As you may already know from my previous posts on training for the human flag, performing this feat of strength requires your full concentration. It also requires just about every muscle in your body! Let’s break it down piece by piece.
The Bottom Arm
The bottom arm is the foundation of the human flag. The job of your bottom arm is to support most of your body weight. To do this, you’re going to have to press into the pole as hard as possible. Try to fully extend your elbow and keep it locked out. It is essential to have a solid grip down low in order to execute the move properly.
As I mentioned in part one of my human flag series, parallel bars are great for performing the flag because you can get a firm grip with a lot of leverage. However, it is important to note that the thickness of the bar can make a great difference in the difficulty of performing a flag. A thicker bar is much harder to grip, which can make executing a human flag even more of a challenge.
A thick bar can pose problems when attempting the flag on a vertical pole as well. When using a vertical bar, I’ve found that the best way to hold onto a thicker pole (one that you can’t really get your hand around), is to employ an open grip with your wrist bent back and your index finger pointing down. Think about spiderman when he puts his hand out to shoot his webs. This hand position allows you to press your palm into the bar and spread your fingers out. A full underhand grip with the hand completely turned over (thumb down, pinky on top) works well for some people on the bottom as well. Having your thumbs pointed down is generally a good thing for leverage regardless of which hand we’re dealing with–this is why the underhand grip is favorable for the bottom hand but not for the top. (Check out Danny’s full underhand grip with his bottom hand in the photo from part two of this series.)
The Top Arm
Most people who can do the human flag are better with their dominant arm on top. This is counter-intuitive, since the bottom arm does more of the work, but it is the case for most people. The top hand has a lot to do with controlling the movement; if the bottom arm is the anchor, think of the top arm as the steering wheel.
Gripping with the palm of your top hand facing down is the way to get the best leverage. (Having the palm of your top hand facing away from your body during the flag is generally more challenging than this position.) I’ve also done the flag with my palm facing towards my body. Even harder still is having your top hand in an underhand grip. This is not a technique I’ve seen done often.
When going for a flag, you want your top arm to be stiff, but don’t think about pulling with that arm. If you pull, your elbow will wind up bending, which makes for a sloppy looking flag. Just squeeze the bar tightly while trying to isometrically contract your whole arm. The bottom arm winds up doing most of the work.
Core Strength is key to being able to hold a flag for any length of time. Your abdominals, lower back and obliques (especially on the side that’s on top) play a big role in holding the position. Exercises like planks, side planks and one arm/one leg variations on planks can help you build that core strength. Try to work up to doing planks and side planks for several minutes at a time to help build up strength for the flag.
Your legs don’t play a huge role in performing the human flag, but you still ought to be mindful of them. Think about contracting your whole body when performing a human flag, including your glutes and your quads. A stiff body stays in the air better than a limp one.
When going for a human flag between parallel bars, make sure that your hands are stacked directly on top of one another. Having your hands staggered makes it much harder to maintain control.
Make sure to read the final installment of my Human Flag series!