The human body is a fantastic piece of machinery. Movement is the day-to-day work you do to keep your body functioning correctly. If you think about it, the majority of your activities are multidimensional. Even when you’re sitting down, you’re using a combination of muscles and joints working together for stabilization and movement.
When you move your body during exercise or daily activities, it moves in different dimensions. The types of movements that your body can make are called planes of motion. These movements are often described as occurring in other planes of movement. Understanding the planes of motion can help you better understand how your body moves and leads to better health and sports performance.
Planes of motion are used to describe human movement and classify different ways your body can move. By understanding the planes, you can learn how to maximize a training pattern to achieve results faster and reduce your chance of injury.
What are Planes of motion?
The three planes of motion are the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. The bones of the human body can be pictured as connected by a rubber-band-like tissue called ligaments. These ligaments allow the body to bend in all directions – up, down, sideways, and in circles. Forward and backward movements are in the sagittal plane. Side-to-side movements are in the frontal plane. And top to bottom moves are in the transverse plane.
If you move your upper body forward and back, side to side, or twist at the waist, the movements primarily occur in one of these three planes. For example, walking forward and backward mainly occurs in the sagittal plane. Going from a standing position to a lying position or vice-versa also appears in the sagittal plane. Side-bends arise in the frontal plane, while an exercise like doing a forward rotation or twisting at the waist (such as while sitting on your hands at your desk) would occur in the transverse plane.
How to determine which exercise falls in which plane?
In any exercise program, we always want to be training our bodies in a way that mimics real life. This involves performing a large variety of exercises from different angles and planes of motion. Each day, you encounter pulling, pushing, flexing, extending, squatting, lunging, bending, and twisting movements which can all be linked back to each other.
Sagittal Plane Exercises
Sagittal plane exercises are those that use flexion and extension movements.
A squat requires resistance and stability from the trunk and hips while performing full-range flexion and extension at the ankles, knees, and hips. Basically, you’re hinging at your hips. You’re bending forward and then straightening back up. The squat mimics movements the body uses every day, like sitting and standing up from a chair.
When the lower extremity is flexing and extending, the knees are tracking parallel to an imaginary plate. This intersects the body into left and right halves. Furthermore, the hips move backward and down to stay in line with the track of the sagittal plane. Therefore, the back squat can be classified as a sagittal plane exercise because there is no intentional movement in any direction except up and down.
This exercise targets the biceps and works the triceps as well. As always, visualize the plane of the body and only the arms moving as you raise and lower a weight in front of you. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lean against a wall with your back to perform this exercise. Then, while keeping the elbows close to the torso and the arms at shoulder level, curl each of them up to the chin. The bicep curl involves flexion and extension of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist muscles. Simultaneously, you keep the handle on a track parallel to the sagittal plane. The bicep curl is an excellent exercise for strengthening the muscles in your arms.
Other examples include climbing stairs, calf raises, vertical jumping, walking/running, front lunges, and triceps pushdowns.
Frontal Plane Exercises
Consider frontal plane posture to be the imaginary track that your body follows when performing side-to-side movements. You could think of the frontal plane as a racetrack with two lanes. The right half of the body moves into the right lane, while the left half goes to the left lane. Another way to visualize frontal plane movement is to imagine that you have two glass plates on the front and back of your body. This will create a channel where you can only move left or right, not forward or backward.
Leg raises and lateral arm.
The simplest example of a frontal plane exercise is the upright row with a straight arm. This could also be accomplished by simply using dumbbells, holding them at your side to perform lateral raises from a standing position. Laterally rotating your hip (e.g., doing leg-lifts) is another way of performing abduction.
Side Lunge and Side Shuffle
Side shuffles and side lunges use the frontal plane to create a sheer (sideways) force on the body. Side shuffles employ a single-leg stance with emphasis on lateral (outer thigh) activity. In comparison, the lunge emphasizes hip abduction and adduction for more significant gluteal development. In addition, the side-to-side motion adds a stability challenge to the squat pattern, being sure to move in a diagonal line from wall to wall.
The side-to-side bending of the spine is one example of frontal plane movement. Lateral flexion is also referred to as side bends. These exercises work the muscles on either side of the spine and help improve flexibility in the spine. For example, side bends are performed in prone or supine to strengthen the obliques or improve shoulder mobility.
Eversion and Inversion
Inversion and eversion typically occur in the rear foot, but they can also happen in other planes of motion. Inversion is when you roll your ankle out, like when you’re walking on an icy sidewalk. Eversion is when you roll your ankle in, like when you’re trying to tie a shoelace. The eversion of the foot is natural and functional for a normal gait. Because the foot’s structures are more robust when inverted, it’s less likely to roll or break down. Correctly performed, this simple movement can help increase the flexibility and range of motion of your foot.
When the foot swings internally, laterally exposing the sole, inversion is occurring. Extension occurs when the foot rolls outward, revealing the arch. This is the most common way an ankle is rolled (and potentially sprained) during sports. The foot plants, but everything above the ankle keeps moving forward, over-extending the foot at the ankle joint.
The transverse plane is the third plane of motion and is only identified on sides (transversely) of standing or full-length (or more) figures. Its secondary axis coincides with the line of gravity running through the body. Any unbalanced weight distribution creates tension on this axis and shifts the body out of alignment with gravity. Transverse plane training is one of the most commonly used training modalities in the fitness industry. Below are some of the exercises:
Transverse plane movement allows you to activate your serratus anterior muscle, which lines the crest of your rib cage. This muscle is instrumental in movement, stabilization, and breathing. If you imagine an axis running vertically through the head and spine, rotation around this axis would be movement in the transverse plane. The transverse plane is located in the lateral (sideways) direction. It is positioned at 90 degrees to the frontal (anteroposterior) and sagittal planes. Therefore, it is possible to rotate the spinal column in this plane.
Align your spine correctly in all three planes, and you have one of the keys to proper body function and efficient athletic performance.
When the forearm rotates, it does not move consistently through the center of the body. It is still considered transverse plane movement. Describing whether a forearm rotation goes toward or away from the body’s center is known as radial deviation. Internal rotation occurs by twisting the limb in the direction of the trunk. In contrast, external rotation occurs by turning in the direction away from the trunk.
Hip and Shoulder Movement
When the arms and legs adduct and abduct out to the sides, you move in what’s called the transverse plane. This plane, which is perpendicular to the frontal plane, involves the entire trunk of the body. So, for example, when you look sideways at a friend while you walk, your arms and legs move in this plane. In layman’s terms, that means that when your arm or leg is next to your body and moves from side to side, its transverse plane movement.
Think about how you move in three dimensions every day. When you get out of bed, when you work all day, and when you sit down for dinner at night, your body moves in all three planes of motion. This training method is excellent because it forces you to use a greater variety of shapes, so your set never looks the same. This means you aren’t overusing any body part and forces you to keep your heart rate up, so you break a significant amount of sweat. If you can swing a kettlebell or a dumbbell, then all you need is a space of about 10 feet by 10 feet, and your standard workout routine becomes incredibly versatile.