The Importance of Multi-Planar Movement
Written by Dave Thomas
The following are key elements of effective program design, and certainly form the basis for our training at Performance360.
While most of these are self-explanatory (with the exception of varied chain which we will address later), the idea of multi-planar movements is one we feel particularly important to discuss.
The human body and its movement exist in a three dimensional plane, divided into the following segments.
- Forward and Back (Sagittal)
- Left and Right (Frontal)
- Top and Bottom (Transverse)
Just knowing this, would you say that it makes sense to ignore any particular dimensions of the body? No, right?
Think about these planes of movement as analogous to walking your dog. You take your dog for a walk everyday, right? It’s the foundation of how you keep him or her healthy on a daily basis. This is the sagittal plane. However, you also likely take your dog to the park, play fetch and allow him or her to behave like, well, a dog, right? These are the frontal and transverse planes and humans are no different.
We need our own version of a metaphorical dog park.
Training all three planes of movement is essential in order to achieve the highest level of performance and durability as a human. Preventing stagnation of movement pattern is a very important part of preventing movement syndromes and disruptions in our movement health, so today we’re going to quickly, and by no means completely, break down all three planes of movement, tell you what they work and help shed some light on ways you can incorporate them.
The sagittal plane is the most common movement plane and divides the body front and back. This is forward, back, up and down movement where joint action includes flexion and extension (among other things). The overwhelming majority of the movements performed in the gym are sagittal plane including squat, hinge, push, pull, carry and run.
This is where we develop most of our primary movers like the quadriceps, hamstrings and lats, and where are all power and Oly lifts reside.
The sagittal plane is highly productive one for strength and fitness, as going up and down, forward and backwards is a very natural human path. The problem arises when we never break from this plane and our movement patterns become stuck in this singular way of operating. Developing good sagittal strength is limited if you cannot perform a bodyweight side lunge, or if you cannot move through lateral movement without falling over yourself.
This was never an issue when we were kids. We played outside, we played team sports, we moved, jumped and ran around in all three movement planes like our body intended. Somewhere along the way, we lose this as adults and we trade the playground for the classroom, then the classroom for the desk. From this point on, our robotic ways begin to set in and we lose our basic essence of movement. We go to the gym and hammer out flexion and extension, and we further reinforce this narrow up and down pathway, and sooner or later, if it’s not careful it’s all that we do and all we are capable of doing.
That’s why it’s so important to keep the rust off with the frontal and the transverse planes. The dog park.
Frontal or (Coronal)
If you divide your body into left half and right half and were to draw an imaginary line up your body, that would be the midline. Frontal plane movements include anything that involves abduction (away from the midline) or adduction (towards the midline) among other things. (An easy, and borderline disturbing way to remember this is to think about what abduction is. It’s taking away. In this case, away from the midline).
This includes lateral movement like Cossack squats, side lunges, monster walks, shuffles, side raises, lateral hops and jumps, crawls and ground-based movement. Essentially it is anything that starts from a position that is set close to the midline, and takes it outward, or, vice versa. Frontal plane is where we develop our more lateral-based musculature like the glute medius (abductors), groin muscles (adductors), side and even some posterior deltoid muscles.
Another important function of the frontal plane is that it helps to develop scapular stability through scapular depression and elevation (think about the shoulder blade’s action in a side raise) and from a hinged position targets the posterior deltoids.
Sagittal plane of movement typically focuses on scapular protraction (shoulder blade away from the spine) and retraction (towards the spine), with the exception of overhead work. Think about it like this.
- Scapular Elevation and Depression – Up and Down
- Scapular Protraction and Retraction – Forward and Back
This again illustrates the benefit of diverse movement planes. If you neglect movement planes, you neglect a natural part of the scapulae’s function, and imbalances may translate to instability in a shoulder joint that certainly needs all the help that it can get.
The transverse plane divides the bottom into top and bottom with the pelvis being the line of division. It is often referred to as the plane of rotation, and there is saying by Dr. Perry Nickelston that, “Power exists in the transverse plane”.
Transverse movements are a bit challenging to define as simply labeling them rotation-based movements is a bit of a misnomer, however any movement you perform that involves rotation about the hip and trunk is considered transverse. This includes any rotational work like slams, ropes or twists and is essential to train stabilizers like the obliques. The Turkish Get-Up has many transverse qualities, as well. It operates in all three planes of movement, as does the curtsy lunge, making it one of those proverbial, “bang for your buck” movements that we like.
While this is a bit of an over simplifcation, a good way of thinking about all of this is that strength is built in the sagittal plane, and durability and athleticism are build in the frontal and transverse planes. We clearly want all three athletic qualities, right? Our ability to effectively channel and absorb force are what healthy, performance-based movement is all about. Without a focus on all three dimensions of the body, this skill is incomplete.
Sagittal training should be the foundation of your program, but it should not be at the cost of removal of the frontal and transverse plane. Move side to side, twist and rotate. Be a human.