There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing Chinese planks, what will the effects be?
Chinese planks are a plank exercise variation where your shoulders and feet rest on elevated objects instead of on your forearms/hands or the floor. You can do both a regular and reverse plank this way.
This makes it so Chinese planks basically offer the same core and/or lower back strengthening of these more standard exercises, without engaging your arms and shoulders as much. For people who have wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain this can be a good alternative.
So Chinese planks are mainly good for growing and strengthening core or lower back muscles. For other fitness goals, there are many better exercise options. Even for this goal, exercises that engage these muscles in a more dynamic way through a bigger range of motion may be more effective.
For many people the main downside of Chinese planks is that they are not challenging enough to build a lot of muscle. As a strength training beginner you can build some muscle with a bodyweight Chinese plank but likely soon you will have to make it more challenging or turn to other exercises.
Whether you should add Chinese planks or alternatives to your routine ultimately depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, the equipment you have available, and training goals.
How to do a Chinese plank
For Chinese planks you will need two elevated objects at about the same height. Something simple like two chairs can work, a padded weight bench may be more comfortable. Once you have that, to do a face-down Chinese plank take the following steps:
- Put the two objects at a distance where the edges are about foot to shoulder distance away from each other.
- Place your shoulders on one object.
- Put your feet on the other object and hold your body in a straight line.
- Hold this position for an extended period of time.
Make sure you don’t raise your hips higher or lower than a straight line to avoid any back injuries. Also try to keep your neck in one line with the rest of your body.
This face down Chinese plank variation focuses more on the core muscles in front of your body like abs and obliques. If you are not yet strong enough for this, you can start with plank progressions like knee planks.
You can also do a Chinese plank with your face up. This will focus more on lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. If this is currently too hard, you can start with an exercise like glute bridges.
In both variations you can make the exercise harder by holding a weight or wearing a weighted vest close to your hips.
Chinese plank muscles worked
With any exercise you will almost always make a variety of different muscles work, especially with a compound core exercise like Chinese planks. Even so, there are a few muscles that will have to work the hardest for moving and keeping your body in position.
Face down Chinese planks will mainly work your abs, obliques, and other core muscles. Your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps to some extent.
Face up Chinese planks mainly work your erector spinae, back core, glute, and hamstring muscles.
Both Chinese plank variations are a type of isometric exercise. This means that you engage your muscles in a more static way, without moving a lot. On the other hand, you have isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way, by moving.
Isotonic exercises are generally more useful for building muscle. That means that other core exercises are likely better for building a lot of muscle. That being said, there are still ways to get more muscle gain out of a regular bodyweight Chinese plank.
The way you build muscle in places like your core is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.
If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.
By adding extra resistance to exercises like a Chinese plank you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more core muscle gain.
Depending on your personal situation, workout plan, and training goals, Chinese planks may be a good or bad addition.
Benefits of Chinese planks
Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding Chinese planks to your routine can offer you some amazing benefits. Some of the most important ones include:
- Stronger muscles: Chinese planks are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your muscles.
- Can help with losing weight: Doing Chinese planks likely requires more energy than your regular daily activities. Extra muscle mass also helps with burning more calories. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss. Keep in mind that there are better exercise choices if weight loss is your goal.
- Can improve mood: Exercise like Chinese planks promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
- May reduce or prevent back pain: Core strengthening exercises like Chinese planks can reduce or prevent back pain (1, 2). If you currently have back pain you do want to be careful and talk to an expert before implementing this exercise.
- Can improve posture: When doing Chinese planks you engage muscles that can be helpful for improving your posture.
- Improves sleep: Exercise like Chinese planks can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
- Slows down aging: Chinese planks won’t influence how many days have passed since you were born. However, exercise can slow down the progress of certain aging markers that are correlated with negative health effects.
While inevitably some workouts are better for some of these benefits than Chinese planks, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.
The main thing to keep in mind is that Chinese planks can be hard on body parts like your back and neck, even if you implement the right technique.
If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before implementing Chinese planks into your workout routine.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that Chinese planks are not (yet) for you.
Chinese plank alternatives
While Chinese planks can be a good addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training similar muscles. Some of these Chinese plank alternatives include:
- Bicycle crunches
- Leg raises on the captain’s chair
- Reverse crunches
- Bridges and hip thrusts
- Good mornings
- Back extensions
Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.
Many people will benefit from adding Chinese planks with the right technique to their routine. They can be a more wrist, elbow, and shoulder-friendly alternative to regular planks and reverse planks.
One downside is that the bodyweight version can become too easy relatively fast. At this point, you can make Chinese planks harder or turn to more dynamic and harder exercises with a bigger range of motion.
Also keep in mind is that Chinese planks can be hard on body parts like your back and neck, even if you implement the right technique.
If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before doing more Chinese planks.
Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing Chinese planks is a workout you love, great. If not other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.
If you do decide to implement more Chinese planks make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.