We live in a flexion dominant state – think sitting, standing, walking, hunching over our laptops, texting and looking down at our phones (with our shoulders scrunched up to our ears!) There are three planes of motion that our bodies were designed to explore and many benefits of moving the body in all planes of motion. We spend most of our time in the sagittal plane, where flexion (moving forward) and extension (moving backward) occur. For optimal health and freedom of movement throughout our entire body, we should aim to move with ease in all 3 planes:

  1. Sagittal – divides the body in right and left halves, flexion and extension happens here
  2. Frontal – divides the body in front and back halves, lateral or side-to-side movements happen here
  3. Transverse – divides the body in upper and lower halves, rotation, twists and turns happen here

The transverse plane is the most underutilized in our daily activities and as such, most exercise injuries take place as a result of twisting, rotational and turning movements – twisting your knees when your foot stays planted, tweaking your back during rotational core exercises, and painful neck injuries to name a few!

During my earlier years as a personal trainer, I was taught to focus on a single muscle group and train it in a single plane of motion. For example, I would instruct a client through stationary biceps curls, seated shoulder presses and push-ups without any variations or dynamic movements. The theory was that most clients who are new to fitness will need to master one movement pattern before moving on to the next. In practice, this type of training further perpetuates less than ideal movement patterns that are detrimental to optimal health and freedom of movement. As I continued to study and develop my own workouts, I saw and experienced the importance of adding in rotational movements, compound movements, twist and turns to help the body train several muscle groups at one time and move with ease to avoid injuries during activities of daily living.

I’ll never forget working with one of my senior clients who tripped and fell while garden. She told me all about the fall with a big smile on her face saying, “If we hadn’t been working together, it would have been ten times worse!” She was able to turn quickly when she stumbled on the object in her path and land softly on her butt while engaging her core muscles. She had a minor scratch on her knee but was otherwise fine and could smile about it at her next training session. Thank you, front lunges with torso rotations and cable torso twists!

Exercises in each plane of motion:

  1. Sagittal – biceps curl, forward or reverse lunge, squat, running in a straight line, downward facing dog, yoga chair pose, vertical jumping
  2. Frontal – lateral lunges, lateral shoulder raises, side shuffle for cardio, standing side bends, yoga triangle pose
  3. Transverse – seated core twists, turning your head to look behind you, swinging a bat, hitting a golf ball

The example I shared above about my client who took a spill in her garden is just one of the many examples of the benefits of training in all planes of motion.

Additional benefits include:

  1. Preparing for activities of daily life – Did you know that lifting a heavy bag of groceries and turning to walk away from your vehicle involve moving your body in the sagittal and transverse planes? Without moving in ways that engage your muscles from all angles, a break from your normal activities or a fall can cause discomfort and even injury.
  2. Preparing for sports – You may not be on a sports team or interested in joining one, but if you want to move safely and effectively in your group fitness class or on a mixed terrain trail run, you’ll need to prepare by moving your body in different planes with more variety.
  3. Challenging your body – Speaking of variety, we all have movement patterns that are most comfortable and certain ways we perform the same activities over and over. Sometimes this can lead to a rut and carelessness that can cause injury. One way to challenge your body in the gym is to move from machines to free weights and kettlebells, TRX straps and bands to move your joints freely and work several muscles at once. Outside the gym, you can challenge your body by incorporating balance into your chores or putting away grocery items laterally, standing to the side of the cabinet as you unload bags and rotate your torso to place items on the shelf.

So, how do you get started with moving your body in different planes of motion? Fitness apps, group classes and even some trainers may not be able to tell you which plane of motion you’re in for a particular exercise. The easiest way to get started is to challenge yourself to do your favorite exercises in a different position.

Some examples include:

  1. Side shuffles mixed in with your daily run or walk
  2. Lateral lunges mixed with vertical jumps
  3. Biceps curls with a step up onto a platform
  4. Front lunge with a torso twist
  5. Downward dog between triangle pose on each side

As with all new fitness endeavors, take caution and start slowly as you introduce new training modalities, planes of motion and terrains into your current routine. Remember to make time to warm up and cool down and listen to your body as you progress each exercise.