Planes of Motion

Hey readers, and welcome to blog post number three. I have decided to dedicate this blog towards explaining the importance of multidimensional training, specifically, movement within all three planes of motion. If you’re somebody looking to improve general movement with more fluidity, stability, and strength then this post could help advance your athletic abilities. Our topic are the three planes. First we have the sagittal plane, which is linear, and involves moving forwards and backwards. Second is the frontal plane, which involves moving side to side, from the left to right. Finally there is the transverse plane, which is rotational, so think of circular motions.

We have the ability to move and train within three planes of motion. However, typically, unless otherwise asked to, we never leave the sagittal plane. We “live” here. It is our comfort zone, almost all we know. I will use an example to help you understand these planes a bit better. Imagine three winter sport athletes; a downhill skiier, a crosscountry skiier, and a half pipe snowboarder (one who does all the flips and tricks in the air). All of these athletes share the sagittal plane for general movement in their sport. Each one also uses, to a degree, the frontal plane for lateral shifting of weight. However, each athlete has to understand a specific plane better than the other for their unique sport.

A down hill skier relies on lateral movement around flags, being able to shift from side to side quickly, and with accuracy and power to get down the hill fast. Their sport requires frontal plane familiarity. A cross country skiier on the other-hand needs to focus primarily on putting one ski in front of the other and using their arms and shoulders to push and pull their way forwards. They are mostly a sagittal plane athlete, (with obvious lateral shifts with each step they push off from). Last we have the snowboarder, who needs to understand how to hit a half pipe with speed and grace, but also needs to understand how to rotate in space, while attached to a board, and land. Their time spent in the transverse plane is incomparable to the other two athletes. Notice that all the athletes use lateral motion for stability on their apparatus, but primarily they each “live” in one main plane. The downhill racer focuses primarily on frontal plane movement, the cross country skiier uses the sagittal, and the snowboarder works with the transverse.

paintWhy do we need to know about these planes? Mainly because as humans, we rely on locomotion everyday. To get to the bathroom, to walk to work, to grocery shop, anything and everything, we rely on our legs taking us there. The problem is, we live in the sagittal plane. Let me say that again, we live in the sagittal plane. We go forwards and backwards, up and down, all day long, especially when we workout. Squats, lunges, pushups and pullups, are all linear, sagittal plane motions. And unless you’re doing yoga, dance, or another type of advanced gymnastic, chances are you’re almost never hitting exercises that are specific to the frontal or transverse planes.

Incorporating frontal plane exercises and transverse plane movements has got to be part of your regimen. I don’t care if your goal is to get stronger, more fit, healthy, to rehab from an injury or prevent one from happening. Sticking to only one plane of motion is going to limit you in some major ways. First, you’ll only develop certain muscles in your body, and this will lead to the same muscles overworking, shortening, becoming irritated, and eventually pulling. While these same muscles get wider and larger, they will steal blood flow from other muscles that aren’t getting used at all. Eventually this leads to neural pathways being blocked, so getting new muscles to fire will become much harder because the nerve itself will get buried in the larger muscle that is always firing (thanks to your sagittal plane only training). The aftermath of this kind of habit is a disproportionate body, with huge range of motion limitations, which is makes you more prone to injury down the road.

Your brain works like this. It’s hard wired to do what you teach it how to do, ie; squat, pushup, deadlift. You could do these movements forever and your brain will never question itself. However, we do have the ability to learn new ways of doing new things. When we learn new movements (like a lateral lunge) our brain gets stronger because it is forced to learn how to do something totally new. As we practice the new thing, our brain develops new neurons that recognize and understand that thing. So self teaching yourself to move in new planes of motion will therefor keep your brain and body growing in ways you never knew about before.

In the weight room, especially CrossFit workouts, we live in the sagittal plane. Adding frontal plane and transverse plane exercises to your regimen is going to dramatically improve how you think, balance, and control your body in space. Rotational movements will teach you to develop stability in major joints like the knee, low back, and shoulders. Whereas lateral movements will teach you about the muscles that line the outside and inside of your body, like the adductors, glute med, and serratus muscles.

I want you all to improve athletic positions and own self-awareness by beginning to add simple movements into your warmups, cool downs, or stretching at home. In the short term you may not see “huge” gains, but long term it will improve your proprioceptive awareness of your body and make you a more well rounded athlete. Even if you’re someone training specifically for a sport, like weightlifting or distance running, you need to build your body in all dimensions. As your muscles learn how to work together in new planes of motion, this is going to help your joints avoid injury, and promote physical sustainability in your sport.

My video this week shows a simple lateral lunge, as well a lunge and twist. These are beginner movements, but remember that the simplest things can be made the hardest. Get creative or come grab me at the box to learn new ways to improve lateral or transverse movements!

 

 

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