How to do the Human Flag

Hey, I’m Shawna Kaminski. I just turned 49 on April 1st and I decided that it’d be cool if I could learn how to do the human flag.  It’s a pretty impressive strength move. I was never a gymnast or anything, so I knew I had a learning curve in front of me.

You may or may not know of me. Some people call me the ‘Pull Up Queen’ since I’ve mastered the pull up. I have to say that push ups are another strength of mine too. Mostly, I like to create challenging workouts and then just try them. It’s intriguing for others, they try them, tell me about their challenge, I feel another challenge come on and so the circle goes. It’s all in the spirit of fun and as a way to motivate to push for personal bests as opposed to full on competition as far as I’m concerned. (But if you throw down a challenge, I’m sometimes too competitive for my own good and will take it up…)

Taking On the Human Flag


So I set out to learn the human flag…

What I like about the human flag is that the ‘potential’ for injury seemed minimal when I set out to learn it. Having said this, it turned out the human flag (or efforts to learn one) proved too much for my elbow, leading to tennis elbow pain. I suffered some pain I’d blame on overuse so I’ll give you some tips to avoid the same mistakes.

But first, I’ll give you some tips and exercises I used to help me learn the human flag.

First of all, I had to figure out how to do a flag. There’s some technique involved that makes it a little easier, more on that later…

Helpful Exercises for the Human Flag


Seriously, aren’t pull ups pretty much the answer to everything? 😉 Of course I’ll tell you pull ups are your ticket to a successful human flag. However, if you’re still working on getting your first pull up, you’ll unlikely be able to do the flag successfully. Work on the pull up first.

This free guide will help you with that.  Click here to get it or the image below.

When doing the human flag, your core stabilizers are the foundation and so I found hanging leg raises and oblique work to be helpful strengthening exercises. You need super strong obliques in order to brace and hold the position. Here are my favorite exercises for this:

Human Flag Exercise #1 – Hanging Leg Raise


When you do hanging leg raises, be sure to rock the hips. Bring the pelvis to the ribs and don’t just raise the knees up, which will just strengthen the hip flexors.

Human Flag Exercise #2 – Hanging Oblique Lift


Human Flag Exercise #3 – Barbell Windshield Wiper


Human Flag Exercise #4 – Hanging Windshield Wiper


The hanging windshield wiper is the motherload of core/oblique work. You’ll also feel your lats while you blast the core.

(Sorry for the bum shots!)

Of course upper body strengthening movements like rows and push ups are the core of your training for the human flag.

A strong back, biceps and triceps are necessary. The bottom arm on the flag needs to have tricep strength to hold the position, while the top arm relies on bicep strength.

To be honest, I concentrate more on compound pulling and pushing exercises to strengthen the arms as opposed to doing single joint movements. If you stick with the multi-joint movements for upper body, you’ll have more functional strength when it comes to things like the human flag. In other words, I can’t be bothered much with doing bicep curls or tricep extensions alone, that sort of thing.

These exercises helped me succeed at learning the human flag. The flag is a tough move; it’s so empowering once you start to be able to do it for even a few seconds.

Learning the proper technique is obviously helpful.

Here are a few pointers on How to do the Human Flag right:
• The right pole is hard to find. It’s tough to find one that’s just the right diameter that’s easy to grip. I’m still on the look out for one in my gym to practice on since I live in a cold climate.

• If you live in a weather friendly environment, I’ve found traffic poles (bus stops, stop signs, no parking signs) are good.

• Your grip needs to be greater than shoulder width apart. I’ve found it easiest to have the bottom elbow locked with the fingers pointing downward. The top hand also has the thumb pointing to the ground.

• While bracing the bottom arm, you need to stack shoulder over shoulder, pinch the shoulder blades together and pull away from the pole with the top arm.

• Keeping the shoulders stacked on top of each other is imperative. This puts some pressure on the bottom elbow since it pretty much takes all the weight.

• To avoid injury of the elbow: don’t practice too much at first. Give the elbow a rest, roll the elbow with a foam roller and don’t allow the elbow to hyperextend.

• Once the arms are in place, get ready to kick the legs up while bracing through the abs.

• Keep the legs tucked in at first, by keeping the lever shorter (bent legs) it will make things easier at first.

• If you’re able to hold it for any length of time, work on extending the legs.

• You’ll have a stronger, smarter side that you’ll want to favor. Don’t forget to work the weak and dumb side too.

The human flag is a worthy goal, but one that takes time, effort and patience. I’m getting so that on a good day I can hold it for 5 seconds or longer. It’s no Cirque de Soleil feat, but it’s a work in progress. A great challenge for me and anyone else that’s looking for something out of the ordinary.

If you liked this challenge, then make sure to check out my other Challenge Workouts:

Shawna Kaminski