Mind Over Matter and the Human Flag

As long as I can remember, this is one of those exercises (if you can even call it that) that has fascinated and humbled me. If you have never heard of the human flag before, it involves tremendous lat, shoulder and trunk strength to hold yourself completely sideways with arms extended from a pole, post or ladder.

2 years ago I had the idea that I wanted to be able to do this and I believed there was a thread of hope since I could hold myself for just over 1 second before my legs started their dive bomb decent.

Little progress was made until 3 months ago when I decided to attack it with 100% focus. My entire training routine was tailored around resolving strength deficits to accomplish this. I settled on a goal of holding it for 10 seconds on my 40th birthday.

Well, I am 1 month away and here is my latest progress (filmed by my daughter Addison).

It doesn’t feel like it should even be possible and to say it feels super gratifying would be a gross understatement!


When I find some more time, I will post my training and nutrition strategies for Human Flag training.

The key flag training elements are:

  • Maximize strength to body weight ratio (you can’t afford excess “non functional” weight)
  • Increase absolute strength in the shoulders, lats and “core” (I know the “c” word is way over used lately)
  • Balance your training program to keep support muscles and antagonists in good condition

The primary exercises really depend on where you are starting from. Ideally you should be able to perform several wide grip pull ups and hand stand push ups (feet against the wall). Once you can hit 8-10 reps on these exercises, you are probably ready for the TRUE human flag training to begin.

For me, these included:

  • heavy weighted wide grip pull up holds (3-6 second holds in the half way position)
  • heavy parallel grip lat pull downs (3-6 reps)
  • heavy dumbbell shoulder presses (3-6 reps)
  • overhead rack half presses (wide grip)
  • lots of hand stand push ups (feet against the wall)
  • side plank holds with feet elevated on bench (work up to 60 seconds)
  • human flag practice each weekend (trying not to go to failure, just many exposures)
  • core exercises to maintain/increase leg strength without focusing on hypertrophy