How to train your core like you’re about to go into the ring with Ivan Drago
Sylvester Stallone has been a role model for generations of men. He taught men how to box, how to fire a bow and most importantly, how to train abs. For me, the scene I still dream about to this day comes from that film where Sly single-handedly ended the Cold War, avenged his best friend's death, and got a sick pump in the Russian countryside...Rocky IV.
The first time I can recall seeing Rocky IV was a dark and cold winter night a few days after the first time my dad let me and my brother stay up late and watch HBO fight night with him and my grandfather.
Something happened in the fight that spurred one of the elders to say something about Rocky defeating communism once and for all. At that moment, it was brought to my dad's attention that my brother and I had no idea who Rocky was, let alone what soviet-style communism was. He planted the seed of patriotism in my soul that day…
Actually, watching Rocky IV a few nights later, I started to develop my idea of what it means to be a man and a patriot… you need to fight communism and have abs (pretty simple). Everything you need to know is in the epic seven-minute-long training sequence allow me to sum it up for you in a few bullet points:
- Hero trains in a barn using everyday stuff to train for the fight of his life.
- Villain trains in a lab with cutting edge technology and daily steroidal cocktails.
- Hero runs through snow in boots with a beard… the working-class hero.
- Villain runs on an indoor track in a spandex suit while pervy scientists take notes.
- Hero chops wood, saws wood, carries wood, does pull-ups over burning wood.
- Villain gets strapped into every type of metallic fitness machine you can think of.
- Hero chops down a tree that is clearly much bigger than him.
- Villain KOs sparring opponents that are clearly much smaller than him.
- Hero climbs a mountain and hops up-and-down in some victory type dance.
- Villain sprints on a steep incline treadmill and hangs his head in "defeat" when finally finished... foreshadowing?
The one clip from that montage that has been seared into my brain ever since my first viewing. Rocky does an ab exercise known as the Dragon Flag. The only thing Drago seared into my brain was his spandex suit crotch bulge (that's a whole other article though...).
The dragon flag is the ultimate ab exercise. Let's get into the specifics of the dragon flag next: what it does, how to do it, and how to train with it so that you're ready when your country calls on you to end the current Cold War.
What it does
This is a great opportunity to discuss contraction types. There are three types that you should be concerned with: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. In a nutshell:
- Concentric contractions shorten the muscle.
- Isometric contractions don't change the length of the muscle.
- Eccentric contractions allow the muscle to lengthen while contracting.
The majority of your directed ab work probably includes concentric work. Think crunches, leg lifts, and sit-ups. You know, like the old, outdated ab strength PT tests... The muscles of the core do have the responsibility to flex the spine occasionally, but the majority of their job is actually to prevent the spine from moving...that's isometric and eccentric work.
You need to be doing lots of exercises that teach your core muscles to resist movement. Things like plank, hollow body hold, Paloff presses, squatting, and deadlifting work this aspect, just like the new PT tests that are currently being implemented.
The Dragon flag is an eccentric and isometric exercise for those of you with some serious core control already. As you hold your legs extended straight out, like a long lever, and hold that position, you're working isometrically. Then as you slowly and in a controlled fashion let your body lower to the ground you're working eccentrically.
How to do it:
The dragon flag requires a strong anchor of support to be able to do it correctly. In the movie, Rocky uses a solid piece of wood to hold on to just behind his head. You need the same or a bar that is firmly fastened to the ground. Don't try to do this on a crappy free bench at the gym; you'll very quickly crack the flimsy particle board that it's made out of.
Check out the Fitness FAQs video above for the exact details on how to train this exercise.
Be smart about how often you train this exercise. If you already have weak abs and are spending a lot of time in lower back extension, you are only going to make your pain worse. ONLY TRAIN GOOD REPS. You're wasting your time if you don't fully commit to this exercise.