Many traditional weight lifting programs tend to spend a significant amount of time in the frontal and sagittal planes (squats, lunges, leg press, bicep curls, lateral raises, tricep extensions, etc.). But, we can't forget that there are many joints and muscle groups that move in more than one direction and most of our daily movements require us to move in all the planes of motion. This is why multi-planar training is essential. Let's take a look at what multi-planar training is, why it is important, and some exercises and tips to help get you and your clients started.
Multi-planar is a reference to the different planes of motion the human body moves. There are three planes of motion, so, multi-planar training is a balanced program that challenges the body in all three of these planes of motion.
This is an invisible line that splits the body down the middle from front to back. Movement parallel with this line is movement within the frontal plane of motion.
Examples of movement in the frontal plane:
The invisible line that splits the body down the middle from left to right is the sagittal plane. Movement parallel to this line is within the sagittal plane of motion.
Examples of movement in the sagittal plane:
This invisible line splits the body in half, at the waist, separating the top from the bottom. Movement following that line is in the transverse plane. However, this plane of motion is a little different than the other two because it is more of a rotational movement.
Examples of movement in the transverse plane:
Whether you're working with athletes or your general fitness clients, training in all planes of motion is essential.
Functionality in all planes of motion is vital for athletes. Almost every sport requires an athlete to move efficiently through all planes of motion and usually do so very quickly. Running at top speed, backpedaling, lateral shuffling, and quick rotations to change direction are all common movements that occur during sport. When we help our clients train in all three planes of motion, we help improve their movement patterns, range of motion, function, and even reduce injury.
There are a handful of human movements typically in a single plane of motion. However, most human movement requires us to move through all planes of motion throughout the day. Whether it's turning to walk up a staircase, playing catch with kids, or simply changing directions while walking, the joints of the human body are moving through the different planes to create proper movement. Doing this effectively, efficiently, and safely requires strength, stability, and flexibility in all three planes.
There are many functional, multi-joint exercises you can use that integrate the different planes of motion. Here are a few of our favorites:
The client will begin with feet shoulder-width apart and arms clasped in front of the body. Or, if they are more advanced, they can hold a medicine ball or light weight out in front of the body. They will step forward with their right leg into a lunge. At the bottom of the lunge, they will slowly twist the trunk to the right side. The rotation must be in the midsection and the knee and ankle stay in alignment with the toes, pointing forward. They will then control the twist back to the center and press up from the lunge, back to the starting position.
Start your client with feet a little wider than should-width apart. They will hold the medicine ball with both hands and slightly rotate the torso to bring the ball above one shoulder. In one fluid movement, the client will bring the ball across the torso diagonally towards the opposite knee. The client will then rotate back to the starting position.
The client will start with their body turned so their toes point 45-90 degrees away from where the barbell touches the ground. They will hold the weighted end of the bar with their outside hand (arm furthest away from the bar). The client will partially squat down and transfer some of the weight into their back leg. As they come up from the squat, they will drive and rotate the hips so they point toward the direction of where the bar hits the ground. As the hips rotate, the outside arm (holding the bar) will simultaneously press up and fully extend the bar into the air in alignment with the shoulder. Then the client will simultaneously rotate and lower the arm back to the starting position.
Start your client in a neutral position with their hands at their sides and toes pointed forward. While keeping one foot planted, the client will lift and externally rotate the second leg at the hip and lower into a lunge in the direction of the externally rotated leg (about a 90-degree angle from the direction of the stationary leg). The client will lunge forward, press up through the heel, and rotate back to the neutral starting position.
This exercise is very similar to the rotating lunge. However, instead of rotating the hip and lunging out to the side, the client will rotate the hip and step up. Client will stand with the box/step-up on their side. Toes will point about 90 degrees away from the box. They will bend the knee and externally rotate the hip of the leg closest to the box. The client will extend their leg and press up through the heel and the glutes onto the box which will lift their opposite leg off the ground. They will then slowly lower their leg back down to the ground and step off the box, internally rotate the hip and lower the leg back down to starting position.
Here are a few tips to remember when integrating multi-planar exercises into your client's workout.
Focus on exercises involving the major joints of the body (hip, knee, shoulder, elbow, etc.).
Emphasize movements that include multiple joints, and check for kinetic chain alignment.
Start small and you build strength and confidence; multi-joint movements tend to be a bit more complex.
Mix it up. Include new movements and new equipment/modalities in each workout.
Multi-Planar training is a balanced training program that focuses on moving the body through all three planes of motion. This is incredibly important because most human movements (daily activities and athletics) require us to move effectively through all three. So, to support proper functional movement, we need to ensure we are including multi-planar exercises in our clients' routines. Functional training and a varied workout series can help prepare the body to move in many directions. It's about more than just one muscle group or plane of motion. Just remember to start simple; focus on multi-joint, complex movements; and use a variety of different exercises and modalities, if you can.
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