Movement Basics: ‘Three Planes of Movement’

Years ago, during a summer strength and conditioning workout at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, I remember our graduate strength and conditioning coach, a soft spoken 6’3” former Iowa football player,  introduced an exercise to our wrestling team. He called it a “landmine rotational lunge.” Similar to you, I thought “What. in. the. hell?”  then I thought “Well I guess he ran out of exercises and had to make something up.” 

In fact, that strength coach was doing something quite useful, he was breaking up the monotony of only lifting in a forward/backward manner (also called the Sagittal Plane). Think about it, almost every exercise you do is in front of your face, or linear in nature. Front squat, kettlebell swing, bench press, deadlift, clean, reverse lunge, sleds, running – all of these exercises are in the sagittal plane. (Planes of motion defined

While these movements are crucial to a good program, they alone are not representative of a robust training program where athletes are exposed and conditioned to all stresses they will see in sport or life. Few sports (Powerlifting, Weightlifting, Track and field events) live exclusively in the sagittal plane, and even those sports include many dynamics of the frontal (moving side to side) and transverse (rotating) planes of motion. 

This is not a blog where I define the planes of motion, or offer exercises that can help create a “3D” training plan (that type of blog is hyperlinked above). This blog is here to offer a rationale  as to why we include “weird” combination/rotation/single leg/arm exercises into your training program. To understand where those movements come from we must zoom out and think about human movement in general. 

When we think about humans moving there are no rules, but there are motivations. Pick that up, make the save, catch that falling kid, carry all the groceries at once, hit with power, look like a badass, these motivations (good or bad) guide movement. The movements that we employ to achieve these motivations are a messy combination of each plane of movement, and seldomly isolated to one or two planes. Yet we break movements up this way because science says so… 

So in understanding the messy complexity of movement, as movement professionals (strength and conditioning coaches and personal trainers) we attempt to expose the athlete to each plane, stress the movement, and create strength, power, and a resilience to injury. I say “attempt” because even though we can create difficult heavily loaded movements, athletes on the field are performing in a more unpredictable, fast paced, violent manner. 

Back to that summer in muggy La Crosse, Wisconsin with the soft spoken Iowan graduate strength and conditioning coach; Making our team do some weird rotational lunge exercise with a bar wasn’t because he “ran out of exercises” rather he was attempting to stress the rotational and lateral aspects of movement. (aspects that are abundant in the sport of wrestling.)

 Later editions of this blog will explore how and why we should stress the body with more than just “traditional” sagittal plane exercises, but for the purpose of today, I wanted to introduce the concept of multiplanar movement and offer some rationale as to why the most athletes should be exposed to this type of training. After all, movement is more than forward and backward, movement is messy, complex, beautiful, violent, and movement is life. 

  • Alex Friedman CSCS

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