How to Understand the Planes of Motion to Better Your Workout

How to Understand the Planes of Motion to Better Your Workout

The human body exists on a three dimensional planes, divided up into the range and types of motions we can physically make. Today, we’re going to explore these planes, and discuss a few exercises that can be completed on each plane. 

Why do I need to know this, you may be asking.

 Simply knowing that the planes of motion exist can help to make sure that our training programs include exercises along each of them. By breaking down an exercise into its plane (or multiple planes), one can discover key muscles used, and key benefits of using said exercise. 

When you create a training program for yourself, be sure to add some frontal plane and transverse plane exercises, as most of the time, common gym exercises such as push-ups, crunches, and lunges fall onto the sagittal plane. 

Understanding the planes helps to ensure a good balance in your muscular body, training on only one plane will pretty much do the opposite. 

Just before we get started, it’s essential first to know what we call the “anatomical neutral” or, the universal starting position. This position is the basis for all motion, and to assume it, stand up or lie on your back with your knees straight, legs together, toes forward, and your arms by your side with palms facing forward. Basically, if you feel like you might fall asleep, you’re probably in neutral.

Now that you’re comfortable, let’s begin! 

The Sagittal Plane

This plane divides the body into left and right. When moving your body on this plane, you will often hear the words, extension, and flexion. Basically, you’re moving parts of your body backwards and forwards. 

Activities like running, cycling, rowing, and most lifting movements happen on this plane. Your gluteal squat is one such example. When you move down, your hips move from extension into flexion, and then back to extension. The hips and knees in particular move on this plane and spend a lot of time in flexion. 

Here is a list of exercises that you can perform in this plane: 

⦁ Bicep Curls 

⦁ Squats 

⦁ Front deltoid raises 

⦁ Overhead triceps press 

⦁ Lunges (we know you love them!) 

Even simple cardio, like treadmill and cross trainer, use motions on this plane, as well as high knee raises, mountain climbers, or just simple walking.  

The Coronal (Frontal) Plane

The coronal plane divides the body into front and back. Any time you move your limbs towards or away from your midline, you are using motion on this plane. Common phrases for these types of movements are adduction and abduction. Very little of our daily movements fall on this plane, as we tend to keep ourselves fairly centred. 

This plane is fundamental when doing workouts, as pulling your limbs away from the midline helps to functionally strengthen the muscles being used. Abductor exercises also help to open up your mobility, especially in your hips and shoulders. 

Your knees and elbows, cannot function on this plane, as they are hinge joints and can therefore only flex and extend. Therefore, it takes a lot more creativity to work your muscles through this plane. Try using some of these exercises. 

⦁ Side leg lifts 

⦁ Lateral raises (using resistance bands for extra training) 

⦁ Jumping jacks 

⦁ Side-to-side gallops 

Other actions, like the elevation and depression of shoulder blades in exercises like shrugs performed with a barbell, occur in the frontal plane.  

The Transverse (Horizontal) Plane

Easily the most difficult of the planes to wrap your head around, the transverse plane divides the body into top and bottom. However, it’s not as simple as just that. Any time we rotate a joint, we are moving along the transverse plane. This isn’t exactly a common occurrence, especially in our day-to-day lives, particularly with larger joints like the hips, shoulders, and spine. 

Spinal twisting is an important movement that falls on this plane, and even if you’re focusing on your glutes, incorporating a few spinal twisting stretches into your workout will reap many benefits. It will help to relieve muscular pain in the back, provide length between the vertebrae, and restore movement along the spine. 

planes of motions

Trying to add more transverse movements into your daily life will help improve flexibility and muscle strength. Here are some common exercises for the transverse plane. 

⦁ Alternating oblique crunches 

⦁ Alternating cross jabs

⦁ Forearm rotation exercises (this could be holding a hammer and twisting from palm-up to palm-down) 

⦁ Chest Flyers 


Bringing All the Planes Together

Triplanar movement is any movement that occurs through all three planes of motion. Most daily activities will involve the use of all three planes, and so exercises that mimic these activities will be considered triplanar, and are more functional than single plane exercises. 

Most major muscle groups exist in more than one plane. Take our gluteal muscles, for example. They work to extend the spine abduct the hips, and externally rotate the hips. By incorporating a movement along each plane into a training session, you will target all the functional areas of the muscles, for the best workout possible 

Here are some examples of multi-plane exercise. 

⦁ Curl to Overhead Press (Sagittal and Frontal Planes of Motion) 

⦁ Lateral Lunge with Rotation (Frontal and Transverse Planes of Motion) 

⦁ Overhead Squat with Band Pull (Sagittal and Transverse Planes of Motion) 

A lot of kettlebell exercises will naturally fall under triplanar as they require a full range of motion from the legs, hips, back, and arms. The High-Pull Kettlebell Swing is one such example of this, and can be performed as follows: 

⦁ Begin with the kettlebell between your legs. Pick it up with one hand, hinge at the hips, and pull through and under your pelvis. 

⦁ Keep the non-working arm out raise out to the side of your body as you hip drive the kettlebell with a full extension. 

⦁ When the kettlebell reaches, it’s apex and is unweighted, quickly retract your shoulder and simultaneously pull the kettlebell into the body by flexing the elbow. 

⦁ Keep the wrist strong as you drive and push the kettlebell back out and away from your body, before falling into the next swing through the legs. 

⦁ Repeat with both arms, to allow for an even range of motion. 

planes of motions
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