Our bodies have the ability to move 3 dimensionally, but so often we move, stretch and rest, in a very 2 dimensional way. By incorporating all three planes of movement into your routine, you will increase your range of motion, prevent injuries, and provide greater stability for your body.
The easiest way to understand the planes of motion is to imagine sheets of glass bisecting your body in 3 different places that your body can pass/move through.
The Sagittal Plane of motion runs from side to side and you pass through it when moving forwards or backwards. Imagine the sheet of glass running right down the centerline of your body dividing your left and right sides evenly. Some movements in this plane include: running, walking, using elliptical, bicep curl, situps, deadlifts, reverse lunge, etc.
Extension and flexion happen in this plane. We spend a lot of time in this plane as we sit with the hips and knees in flexion. And then if we have poor posture and round our shoulders and spine forward, now the spine spends a lot of time in flexion too! That’s why I try to incorporate some type of back extension, like supermans or I-s and Y-s into my workouts.
Frontal Plane ...
The frontal, or coronal, plane of motion runs down the center of your body and you pass through it when moving from side to side. Imagine the sheet of glass bisecting your body down the center and dividing your body from front to back. Movements in this plane include ADDuction (moving arms and limbs toward the center of the body) and ABduction (moving arms or legs AWAY from the centerline of the body). Some examples of frontal plane movements are: jumping jacks, speed skating, side lunges, lateral arm raises, lateral stepping movements, and side bends.
Many of our daily movements include very little abduction. In our modern life we tend to stay hugged toward the midline of the body.
The transverse plane of motion sits through the center of the body and you pass through it when rotating. Imagine the sheet of glass bisecting your body horizontally dividing you from top to bottom. However it is a little less straightforward than you might think. Any time we rotate a joint we are moving along the transverse plane. In daily life, this is the action we typically do least frequently, particularly with the large joints in the hips, shoulders, and spine.
Examples of transverse plane movements include torso twist with medicine ball or band, wood chops, T-pushups, or windshield wipers, throwing a baseball, golfing and swinging a bat.
We can use the 3 planes of motion even when we’re NOT moving.
Standing on one leg while holding a sandbag overhead is a good example of the ability to withstand stress in the frontal plane. While you are fighting to maintain the position of the sandbag you are also stabilizing through multiple planes of motion. Building this Multi-Planar stability is helpful in injury prevention as the ability to resist external stressors can improve joint health and function.
We can also work on our ability to stop ourselves from moving through a particular plane of motion.
A standing wood chop exercise where you engage your core to stop the cross motion of the sandbag toward your hip.
Most of our major muscles groups exist in more than one plane. The glutes, for example, aid in extending the spine, abduct the hips, and externally rotate the hips. This huge muscle group has the ability to take part in all the planes of movement, if you allow it.
A movement in which your body passes through two planes is called multi-planar, and a movement where your body passes through all three is called tri-planar. Many functional movements are multi or tri planar. A well performed SQUAT for example is technically tri planar (Squatting with your knees turned out also creates some lateral movement of your thighs (frontal). The hip joint also externally rotates as you squat (a transverse movement) Just one of the many reasons why I love squats!
Holding a squat stretch while pushing your elbows into your knees for a few minutes a day.
Putting it all Together
While this article might have gotten a little more technical than you prefer, I hope this helps you to think about the types of movements you are incorporating in your workouts.
If for example you typically use the Elliptical for a half hour every day, and you are having pain in the front of your hip or knee. This movement, like most of our daily movements is in the Sagittal Plane. By incorporating more Frontal Plane and Transverse movements and stretches would help to provide more balance in the way your joints are moving, thus helping to reduce pain.
Try these Multi-Planar Workouts:
20 Min. AMRAP
(As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes)
10 Squat and Press
(Sagittal and frontal)
10 Lunge and twist
(Sagittal and transverse)
10 Plank Knee to Elbows
(Sagittal and Frontal)
25 Jumping Jacks
60 sec. Plank Pull Through & Row
(Sagittal and transverse)
60 sec. Sandbag Slam
(Sagittal & frontal)
60 sec. Side plank leg lift
60 sec. Speedskaters
(frontal & transverse)
1 Dumbell or MB
*3 rounds (20-16-10 reps)
(if exercise is bilateral do indicated # for each side)
Mountain Climbers with knees to opp. Elbows
Click HERE to see a video of exercises for each workout.