Did you know that your body moves through three planes of motion? These three planes are the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. Knowing this can help you not only understand the human body better, but how to create a balanced training program that challenges your body in all dimensions.
Let’s talk a little about the different types of exercises that can be performed in each plane:
The sagittal plane divides your body into left and right halves and involves forward and backward movements.
When you think of a typical workout split, or if you are more experienced with programming, you know that the “Big Six Movement Patterns” are the Squat, Hinge, Lunge, Push, Pull and Carry. All of these movements occur within the sagittal plane, meaning you are moving in an “up and down” or “forward and backward” motion.
Walking, running, bench presses, squats, deadlifts, rows, pull-downs, etc. are all sagittal plane movements as well. We may spend most of our lives in this plane of motion, but it’s not a bad thing to program these exercises regularly. They are arguably going to grow your muscles the most! However, we can’t ignore the side to side or in twisting motions that take place in our day to day life, or any given sport.
Consider an athlete cutting to switch directions quickly on the field or court, a golfer swinging a club, or a baseball player winding up to throw a ball. These are all examples of people operating in the transverse or frontal plane, as well as the sagittal plane. The frontal plane divides your body into front and back halves and involves side to side movements.
You may not be a star athlete anymore, so think about when you are running or walking and need to avoid a big hole in the sidewalk. Or when you are loading your groceries into your car, dancing, or doing chores around the house. These activities require the body to move in different ways other than just up and down or forward and backward.
Some examples of frontal plane exercises are lateral lunges, lateral shoulder raises, suitcase carry, and lateral shuffles. In short, anything involving side-to-side movement.
The transverse plane divides the body into top and bottom halves and refers to rotational or twisting motions. Think cable wood chops, cable anti-rotation hold, curtsy lunge, and kettlebell halos, to name a few.
Adding in exercises from the transverse and frontal plane will help you to prevent injury – especially those “silly” injuries that stem from lack of balance, coordination, or rotational core strength.
Some exercises also engage more than one plane at once, which we call multiplanar exercises. A simple way to make an exercise multiplanar would be to do a single-arm or single-leg version of the exercise. When the load is only on one side, your body has to fight to stay in position and keep from rotating or bending toward the loaded side.
For example: in a single-arm shoulder press, your core muscles are working to keep your body upright, versus pushing away from the weight. This will be a sagittal and frontal planar exercise.
Training your body in all three planes of motion creates a well-rounded and balanced musculature, along with working the cross-sectional connections of your body.
Our world is three dimensional; therefore, we should allow our bodies to move in 3D!
Written By: Leslie Kutcha CPT, CSCS