundwork… Which means we can now finally get serious!
The exercise we’ll be tackling here follows the same basic type of movement you’d be performing with an ab-wheel. You can use such a device if you already got one at home or you can refer to this no-equipment-needed variation:
- Get in a plank position, with your knees touching the ground instead of your feet;
- The goal will be to bring your head to the floor like you would if you were doing a push-up but with your arms straight;
- You will thus walk your hands forward, one after the other, until you’re fully extended;
- Once you touch the ground with your forehead, come back to your starting position.
Progression V: the Knee Drop
Find a post or some sturdy item that’s anchored in the ground for this exercise and all the others remaining in this section. Because we’re finally going to work the actual flag move!
For this first variation, we will be working the eccentric portion of the Dragon Flag with the knees bent. By getting our feet closer to our core, we’ll make this move much easier.
Lying down on a mat or a towel (to protect the back of your neck), with your head close to the post, almost touching it:
- Grab the post with both hands and lift your body in a candlestick, feet pointing towards the ceiling;
- Bend the knees and start lowering your legs slowly, fighting against gravity to slow down their fall;
- Once your feet touch the ground, go back up in a candlestick;
- Rinse and repeat.
This will get you used to the mechanics of the movement. At first, when you’ve performed the descent, don’t try to go back up keeping the dragon position locked; it will take much more strength to realize the concentric portion as simply putting the brakes on the fall.
Do keep the back straight during the eccentric part, though. Keep it in line with your thighs.
Every 10 rep of your 3 sets should last about 10 seconds, and the move should be smooth and steady. This will require quite a lot of control on your part.
Progression VI: the Straddle Drop
The movement here will be basically identical, except that you will now be extending your legs out in a straddle position instead of keeping your knees bent.
Even more so than in the previous progression, pay attention to your back the entire time. Keep it in line with your legs.
Progression VII: the Leg Drop
The last eccentric progression for the Dragon Flag will have you adopt the final position with your legs straight and closed, feet touching each other.
By bringing your legs from a straddle to a linear position, you will further accentuate the stretch and tension on your lower abdominals.
Same number of sets and repetitions required.
Progression VIII: the Half Dragon
Once you’ve mastered the down portion of the movement, it’ll be time to add the concentric part. What comes down must eventually go up, right?
However, jumping right into the full Dragon Flag wouldn’t be advised as there’s still a world between the Leg Drop and this last progression. Fighting against gravity to slow down the fall of your body is much easier than fighting to have it all lift up and get to the vertical.
That’s why, to begin with, you’ll go for an easier variation. You’ll only be doing the upper, easier half of the movement.
- Lying on the ground, holding to a post, get in a candlestick;
- With your legs straight and in line with your back, lower your legs slowly until you’ve reached an angle of about 45°;
- Pause for a second and return to your starting position.
Final Progression: the Dragon Flag
This is it, the Dragon Flag! If you’ve been thorough thus far and really kept with the previous progressions until you could master them, this final variation should be but a formality.
This time, you’ll be going through the entire range of motion, from vertical to the horizontal, and back up.
Put the Rocky theme in the background as you perform your repetitions and give your abs a workout that will make them blow up like muffins in the oven.
If you want to keep challenging them after you’ve taken control of this move, you can continue to make it harder by increasing the range of motion. By using an incline bench that allows you to go deeper than the horizontal, for example, you’ll keep pushing their limits further and further.
You could also choose to work towards the front lever that will have you hang from a bar with your body completely parallel to the floor… but that’s an entire different story.