The best way to get a balanced physique and reduce your risk for injury is to do a balanced workout – and that means training your body in all planes of motion. We live in a three-dimensional world and have the ability to move our bodies in three different planes of motion – the sagittal plane, coronal plane, and transverse plane. Most of the time you’re training in the sagittal plane, which means movement through the other two planes of motion, the sagittal and coronal is often neglected – not a good thing.
Why should you care about the other two planes? Devoting time to training in the transverse and coronal planes will give you more balanced muscle development as well as a better centered and more functional body. Plus, we live in a three-dimensional world where life happens in more than one plane. A flat world wouldn’t be much fun, would it? Let’s look at each plane and see what you can do to train in it.
To get a better idea of what the sagittal plane is, think about a sheet dividing your body into right and left halves. The best way to think about exercises that work the sagittal plane is to imagine movements you can do when you have two walls on either side of you, creating a narrow hallway. Motions you can do within those two walls without crossing over your body is working in the sagittal plane.
Sagittal plane exercises involve flexion and extension or forwards and backward movements as well as up and down movements. Examples include squats, squat thrusts, step-ups, high knees, lunges, biceps curls, triceps extensions, calf raises, walking, running, climbing stairs, vertical jumping – to name a few. If you think about it – most people spend the bulk of their workout time doing exercises in the sagittal plane, as you can see by the long lists of exercises.
The coronal plane also referred to as the frontal plane, divides your body into front and back halves. Imagine taking a flat sheet and placing it through the center of your head so your body is divided into anterior and posterior parts. Exercises that you do in the coronal plane involve abduction, movement of a limb away from the midline of your body, and adduction, movement back to the midline, as well as up and down movement.
To envision exercises that move your body through the frontal plane, think about movements you can do with a glass wall against your back and another glass wall in front of you. What exercises can you perform without breaking the glass? Examples of exercises that meet this criterion include lateral shoulder raises, jumping jacks, lateral jumps, and shuffles, leg lifts while lying on your side, side planks, and side lunges. Lateral shuffles and lateral jumps are also an effective way to work in the coronal plane and build agility at the same time.
Now, imagine a horizontal plane dividing your body into upper and lower halves. This corresponds to the transverse plane. How do you work in this plane? Choose exercises that involve rotation. Examples are chest flies, reverse flies, oblique crunches, Russian twists, floor to overhead diagonals holding a medicine ball, and wood chops. Unfortunately, most people do little training in the transverse plane, but many of the functional movements you do use this plane to some degree.
Balance Your Training by Working in All Planes of Motion
Why is it important to train in all three planes? Doing so creates greater body awareness AND will improve your balance, coordination, and agility. In terms of resistance training, working in all planes of motion helps you create more balanced muscle development. Muscle imbalances are a common cause of injuries that lead to chronic problems like back pain.
Just as importantly, training in all three planes is important for functional fitness. Think about the movements you do every day – bending, twisting, leaning over to pick things up – you’re moving in more than one plane. When you play sports, you’re also moving your body through a variety of planes – hitting a baseball, swinging a tennis racket or golf club. In fact, you’re moving through all three planes at once. Shouldn’t you be strong and coordinated in all planes of motion for optimal fitness?
Ideally, when you train a body part, you should work it with an exercise that involves each plane of motion. In many cases, a single exercise can be modified to work a different plane of motion. For example, when working lower body you can do forward lunges, lateral lunges, and alternating transverse lunges. For core work, crunches or reverse crunches to work the sagittal plane, side planks for the frontal plane, and Russian twists or oblique crunches for the transverse plane. For upper body, close-grip shoulder presses (sagittal), lateral raises (coronal), and chest flies (transverse plane).
The Bottom Line
Most people train too much in the sagittal plane while the functional movements you do every day and those involved in sports involve movements through all three planes. Most often neglected is the transverse plane. When you plan your workouts, add exercises that work your coronal plane like lateral shuffles and lateral raises as well as exercises that work your transverse plane. You’ll develop a more balanced physique, lower your risk for injury and be more functionally strong and agile. Make sure your workout is as balanced as possible, not neglecting any muscle groups or planes of motion.
American Council on Exercise. “Explaining the Planes of Motion”
Functional Resistance Training. “Planes of Motion”
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