How to Do Abdominal Dragon Flags


Bruce Lee's abdominal dragon flag looks for all the world like a straight-legged crunch done backwards -- that is, instead of crunching your head and shoulders toward the rest of your body, you crunch your straight lower body toward your head and shoulders. This ferociously difficult exercise works every muscle in your core, and should only be attempted by very fit individuals who have no back problems or contraindications to lifting heavy weights. You should already be thoroughly warmed up -- think at the point of sweating -- and have mastered the easier exercises that lead up to it.

Things You'll Need

  • Flat or decline weight bench

Full Dragon Flags

  • Lie on a flag or decline exercise bench -- whichever is most comfortable for you -- and hold onto the bench behind your head. Your arms and shoulders have only one function throughout this exercise: keeping your upper body motionless on the bench. Your shoulder blades should stay in contact with the bench throughout the entire movement, and there should never be any pressure on your neck.

  • Bend your knees and push off from the bench with your heels, lifting your hips into what would usually be called a glute bridge, where your abdomen and hips rise diagonally from your shoulders to knees. Establish muscular tension throughout your entire body, from your lats through your abdominals and all the way to your feet. Think of keeping your entire body flat and stiff as a board as you lift your feet off the bench and straighten your legs.

  • Exhale and keep your shoulder blades firmly on the bench as you flex your abdominals, curling your straight lower body until it points as close to vertical as is comfortable. Remember, your shoulder blades must stay in contact with the bench and there should be no pressure on your neck. If you cannot do motion this safely and completely under control, work up through easier versions of this exercise to build strength.

  • Inhale slowly as you slowly lower your body, still straight like a board, until your hips nearly touch the bench again. That completes one repetition. Never work this exercise to failure -- if at any point your form or control start to waver, downshift to an easier version of the exercise.

Working up to Dragon Flags

  • Build the strength you need for doing full abdominal dragon flags by doing lying leg raises and hanging knee raises or hanging curl-ups. Once you can do a full set of about 15 with proper form, move down this list of progressively more difficult versions of the dragon flag.

  • Lie back on a bench, grab the bench behind your head to stabilize your body, and "cheat" yourself into the upper position by rolling into an exaggerated reverse crunch, lifting your knees toward your chest, then straightening them up at an angle. Keep your shoulder blades on the bench. There should never be any pressure on your neck during these exercises.

  • Practice negatives -- that is, slowly lowering your body until your hips are only just off the bench -- from this position. Do the negatives first with your hips and knees bent, then with only your knees bent. Once you can do five to eight of the bent-knee negatives with perfect form, move on to the next progression.

  • Try doing both the upward-moving and downward-moving portions of the exercise with your knees bent. Once you can do five to eight of these with perfect form, move on to keeping your knees bent on the upward movement, then straightening them on the downward movement.

  • Start doing full dragon flags once you can do five to eight repetitions of the last progression with proper form. Do not work to failure -- if at any point you feel your form or control faltering, downgrade to an easier progression or stop entirely.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can also ask a friend to spot you through the exercise, helping you get into the proper "up" position so you can do negatives. Do not, however, count on your friend to control the negative or downward movement for you. If you can't control the downward movement, go back to an easier version of the exercise.

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  • Photo Credit Vivien Killilea/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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