The Chinese plank is a bodyweight exercise that targets the lower back, core and posterior chain.
Like the conventional plank, this exercise is isometric and involves holding the position for as long as you can (or for a specific duration).
It’s a really underused exercise and especially if you’re working out at home and don’t have access to lots of equipment, learning how to strengthen your posterior chain and lower back using this elevated supine position could transform your strength training routine.
You can also adapt the exercise to better suit your current fitness level by changing the distance between the two elevated surfaces (as we’ll explain within this exercise guide).
But, to gain the benefits from this exercise, you need to be doing it properly and ensuring you are using good technique to fully engage the appropriate muscle groups. Below, we discuss everything you need to know about Chinese planks, including how to do them properly, muscles worked and benefits.
What is a Chinese Plank?
A Chinese plank involves resting your shoulders and ankles on elevated surfaces, and subsequently driving your hips up so your body is in a straight line.
To hold this position, you’ll need to keep your glutes, hamstrings, core and lower back activated throughout.
It is a “supine” exercise which means you are facing upwards (as opposed to “prone” position which means facing down, like a conventional plank).
The closer the two elevated surfaces are, the easier the plank is to hold, so you can start with a smaller gap and work to increase this distance as you get more confident.
How to Perform a Chinese Plank
To do a Chinese plank:
- Find two elevated surfaces such as a weight bench or plyo box.
- Rest your shoulders and upper back on one surface and your feet on the other.
- Drive your hips up by squeezing your glutes so your body is in a straight line.
- Hold this position for as long as required.
- Lower your hips down and relax.
- Repeat for sets or rounds as required.
Coach’s Tip – To get into position, think of it almost like a hip thrust. Engage your glutes and hamstrings to really drive your hips up and keep them activated to maintain this position.
The Chinese plank primarily works the muscles of the lower back and posterior chain, including:
- Erector Spinae
You can also adapt the movement by resting your elbows on two separate surfaces, so your head is unsupported, to target your traps and rhomboids too.
A simple way to increase difficulty and progress the exercise is to rest your elbows on two separate surfaces, so your head is unsupported. This makes the movement more challenging because you need to drive through your elbows to maintain stability too.
This engages the traps and rhomboids more compared to the regular Chinese plank, as well as your lats and arms.
Another way to add progression is to add additional weight to the exercise. Loading bumper plates on your stomach/quads will mean your muscles have to work harder to maintain the parallel positioning.
You’ll need a workout buddy to help load the weight safely though.
Only add weight if you can still maintain a straight body (i.e., your hips don’t start to dip).
If you lift one leg up, it will allow you to train each side separately. This will increase the difficulty by quite some margin, as it will require more strength but also more overall stability too.
In similar vein, you can also do alternating marches, similar to psoas marches, to further increase the difficulty, when you lift each leg.
You can also perform a Chinese Plank face down. We find this feels more awkward to get into the position, and your face is going to be pressed against whatever you’re using as an elevated surface (e.g. a weight bench or plyo box)… so this probably isn’t going to be very comfortable.
However, you may find you prefer the face down variation so give it a try and see how you get on.
Chinese Plank Benefits
Chinese planks are very effective at engaging and strengthening the muscles of the posterior chain, especially for anyone that doesn’t have access to free weights or gym machines.
If your workouts currently don’t include many exercises that target the glutes, hamstrings, lower back and core, then this is a great place to start.
Chinese plank variations, such as doing it by resting your elbows on two separate surfaces, will also fire up the whole back and shoulders too, which again, helps anyone who doesn’t have any equipment ensure they are working these muscle groups effectively.
Chinese planks are also commonly prescribed in physical therapy and rehabilitation programs, due to their effectiveness at strengthening muscles groups without putting the knees or back under additional load.
This makes them a great way to build up strength after an injury too.
Bodyweight exercises like hip thrusts and glute bridges work similar muscles to the Chinese plank.
With an exercise like glute bridges, you can also include isometric holds, so it feels even more similar to a Chinese plank.
You may find these variations are better for beginners, as well as for those who are struggling to find two elevated surfaces to use.
Although Chinese planks look relatively simple, they’re a tough exercise and require strength and stability to maintain proper technique.
You can use them as a standalone exercise or include them in supersets with other posterior chain exercises.
Ensure you are really driving your hips up and keep your glutes and hamstrings activated throughout.
To begin with, start with a few short sets and slowly increase the duration as you feel more comfortable. Similarly, as you feel more comfortable with the exercise, you could increase the distance between the two elevated surfaces to increase the difficulty.
Featured image and video credit – Haley Gierszal