The exercise you’re not doing to hit your core muscles and abs: dragon flags

Want a core of steel and rippling abs, give these a go (spoiler alert: they’re hard)

Man performing dragon flags on a weight bench
(Image credit: Getty Images)

These days, everyone wants a strong core and abs, but great core exercises don’t necessarily hit your abdominal muscles and ab exercises don’t always work your deep core muscles. So, what do you do? Well, you could do a mixture of the two, or you could try dragon flags.

‘What are dragon flags?’ you ask. Dragon flags are a bodyweight compound exercise popularised by Bruce Lee and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV. It’s where you lie on your back (or on a weight bench), lift your feet as high as you can over your body and then slowly lower your legs (keeping them straight) until they hover above the floor. 

“They work your deep core muscles and superficial ab muscles,” say Cody Lwin, a Certified Strength and Condition Coach and Sports Therapist at Calcot Spa’s Grain Store. “But it is a really advanced core exercise,” he warns.

He’s not wrong, the lowering portion of the exercise requires solid core strength, while lifting your legs back over your body will require you to squeeze your abs muscles like you never have before. Expect your obliques, abdominals, glutes, lower back, lats and serratus muscles to all be left on fire afterwards. 

Although it's a tough exercise to learn and build up to, the payoff is worth it. Up for the challenge? Here’s how to execute the exercise.

How to do dragon flags

A great thing about dragon flags (once you've mastered them) is that they can pretty much be done anywhere, you just need a surface to grab onto near your head. Alternatively, you can also perform them led on a weight bench and hold onto this. Here's how to do a dragon flag:

  • Lie on your back on a weight bench, pop your hands behind your head and grip the bench
  • If you aren't doing this on a bench, lie on the floor near a solid surface that you can hold onto with your hands behind your head
  • Bring your weight up towards your shoulders and drive your legs up to the ceiling, whilst keeping your shoulders in contact with the floor
  • Next, slowly lower your legs towards the floor without letting any other part of your body (minus the upper body) touch the bench/floor. Make sure you're squeezing your glutes and that your body remains in a straight line from your feet through to your shoulders
  • Once your body is hovering above the bench, lift the legs back up and repeat

This is an extremely advanced core exercise that does require a good base level of core strength, so don't worry if you don't get it first time. Leg raises lying on your back are a good exercise to build this base strength, before attempting the dragon flag. If you experience any pain throughout the movement, stop.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.