The Three Planes of Motion

Taking Your Workout To New Dimensions.

The 3 Planes of Motion

Why have just a piece, when you can eat the whole pie!

Do you remember those old 2-D cartoons with a rather funny movement? Then came the age of 3-Dimensional graphics and the animations moved much more naturally and realistically. When putting it this way, surely we can understand the difference in motion due to the restricted access to the different areas and angles around the body, that our natural movement, otherwise, includes. These spaces are divided into three planes in which the various natural body movements take place.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because, as a fitness trainer, I regularly witness people training only in a single plane of motion. Whereas in our daily life, the human body must use all three planes of motion to carry out the various functions and tasks of life. That is why training the body in only one plane not only impedes performance but may also lead to muscle imbalance, postural problems and decreased mobility – quite the opposite results expected from training, isn’t it?

If you’ve been putting some time in the gym, that must have caught your attention. To get the best possible results out of your workout, let’s first get a better understanding of the three planes of human motion. Unless, of course, you prefer a 2D cartoon-like movement.

1st Planes of Motion – The Sagittal Plane

Most people perform 90% of their workouts in this plane. Quite the popular plane, eh? To understand where the sagittal plane lies, imagine two sheets of glass running parallel on either side of you, a millimetre away from your shoulders. Since both your sides are now blocked, the only space you are free to move in is the front and back. The sagittal plane is in this space.

The movements you can perform in this plane, are forward and backwards motions. Hence, workouts such as running, crunches, rowing, bicep curls, walking lunges, etc. are all performed in the sagittal plane of motion. Since many of the regular exercises are executed in this plane, it is also the easiest to understand. Let us now move on to the less common areas of our workout.

2nd Planes of Motion – The Frontal Plane

Here is where our movements get a bit more complicated. Imagine those two sheets of glass to be on your front and back, facing and running parallel to each other. This space in between is the frontal plane.

Now what motions and exercises do you suppose can be pulled off in the frontal plane? Surely you cannot start running unless you’re a stuntman performing a glass-shattering scene. Apparently, the frontal plane only permits sideways movement.

Although not as common as the sagittal plane, still there are quite a few exercises you can perform in the frontal plane, such as lateral raises, side bends, side lunges, lateral band steps, side shuffling, etc.

3 Planes of Motion

3rd Planes of Motion – The Traversal Plane

Now this one here is the most complicated and difficult to understand. It doesn’t come as a surprise that, when it comes to fitness training, this is the most overlooked plane of motion. However, it is also one of the most significant planes of motion, when it comes to joint mobility and range of motion.

My sheet of glass analogy won’t work in this case; it is a bit too complicated for that. But no need to throw in the towel so soon. Imagine your body is divided into two halves right at the hip. All motions parallel to the waistline, falls in the traversal plane, i.e. all rotational movements.

“In a 3D world, we need 3D strategies. Leverage the 3 Planes of Motion to enhance your functional movement.”

Did that get you scratching your head? Unless you’re researching for academic or professional purposes, you don’t need to break your head over the details. The keyword to remember here is, rotational. That’s right. Every time you perform a rotational motion, such as chopping down a tree with an axe or swinging a baseball bat or tennis racket, you are moving in the traversal plane.

Due to its complicated nature, it is understandable why this plane is the least worked. However, exercises for this plane are not non-existent. Some of the workouts you can perform to enhance mobility in the traversal plane are rotating lunges, oblique crunches, rotating chest press, Pec Fly, Russian twists, etc.

4th Planes of Motion – The Triplanar Movement

Wait! I thought there were only 3 planes of motion! Yes, there is only 3, Triplanar movement is just any movement that occurs through all three planes of motion. Since most daily activities involve the use of all three planes of motion, exercises that are triplanar are said to be more functional.

What Is Hardly Used Now, Will Later Be Much Harder To Use.

Our daily life is made up of numerous multi-planar movements where we’re regularly engaging in straight, sideways and rotational movements. The younger we are, the more active we tend to be in the three planes of motion through the different games, sports and activities of youth.

However, with age, our activities tend to get limited in the frontal and traversal range. Many of the joints, especially the shoulders, hip, and spine, do not get enough exercise due to the lack of motion in these planes. Our body, like any machinery, needs all of its parts to be well oiled and used, to function effectively. When unused for long periods, just like any machinery, these parts get rusty and no longer support the rest of the machine as expected or desired. You can counteract this with some age reversing workouts as I like to call them.

Now that you know of the three planes of motion, it should be quite easy for you to spot what is lacking, in your current workouts. If your goal is an overall healthy body, with a full range of motion, then, regularly engaging in and working out all the three planes of motion is of the utmost importance.

To get the maximum returns from their workout, I always ensure my client’s training program includes exercises in all the three planes of motion. Maybe your trainer has already customised your workout program for this. If so, then please share it with the community by posting in the comments. It will help those who are new to the concept of the three planes of motion, to know how they can improve their current training program. If this was an eye-opener to you, then know that you are not alone. Share the article, and help spread the awareness!

Krix Luther


Krix Luther is a Health and Fitness Specialist and one of Asia’s leading Personal Trainers. He is an Ex Professional Muay Thai fighter and Avid Free Diver. At the same time, he is very active, has a passion for gaming, and has his own Twitch stream. You can contact him via his Instagram if you have any questions.

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