ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Planes of Motion: Fontal, Sagittal, & Transverse Exercises and Benefits

Planes of Motion: Fontal, Sagittal, & Transverse Exercises and Benefits

Reading Time: 12 minutes


Date: 2023-05-16

The planes of motion refer to the different ways in which our bodies move through space. Understanding these planes of motion is crucial for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to improve their overall physical health. In this article, we'll explore the three planes of motion, their importance, and how you can incorporate exercises in each plane into your workout routine.

What is the Frontal Plane? 

The frontal plane splits the body into front and back halves. It separates the anterior and posterior sections. All lateral movement and side-to-side movement occur in the frontal plane. Understanding the anterior and posterior body parts is crucial when training certain areas of the body. 

Frontal Plane Movements

The most obvious frontal plane movement is a lateral raise with the arms or legs. This can also be referred to as adduction and abduction of the shoulder and hip. Frontal plane movements include the following:

  • Abduction: moving away from the midline of the body or laterally

  • Adduction: moving towards the midline of the body

  • Elevation: when the shoulder blades or scapula move up

  • Depression: when the shoulder blades move down

  • Eversion: involves rolling the foot inward

  • Inversion: involves rolling the foot outward

You can imagine how less common frontal plane exercises are compared to sagittal plane movements. You rarely walk side to side. Most of your daily activity involves walking forward. When it comes to training and exercise, however, it’s important to implement exercises that happen in the frontal plane. This is especially important for athletes as it helps improve lateral movement commonly seen in sports.

The Importance of Frontal Plane Exercises

The muscles that make up the frontal plane keep humans from falling over. The frontal plan includes everything that runs laterally on the body, so this can help us prevent falling to one side completely. This also refers to movement compensations throughout the body in the knees, hips, lower back, and shoulder.

Benefits of Performing Frontal Plane Exercises

The frontal plane is one of three planes of movement and describes how human body parts move in relation to each other on three axes. As a personal trainer, understanding the various types of frontal plane movements helps you build strength, train specific areas of the body for your clients, and more:

  • Prevent injury and falls

  • Improve overall core strength

  • Improve movement efficiency

  • Prevent muscle imbalances and compensation

  • Move better in more challenging environments

Frontal Plane Exercises 

As a personal trainer, you will want to recommend frontal plane movement exercises to your clients. A good way to help clients visualize how they are training frontal plane exercises is to imagine two walls pressed up against the front and back sides of the body. They can only move left or right. Some of the most popular examples are lateral arm and leg raises, side shuffles or lunges, and the side bend.

  • Lateral Lunge: The lateral lunge is also known as a side lunge. It can be performed with body weight or weight. It works multiple lower body muscle groups. These include the quads, abductors, glutes, and hamstrings. You can start by moving your left foot out to the side, extending your left leg as you hinge your right knee. Keep your chest up and body aligned with your shoulders. Press into your right foot at the bottom of the movement and return to the starting position.

  • Leg Raises: In a standing position, raise your right leg out to the side as high as you can without leaning your upper body. Repeat for desired reps and then switch to the left leg. 

  • Side Bend: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab a single dumbbell and hold it at your side with your palm facing your thigh. Lower the dumbbell along your leg towards your knee. Lift the dumbbell and bend your upper body in the other direction. Repeat and then switch sides.

  • Side Plank: The side plan involves starting on the floor. Begin by balancing on your side with your elbow directly below your shoulder. Keep your forearm on the floor and the side of your foot as well. Tighten your core and lift your hips up until your body is in a straight line from head to toe. You can advance the exercise by straightening your arm, lifting your top leg, or bringing your top arm above your head. 

  • Lateral Raises: One of the most popular shoulder exercises which involves a dumbbell in each hand. Start with them down to the side and lift them away from your body in an external rotation. These are one of the best frontal plane exercises for the trapezius muscle and deltoid muscle. They are considered an accessory exercise to help improve more compound lifts like shoulder presses.

What is the Sagittal Plane? 

The sagittal plane is an imaginary line that runs through the body from the head down to the ground. It divides the body into right and left sections. You can remember this plan by the name “longitudinal plane.” It is just one of the three planes of the body, but one where most functional movements take place. It was so common that at one point in time, exercise programs typically consisted of just sagittal plane exercises. 

The sagittal plane includes motion that involves forward and backward movement, such as front lunges, calf raises, or biceps curls. The motion can be front to back or back to front, including just walking or running. 

Exercises that involve joint flexion and extension occur in this plane of motion. Joint flexion is when the angle between two bones is decreased. While joint extension involves increasing the angle. Dorsiflexion is when the top of the foot moves toward the shin. This is considered a sagittal plane movement. On the flip side, plantarflexion is when the sole of the foot moves downward, also taking place in the sagittal plane.

When a client performs a squat, the motion occurs in the sagittal plane. Sagittal plane exercises can often be overemphasized, but their importance still takes precedence over others. They have the most carryover to everyday life for clients. 

Sagittal Plane Movements 

Sagittal plane movements are categorized into flexion, dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, extension, and hyperextension. These can be defined as the following:

  • Flexion: movement that decreases the angle of a joint, such as leg curls 

  • Extension: movement that increases the angle of a joint, such as planks 

  • Hyperextension: movement that extends the angel at a joint beyond straight, such as hyperextensions or supermans

  • Dorsiflexion: movement that flexes the ankle toward the shin, such as walking on heels

  • Plantar flexion: movement that moves the foot down and away from the body, such as calf raises

The Importance of Sagittal Plane Exercises

As humans, we are made to move light loads for extended periods of time and heavy loads for shorter periods of time. The best way to do these types of movements is with patterns such as squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and bending. As you can now understand, these all take place in the sagittal plane. 

These types of movement patterns and exercises can be loaded more than any other plane of motion. This means that the intensity of sagittal plane exercises remains the highest and most efficient for building strength. Although the benefits of sagittal plane exercises seem to be superior, it’s important to find the right type of training for your client.

Rest assured with sagittal plane exercises you can expect to target all the muscles. Many sagittal plane exercises involve working more than just a single muscle group and body part. They power us through daily activities of living, such as walking, bending, carrying heavy loads, and going up stairs.

Benefits of Performing Sagittal Plane Exercises

  • Consists of the “Big Six” movement patterns

  • Most similar to daily human movement

  • Allow the body to undergo heavy load

  • Any client can perform them safely

  • Improves lower intensity activity

Top Lower Body Sagittal Plane Exercises

  • Squats: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointed out. Lower your body down by bending at your knees and sending your hips down and back. Lower into a squat. Keep your chest up and drive your feet into the ground to stand back up.

  • Crunches: With knees apart, lay flat on the ground and cross your arms on your chest. Keep your core tight and raise your head and shoulders off the floor. Lower your shoulders back down. Hold and repeat on each rep.

  • Back Hyperextensions: Laying on the edge of a bench and keeping your hips slightly off, cross your arms in front of you. Bend forward at the waist and keep your back flat until you touch the floor. Raise your torso back to the starting position.

  • Leg Extensions: The leg pad should be on top of your ankles. Grip the bars on either side of the seat. Extend your legs up until they are fully straight, flexing the quads. Hold this position for a second before slowly lowering your legs back to the starting position.

  • Lunges: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step forward and bend both knees, lowering until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Push off on both legs and step through, lifting your back leg and bringing it forward so your rear foot lands ahead of you in a lunge position.

  • Calf Raises: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise up onto your toes, then slowly return to the starting position. Keep tension in the muscles in the back of your lower legs.

Top Upper Body Sagittal Plane Exercises

  • Dumbbell Front Raises: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Let your arms hang in front of you with the dumbbells in front of the thighs. Lift the weights upward and lower them back down slowly.

  • Triceps Extension: Use a cable with the attachment point raised all the way to the top of the machine. Using a straight-bar or rope attachment, grip the handle. Extend your elbows by pushing down against the handle until your arms are locked out.

  • Biceps Curl: Hold a dumbbell with your palm facing upward. Slowly curl the weight up by bending your elbow, keeping your elbow close to your body. Then slowly lower the weight to the starting position. 

  • Bench Press: During a bench press, you lower the dumbbells or barbell down to chest level and then press upwards while extending your arms.

  • Rows: Stand with your midfoot under the bar, bend over, and grab the bar. Unlock your knees and keep your hips high. Make sure you keep your chest up and back straight. Pull the bar up to your lower chest and slowly lower it down. Repeat. 

  • Pulldowns: Stand up and grab the straight bar at shoulder-width apart and with an overhand grip. Slowly lower yourself into the seat keeping your arms extended above your head. Squeeze your lats and drive your elbows down to pull the bar towards the top of your chest. Slightly lean back.

What is the Transverse Plane? 

The transverse plane is an imaginary line dividing the body into superior and inferior parts. In addition to the frontal and sagittal sections, it’s one of the three anatomical planes of the body. It displays how each body part moves on its axis. Transverse plane movements usually involve rotational body movement in joints like the hips, ankles, shoulders, and neck.

The transverse plane divides the body into top and bottom. To better understand the transverse plane, consider all three planes of motion. Divide the body into three axes: up and down or the frontal, front and back or the sagittal, and twisting or the transverse. The transverse is the axial plane, an imaginary line that creates a horizontal slice through the body’s waist, giving you a top and bottom half. Transverse plane movements or exercises usually include external or internal rotation like twisting. It also includes ankle pronation and supination.  

Transverse Plane Movements 

Rotational movements in body parts like the shoulders, hips, back, neck, and ankles are all transverse exercise movements. You can simply shake your head or open a door and you will be performing transverse plane movements. This shows how much we use them, but don’t realize it.

There are six main transverse plane movements:

  • Internal rotation: twisting a body part toward the center of your body

  • External rotation: twisting a body part away from the midline of the body

  • Pronation: a twisting movement that happens in the forearm when you turn your hands and wrist to face down

  • Supination: turning your forearm upwards, so your hands are facing up

  • Horizontal abduction: moving a limb towards the midline of the body

  • Horizontal adduction: moving a limb away from the center of the body or midline

Rotation can occur at the spine, limbs, and shoulder or hip region. Rotation or twisting in the spine is common in transverse plane exercises. While any rotation inward or outward from the body is limb rotation. With the shoulder and hip rotation, you can expect exercises like hip abduction or adduction and chest flys to be transverse plane movements. Where your arms are perpendicular to your torso and move away or towards the body's midline.

The Importance of Transverse Plane Exercises

As humans, we mainly move in the sagittal plane, but the transverse plane is common as well. It’s important to understand that spinal rotation is a part of daily life. By training in this plane of motion, the transverse plane, you improve stability and help prevent lower back injuries or pain. 

The twisting and rotational movements in the human body, whether an athlete or someone working on fitness are key to preventing injury. Transverse plane exercises are a great way to train your body and mind to overcome twisting and rotational demands. 

You can expect transverse exercise to prevent injury by strengthening joints, muscles, and tendons. Remember, a stable spine and proper hip alignment provide a better foundation for compound lifts. A weak transverse plane can cause a breakdown in other aspects of training and fitness. 

Benefits of Performing Transverse Plane Exercises

Transverse plane movements help with the following: 

  • Improve core stability

  • Work on balance and coordination 

  • Increase force production and rotational power

  • Help prevent injuries

  • Mimic movements in daily life and sports

Top 4 Transverse Plane Exercises

  • Russian Twist: Sit with your knees bent and feet off the floor. Slightly lean back and rotate side to side touching your hands to the floor on each side of your body.

  • Lunge Twist: Stand with feet hip-width apart and hands out in front of the body. Step forward with your left leg into a lunge position and twist your torso to the left, return to starting position, and repeat on the opposite side. 

  • Low to High Wood Chop: Start with feet shoulder-width apart and grab your hands around a band or cable. Twist your torso to the right bringing the band down across the body.

  • Rotational Wall Ball Throw: Hold the medicine ball with both hands to start. In a staggered stance bring the ball back almost behind the body. Then rotate in the opposite direction and throw the ball against the wall. Catch it and repeat for desired reps, then switch sides. 

Out of all planes of motion, the transverse is the most undertrained. Not only can it consist of rotational exercises, but also anti-rotational exercises. You don’t always need to lift or move weight to build power and strength. Anti-rotational transverse exercises involve going against force. Think of the trunk trying to rotate but you are pushing back against it.

This is an effective style of training, especially among athletes. It directly correlates to improved performance in their specific sport. On the flip slide, regular gym-goers or even bodybuilders often do not focus heavily on transverse plane exercises. They are mainly concerned about muscle gains and compound lifts (sagittal plane).

Multiplanar Movements

Multiplanar movements are exercises that involve movement in multiple planes of motion. Our bodies are designed to move in three planes of motion: the sagittal plane (forward and backward), the frontal plane (side-to-side), and the transverse plane (rotational). Multiplanar movements incorporate exercises that involve movement in more than one plane of motion simultaneously.

Some examples of multiplanar movements include:

  • Lateral Lunge with Rotation: This exercise involves a lunge to the side, followed by a rotation of the torso towards the bent knee. This movement engages the muscles in the hips, glutes, inner and outer thighs, and core.

  • Medicine Ball Woodchop: This exercise involves a rotation of the torso while holding a medicine ball. This movement engages the muscles in the obliques, back, and shoulders.

  • Skaters: This exercise involves a lateral jump from side to side. This movement engages the muscles in the hips, glutes, and legs.

  • Curtsy Lunge with Biceps Curl: This exercise involves a lunge to the side, followed by a biceps curl with dumbbells. This movement engages the muscles in the hips, glutes, inner and outer thighs, biceps, and forearms.

  • Plank with Arm and Leg Lift: This exercise involves holding a plank position while lifting one arm and the opposite leg. This movement engages the muscles in the core, shoulders, and glutes.

Incorporating multiplanar movements into your workout routine can help to improve overall strength, balance, and coordination. These exercises can also help to reduce the risk of injury by strengthening the muscles that support your joints.

Expand Your Fitness Education

Become an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer and gain in-depth knowledge of the body’s muscle structure and movement patterns. Be able to assess and build custom training programs for your clients based on their individual goals. ISSA is proud to be the top-rated and reviewed personal training certification program in the nation. And we can help you learn, grow, and prosper in your new career in health and fitness!

Featured Course

Certified Personal Trainer

Start your dream career completely online! Take the course, pass the certification final exam, and be guaranteed a job - or your money back!

Sign Up & Stay Connected

Receive $50 off your purchase today!

I consent to being contacted by ISSA.
Learn More