Ahead of the widely anticipated FitPro LIVE Workshop Series tour this October and November, calisthenics athlete Stephen Hughes Landers outlines a programme he has devised to help you master the classic calisthenics move, the human flag.
Progressive eight-week programme
Try the following series of exercises to develop the strength and technique for the flag. These exercises work well when incorporated into an existing training programme but can also be used in isolation for a shorter flag-focused workout. It is recommended that the session is repeated two or three times throughout the week.
Begin each session with a thorough warm-up, making sure to include the wrists and forearms. Start with some basic wrist circles. Additionally, from a kneeling position bring the hands together so that thumbs are touching. Then place the palms on the ground close to the knees. From there, gently shift weight forwards and back so that the wrists begin to flex. Change the hand position so that the fingers are folded into the palms and the hands are resting on the floor. Once again, shift weight forwards and back. The key here is to only apply a small amount of weight through the wrists.
The aim of the set is to perform the number of reps listed in the minimum amount of sets, but with proper form. If you see your client’s form deteriorating, you should end the set and allow them to rest, resuming the set when you feel they are ready. Regress the exercise if the client is unable to perform the exercise listed or when form is still poor after a rest period.
Week 1 Toe touches – 30 reps; Side plank – 120secs each side; Supported handstand – 30secs; Bent leg flag – 5 reps Week 2 Toe touches – 35 reps; Side plank – 120secs each side; Supported handstand – 30secs; Bent leg flag – 5 reps Week 3 Toe touches – 35 reps; Wipers – 20 reps; Supported handstand push-ups – 12 reps; Bent leg flag – 8 reps Week 4 Flag hold with jump – 5 reps; Supported handstand push-ups – 15 reps; Wipers – 26 reps; Bent leg flag – 10 reps Week 5 Flag hold with jump – 8 reps; Supported handstand push-ups – 15 reps; Wipers – 26 reps; Bent leg flag – 10 reps Week 6 Flag hold with jump – 8 reps; Bent leg flag – 12 reps; Supported handstand push-ups – 15 reps; Wipers – 20 reps Week 7 Flag hold with jump – 8 reps; Bent leg flag – 12 reps; Supported handstand push-ups – 15 reps; Wipers – 20 reps Week 8 Flag hold with jump – 8 reps; Bent leg flag – 12 reps; Supported handstand push-ups – 15 reps; Wipers – 20 reps
- Begin hanging from the bar with arms straight, core engaged.
- Bend your hips, bringing your toes up to the bar, keeping your legs straight.
- Reverse the movement to return to the start and repeat, trying not to let the legs swing forwards and backwards as you do so.
- Begin in a side plank position with your upper body resting on one arm. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe, with your hips and shoulders stacked directly on top of each other.
- Hold this position and then switch sides and repeat.
- Begin hanging from the bar and then come into the toe touch position – this is your starting position.
- Take your legs over to the left, holding for a count of one.
- Take your legs back to the centre and over to the right.
- Aim for a smooth, controlled movement without any swinging.
Supported handstand push-ups
- Kick up into a handstand with your feet resting against a wall for support.
- Slowly bend your arms and lower yourself straight down towards the floor.
- Straighten your arms and then repeat.
- Start with a small range of motion, building up to bringing your head down to just above the floor.
When performing the flag and the progressions that build towards the full move, the hands can be facing each other (neutral grip), facing forwards (pronated) or in a mixed grip. A neutral grip is best for those new to the exercise; however, the choice of grip is often dictated by the anchor point being used.
When learning, a vertical ladder – as seen on many functional rigs – works well, as it allows you to experiment with the width of the grip to find the position you feel strongest in. However you place your hands, the key thing is to keep the arms straight and shoulders tense.
The bent knee flag and jumping flag hold exercises both draw on two of the techniques that allow the difficulty of an exercise to be manipulated: lever length and eccentric loading. The bent knee flag involves shortening the length of the lever created by the lower body to enable the upper body and core strength to be developed before progressing to the full flag. The jumping flag hold involves briefly exposing the body to the full exercise and then requiring it to control the descent to the floor. These principles are used throughout progressive bodyweight training as a means of increasing or decreasing the demands of an exercise to suit the desired application. Incorporating these two principles by performing these two moves helps you to develop the strength and technique to progress to the full move:
- To perform the full move, establish the grip and set the hands in position, ensuring they are in a straight line and perpendicular to the ground.
- With the body in position and in a straight line, first lift the outside leg off the ground. This will help maintain your alignment and make the press into the flag a little easier to execute.
- Press with as much force as possible with the lower arm and bring the legs together, raising the body to horizontal. Hold for as long as you can maintain the position of the body in a straight line – a few seconds is a fantastic achievement.
Bent leg flag
Try to build strength for the full flag by practising the hold with bent legs. This version requires less strength from the arms to get into position and sustain the hold but it can be quite difficult to find balance. As you gain strength and are able to hold the bent leg flag for 10 seconds, progress to extending one leg and, in time, both legs for the full flag:
- Take hold of a vertical bar with hands roughly twice shoulder-width apart. The top hand should be in an overhand grip and the bottom hand in an underhand grip. Your arms should be straight and your shoulder should bear the most load while the lats of the upper arm are engaged. Try to pull with your top arm and push with the bottom arm, applying equal tension.
- Jump up, bringing your knees in towards your body. Aim to hold this position for a fraction of a second and then try to extend this duration as you progress.
Flag hold with jump
- Take hold of a vertical bar with hands roughly twice shoulder-width apart. The top hand should be in an overhand grip and the bottom hand in an underhand grip. Your arms should be straight and your shoulder should bear the most load while the lats of the upper arm are engaged.
- Jump up into the flag, aiming to hold the position with your body in a perfectly straight line for a fraction of a second. Try to pull with your top arm and push with the bottom arm, applying equal tension.
Find out more about the Introduction to Calisthenics workshop and book your space here: fitpro.com/calisthenics
Workshop dates and locations
- 15 October 2016 – London
- 16 October 2016 – Coventry
- 29 October 2016 – Edinburgh
- 30 October 2016 – Lancashire
- 5 November 2016 – Southampton
- 6 November 2016 – London
About the author
Stephen Hughes Landers is the UK’s number one calisthenics athlete and an official Barstarzz athlete. Calisthenics UK is the UK’s leading authority on all aspects of calisthenics and street workout.