Three Planes of Motion


I want you to take a moment to evaluate your current strength and conditioning program.  How many planes of motion do you move in?  There are a lot of training programs out there that include exercises in only one plane of motion, the sagittal (front to back/flexion and extension) plane. It is also very common for endurance athletes to only move in this single plane, with every movement being linear.   However,  we naturally move in three planes of motion, the sagittal, frontal (side to side/adduction and abduction), and tranverse (rotational/internal and external rotation) planes.  A couple of years ago, I began working with a baseball player.  In evaluating his previous training program from a local gym, everything he did was linear in nature.  Rotational movements, one of the most important motions that a pitcher executes,  had never been included in his training.  Was he stronger?  Yes, there was no doubt that he had gained strength using this training program, but for someone who wanted to throw harder, his program required much more diverse movement.  Including multi-planar movements into your training can be an important element to increase strength, reduce your risk of injury (especially overuse), and improve mobility.

Here are some ways you can include multi-planar movement into all aspects of your physical training program.

Strength Training: Multi-planar movement can be inserted anywhere in the program.  Some programs include multi planar exercises in every workout, while others will alternate between workouts that focus on a movement in one particular plane.  An example of this is alternating between linear and lateral training days which I learned from strength coach, Michael Boyle.  I prefer to include multi-planar movements in all my warm-ups, alternate between linear and lateral movement days in the heart of the workout, and include a rotational in at least one of the days, but often in both.  The following are a few examples of exercises in the frontal plane. Side shuffles, resistance band lateral walks, lateral lunges and step-ups, crossover lunges and step-ups.  Rotational movements in the transverse plane can include cable rotations, cable chop, cable lift and reach, medicine ball rotational throws, and rotational lunges.

Endurance:  If we look at hiking, running, and biking, they are all linear in motion.  Swimming is a mix of linear and rotational.  My first recommendation would be to follow a strength training plan and include some of the exercises mentioned in the paragraph above.  At the very least,  it would be helpful to follow a dynamic warm-up before participating in your endurance sport of choice.  Ten minutes would be adequate time to move through a dynamic warm-up that includes a good dose of the following movements to go along with your linear drills.  Lateral and rotational lunge, lateral leg swings, arm crosses,  lateral step overs and duck unders, cossack squats, carioca, and side shuffles.

Stretching: This is something I have learned about recently.  We can take the concept of multi-planar movement and apply it to stretching.  If our muscles can move us through three planes, then shouldn’t we stretch them in three planes?  Even though I think it feels good, I was never satisfied with the results I got from static stretching.  I would feel relief for a brief time, and then the tightness and dysfunction would return. Recent studies on static stretching before exercise show that it may be detrimental to performance but it is dependent upon the duration and intensity. A study has also shown that a static stretching program doesn’t necessarily work for improving functional movement.  My personal opinion is that static stretching is most useful for relaxation.  Through experimenting on myself while I was recovering from an Achilles injury, I almost intuitively began to stretch my calves in different planes while adding movement to the stretch instead of holding it statically.  However, this is not something I can take credit for, I believe three dimensional (3D) stretching can be credited to Physical Therapist, Gary Gray.  While there is movement involved in the stretching, it’s not to be confused with ballistic stretching, it’s more controlled.  The stretching appears to be more effective when the new found range of motion is utilized in a concurrent strengthening exercise to activate the antagonistic muscle group.  The next time you stretch, think about the three different planes of movement, and try gently oscillating in and out of the stretch.  Be careful not to overstretch!  Gray also talks about using drivers to drive your movement in the stretch.  It depends on what part of your body you are stretching, but the drivers can be the legs (stepping), hips, or arms.

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As we can see, there is more to life than flexion and extension. Incorporate multi-planar movement into your warm-ups, strength training, and stretching.  It can help improve strength, reduce overuse injuries and muscle imbalances, and increase mobility.  Don’t become one dimensional.  We are three dimensional beings, move like one.

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