The original Zhan Zhuang were health methods used by Daoists for ages. In recent centuries, martial artists who had already had 'static standing' methods combined these with the Internal Mechanics of Zhan Zhuang to create a superior exercise. The original goal of Zhan Zhuang in martial arts has always been to develop a martially-capable body structure, yet nowadays most practitioners have again returned to a health-preservation orientation in their training, and few teach Zhan Zhuang as a martial method.
The most common Zhan Zhuan method is known as Hun Yuan ('Round Smoothness') or Chen Bao ('Tree Hugging' stance). This posture is entirely Daoist in its origins, has many variations, and is the main training posture in all branches of Yi Quan. This art adopted this posture from Xing Yi Quan when it was created by Wang Xiangzhai over the course of the early 20th century, and made it its staple practice. This posture also became common practice in Chen Taiji Quan beginning in the 1980s. In Xing Yi Quan, the most fundamental posture is known as Sān Tǐ Shì (三體勢 / 三体势).
Those unfamiliar with Zhan Zhuang can experience severe muscle fatigue and subsequent trembling at first. Later, once sufficient stamina and strength have been developed, the practitioner can use zhan zhuang to work on developing the sensation of opposing forces, as well as one's central equilibrium and sensitivity to specific areas of tension in the body.
Zhan Zhuang has a strong connection with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some schools use the practice as a way of removing blockages in Chi flow. This blockage removal occurs because Zhan Zhuang, when correctly practiced, has a normalizing effect on the body. Any habitual tension or tissue shortening (or lengthening) is normalized by the practice and the body regains its natural ability to function optimally. It is thought that a normalized body will be less prone to muscular skeletal medical conditions, and it is also believed that zhan zhuang, when practiced for developing relaxed postures, will lead to a beneficial calming effect. The Dan Tian is also involved in the practice of Zhan Zhuang.
The amount of time spent practicing Zhan Zhuang varies between styles and schools. One may spend anywhere from 2 minutes to 2 hours standing in one posture.
Many styles, especially the internal styles, combine post standing with Chikung training and other coordinated body methods to develop whole body coordination for martial purposes. The martial practice is thought to strengthen the body's Central Nervous System and develop the coordination required for effective martial performance. In Yi Quan, a clear distinction is made between 'health postures' and 'martially oriented postures'. In Bagua Zhang's circle walking practice, the upper body is held as a Zhan Zhuang posture, while the lower body is more dynamic.