The human flag – How to


A bit of a different post this week. But who doesn’t want to be able to do the human flag…

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.

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.


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