Posted On August 22, 2020
The human flag is an icon in calisthenics, and is perhaps one of the few unique static holds not found in gymnastics. There have been similar variations in pole dancing, however it’s likely that calisthenics founded this isometric hold.
In calisthenics the human flag is done either on a straight pole or on a fitness ladder. The latter is significantly easier as you won’t be subjected to any rotation.
Strength required for the human flag
There is no unique training regiment for the human flag. Most calisthenics athletes have the foundational strength to achieve it through basic bodyweight exercises such as dips and pull ups. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of strength needed to achieve the human flag is straight arm strength.
This is important because the bottom arm must be fixed in place and locked – otherwise it becomes significantly harder to support the shape. Just like with walking, our knees are generally close to locked out. If you try to walk with bent knees your leg muscles need to work much harder!
The human flag is not a particularly difficult move as pertains to strength, however it is surprisingly technical. And technique is where most calisthenics practitioners struggle.
Training Human Flag technique
There are several aspects that need to be considered before hitting a human flag.
1. Hand placement
Both hands need to have thumbs facing down.
2. Hand positioning
Hands should be placed relatively wide. Width should be approximately 2 shoulder widths. Do not go too wide however or you will reduce your leverage.
3. The kick
The kick for the human flag must be circular. This is to create torque that will drive you perpendicular to the pole. To create a circular kick you should start by facing the pole with your leg across your body.
When you are prepared to kick, uncoil yourself and drive your whole body out and up. By starting in a coiled position you allow a greater distance to generate momentum from your kick, resulting in more power.
4. Arching the back
The human flag is one of the few calisthenics moves where you will need to arch your back on purpose. This will allow you to lock your bottom arm and use your back muscles more effectively to control the skill. The momentum generated from the kick should be followed through and used to hit the arch.
5. Lowering down
Whenever you go for the human flag you should aim to kick well above horizontal. This is because the flag is much easier to hold at an angle to horizontal due to the shortened lever length in relation to gravity (gravity is strongest when working perpendicular – basic physics).
The idea then is to lower down into the correct horizontal shape. This allows you time to adjust the human flag more readily before committing 100%. This makes attempts more consistent but can also prevent injury due to the insane muscle tension that is required for a perfect human flag.
Human Flag tips for beginners
Beginners sometimes struggle with the human flag due to a lack of strength. The technique needs to be drilled – and there is no way around this, however the skill can be made biomechanically easier. This can be done in 3 ways.
1. Bend your knees
Bent knees decrease lever length and hence the force of gravity pulling you down.
2. Hold the human flag at an angle to horizontal
The greater the angle, the shorter the lever length perpendicular to gravity and the easier the human flag.
3. Use a partner or resistance band to support you.
This can be done at the feet or the hips. Ideally the force pulling you should be angled straight up. A partner can easily adjust, but a resistance band needs to be strategically placed.
Muscles worked in the Human Flag
The primary muscles involved in the human flag are as follow:
Lats + Biceps – the top hand requires a vertical pull motion
Deltoid + Triceps – the bottom hand requires a vertical push motion
Abs + Obliques + Lower back – Stabilisation through the torso
Human Flag variations
The human flag has 2 main cousin skills. They are the dragon flag and the X grip flag. These are related skills that have a similar focus on core strength. Both are considered easier than the human flag.
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