Planes of Motion: Essential Exercise Programming Knowledge
It is Important We Know How to Move in All Three Dimensions
FYI: We live in a three-dimensional world. I hope that I’m not surprising you with this news.
So, it’s important that we know how to move in all three dimensions (the fourth dimension is a whole other subject). If you are a personal trainer or experienced exerciser, you are likely familiar with push and pull programming or lower and upper body splits. But another way of organizing your training is through planes of motion. Disproportionately exercising in only one or two planes of motion can lead to muscle and joint weaknesses and injury. If you or your client is an athlete—or just wanting to stay healthy, strong, and mobile—you need to include all three planes of motion in order to have a well-balanced and effective exercise program.
All Three Planes of Motion Must be Included to Have a Well-Balanced and Effective Exercise Program
As essential as this information might be, it can be a little confusing! If you are interested in diving deeper into planes of motion and how they can be incorporated into the programs of either you or your clients, join Infofit in one of our Personal Training or Fitness Professional classes!
The three planes of motion are the sagittal, the transverse and the frontal plane.
The Sagittal plane bisects the left and right halves of the body; imagine a line drawn from the very top and centre of your head all the way down to the floor, between your feet. Movement in this plane goes forward and back. So, both a bicep curl and a squat would be sagittal plane movements because your body is moving forwards (your forearm and hand in the case of the bicep curl) and backwards (your hips when you squat). A reverse or front lunge, a deadlift, and a tricep pushdown are all examples of sagittal plane movements. Walking also primarily happens in the sagittal plane.
The bodily motions that occur on the sagittal plane include flexion and extension (of the elbow or knee), and dorsiflexion and plantarflexion (of the foot).
You might think: “Oh, well, then everything that we do with our limbs would be considered a sagittal plane movement.”
This is where it gets a little confusing. Complex movements often happen in multiple planes of motion. Movements with your limbs become transverse when there is a rotation at the hip or shoulder joint. And only the hip or shoulder joint!
With the Transverse plane, imagine an axis that goes from the top of your head to your feet, upon which your body rotates. Wood chops, hitting a baseball, or golfing would be prime examples of a transverse movement.
But as stated previously, the transverse plane covers not only rotation from your spine, but rotation in your shoulders and hips. Chest flyes and reverse flyes are primarily transverse motions because the humerus is rotating in the shoulder socket. When you kick a soccer ball, the femur rotates externally (a transverse motion) and moves backwards and forwards (a sagittal motion).
Movements that occur in the transverse plane include rotation, pronation and supination of the forearm, and horizontal flexion and extension (when your arm is abducted at a 90 degree angle from your body and then it adducted towards your body, as in the case of a chest or reverse flye).
The final plane of motion is the Frontal. All movements in this plane happen from side to side. So, if you could only walk from left to right (which would be horrible), you would be moving in the frontal plane. A hip adduction or abduction, a lateral raise, a lying leg raise all occur primarily in the frontal plane.
Other movements that occur in the frontal plane are depression and elevation (at the scapula), inversion and eversion (of the foot), adduction and abduction (of either the leg or arm).
What is very important to remember is that most movements happen in multiple planes.
Nowadays, any personal trainer or fitness professional worth their salt knows the importance of compound movements. Compound exercises are essential for optimal health and fitness because they strengthen you through movements used in daily life. Doing hammer curls all day might get your biceps busting through your shirt sleeves, but they won’t help you on moving day when you have to pick up a couch and haul it down three flights of stairs.
And sorry to all runners and joggers out there—while running is awesome for multiple reasons (cardiovascular fitness, stress management, increasing lumbar bone density, etc), it doesn’t train your body through all planes of movement. Make sure to supplement your running program with some good old-fashioned compound exercises to prevent overuse injuries and burnout. For more tips on injury prevention in running, you can check out our blog post here!
Still confused? No problem! Our online and in-person fitness professional training courses and certification programs will guide you through a deeper understanding of the planes of motion and how you can effectively integrate them into your programming and level up your fitness!
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.
Edwards, A. (n.d.). The Planes of Motion Explained. Retrieved January 09, 2021, from https://www.acefitness.org/fitness-certifications/ace-answers/exam-preparation-blog/2863/the-planes-of-motion-explained/
Payne, A. (n.d.). Sagittal, Frontal and Transverse Plane: Movements and Exercises. Retrieved January 09, 2021, from https://blog.nasm.org/exercise-programming/sagittal-frontal-traverse-planes-explained-with-exercises