Can't do pull ups? Try this home back exercise instead to build definition and a strong back

Forget pull ups and get down on the floor: this home back exercise will build definition but it won't be easy

Can't do pull ups?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best back exercises, such as pull-ups, are tough movements that take quite a long to master. If you can't be bothered to learn how to do pull-ups, here is a home workout instead that will work most of your back muscles and improve definition without access to the best pull up bar. Be warned: it won't be too easy, but at least you won't be hanging from a bar.

The Chinese back plank – as the name suggests – is a plank variation and therefore strengthens the core muscles but due to the unique position, it also works your upper back and especially the back of the shoulders. Chinese back planks are one of the best core exercises for sure.

Better still, you won't require the best home gym equipment either to do Chinese back planks: all you need is three elevated points, not too far from the ground, arranged in a T-shape. Make sure you warm your back up before you start exercising, maybe by doing with some seated rows or bent over rows using the best resistance bands.

Also, if you want to keep track of your workouts, we recommend using the best heart rate monitors as even the best running watches tend to struggle with tracking heart rate during full-body HIIT workouts.

How to do Chinese back planks

IMPORTANT: this is not a beginner move and requires some base strength to perform correctly, just like pull-ups. Be careful and if you happen to have a weaker core, you might want to start off by doing easier core exercises first and gradually introduce this plank variation into your core workout routine.

As you can clearly see from the video above, you will need to flex all your back, core and leg muscles to hold the Chinese back plank position, even just for a short period of time. To be on the safe side, try practising Chinese back planks on a slightly elevated surface as opposed to going all out and climbing on top of the best multi gym.

To perform a Chinese back plank, lay down in between the three elevated surface points you previously arranged in a T-shape. This could be anything, as long as they are strong enough to support your weight. In the video, not surprisingly, they use a Mirafit Heavy Duty Weight Bench (or something very similar) which is on top of our best weight bench guide.

Place your heels on top of the object at the bottom of the T and the elbows on the other two points, then squeeze your muscles and lift your hips off the ground. Much like during standard planks, the aim is to hold your body as straight as possible, looking up and trying to keep the spine in a neutral position. Hold this pose as long as you can but ideally for at least 30 seconds, then lower your hips back to the ground.

Chinese back plank alternatives

The Chinese back plank is already a plank alternative but nevertheless, you can find exercises that activate muscle groups similar to the ones Chinese back planks work. Here are some of them.

Pull up

You will need a pull-up bar or a multi-gym/power cage to perform pull-ups and admittedly, they are not easy to do either but we would like to recommend pull-ups still as they are one of the best bodyweight back exercises you can do at home. Pull-ups work your biceps, pecs, upper back and core, not to mention this exercise also strengthen your grip too.

Inverted row

The inverted row really works the biceps, your upper back and shoulders too. Inverted rows are more popular for home gyms as they can be performed holding onto anything that can support your weight, like a sturdy table. Please make sure the chosen furniture is capable of supporting you before you start exercising. For added peace of mind, use the best suspension trainers, such as the TRX Home 2 set, for this type of exercise.

Seated rows

You will most likely perform seated rows using a cable machine in the gym but you can also do them at home with some thick resistance bands hooked around your feet while sitting on the floor, legs extended. Seated rows work the back of the shoulder and the upper back as well as your biceps. You should definitely add this exercise to your best push-pull-legs exercise routine.

T3's how-to exercise guides

Matt Kollat
Section Editor | Active

Matt Kollat is a journalist and content creator who works for and its magazine counterpart as an Active Editor. His areas of expertise include wearables, drones, fitness equipment, nutrition and outdoor gear. He joined T3 in 2019. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and more. Matt also collaborated with other content creators (e.g. Garage Gym Reviews) and judged many awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance's ESSNawards. When he isn't working out, running or cycling, you'll find him roaming the countryside and trying out new podcasting and content creation equipment.