What is the Dragonfly?
It’s a movement where you hold on to a firm object above your head while laying with your back on the floor and you move all the way up with your body as a whole, and move back down. Also called the candlestick.
Why is this such a good exercise?
The reason is a great exercise is because it builds an iron core and it’s very functional. Meaning: it involves a lot of muscles and actually helps you progress in other areas and exercises as well, for example: the front lever, back lever, planche or iron cross. You need that basic position to perform those exercises.
Not only that, it helps you build six pack abs. It’s the ability to move your body through space while controlling every aspect of it. The isometric, concenctric and eccentric part of the movement thats allows you to build abdominals like a gymnast.
Things that often go wrong performing the dragonfly or candlestick exercise:
Before we get into the exercise, first 2 things I often see going wrong when people perform the dragonfly:
- Hollow back. When you have a hollow back during this exercise you activate the wrong muscles and there is a lot of pressure on your spine which you should avoid. You want your big muscle group: the abdominals do a lot of the work, stabilizing you throughout the movement. You need to control the pelvic tilt for this. Check my article: back pain exercises or diamond push ups for an in depth explanation on the topic.
- Bent arms: When your arms are bent you are likely to compensate by pulling with your biceps. This is how you cheat. If you want to take maximum advantage of this exercise, you should perform it with straight arms. Straight arms also help you with the straight arm strength you need for a lot of advanced body weight exercises. You train functional, why not implement this here?
Dragon Fly Progressions
Now we know what the dragonfly is, why it’s a great exercise and what you should not do, here are the proper progressions in order to safely perform the exercise.
– You should be able to do a full hanging leg raise.
First you can start your proper form by doing leg raises on your back. Probably not how you’re used to doing them, but without a hollow back. This is the position you want to be in when you perform the dragonfly. A slight posterior tilt of the pelvic is the best position to be in when your legs lower from 90 degrees all the way to the ground. You can test this by either filming yourself or put a hand underneath: if you can put a hand underneath your back, you are doing it wrong. The hand should not be able to slide there.
The basic exercise they use in gymnastics since this movement is advocated there a lot. Put your arms up next to your ears, stretch them all the way and put your feet up a little bit. Make sure your lower back is flat on the ground and start rolling back and forth. It should go smooth, you shouldn’t hear any popping on the floor, that’s an indication your not able to hold the flat position with the ground.
Leg lift to basic dragonfly position.
Great exercise to get used to the position of the dragonfly and combine it to make it more functional. Make sure to keep the arms straight next to your ears and keep a solid posture.
Move to the upper part of the dragonfly and let yourself go as slow as you can to perform the eccentric exercise. This is one you are going to feel the next morning.. Great to let your muscles get used to the exercise. Eccentric always comes before concentric. Ideally you should be able to perform 10 reps, 7 seconds down. Great to let the muscles get used to the exercise, build the coordination and propriocepsis (knowing where your body moves in time and space).
To make the concentric part easier, you can put an elastic around your feet or legs. This will gradually build up to the dragonfly allowing you to safely progress. You can easily progress by adding less and less resistance. Once you are able to perform around 12-15 with a slight resistance, you will be able to perform the full dragonfly at least a few times.
Once you got used to the elastics, you can fully progress to the dragonfly and build up as many reps as you like. Ideally you should be able to perform 12 repetitions (about 55 seconds under tension).
You will feel really powerful if you can perform this exercise. You have established a great core, not only visual but functional. So congrats, you are one of the few! Now gain the maximum benefit by progressing easier in other exercises.