Talk to anyone who takes fitness seriously, and they’ll tell you the lengths they’ve gone to boost their performance. But more often than not, the answer to getting more athletic comes down to fixing your shortcomings — not looking for outside help.
The best place to start is switching your training to hit multiple planes of movement. Many people don’t realize that your body functions in three planes of motion: sagittal, transverse, and frontal. Each plane of motion allows your body to move in a different way and also targets different muscle groups. Here’s how they break down:
Sagittal Plane: You move in the sagittal plane through flexion and extension. What this means is you’re moving in the sagittal plane when you bend forward and backward, bend and extend your arms, or point and flex your toes. Running and bicep curls both operate on the sagittal plane. Depending on the exercise, working out in the sagittal plane will commonly target your rectus abdominis, gluteus maximus, and hip flexors.
Frontal Plane: The name frontal plane may trick you into thinking of a front and back motion, but the main movement in this plane is side to side. If you imagine your body split right down the middle, any movement toward or away from that midline would be moving in the frontal plane. Leg lifts and jumping jacks are great examples of exercises in the frontal plane and tend to focus on the internal and external obliques and inner thigh muscles.
Transverse Plane: The transverse plane is all about twisting. Any exercise that involves rotation, like twisting abs, would occur in the transverse plane. Working out in the transverse plane targets the deep muscles of your hips and the opposite internal and external obliques that are worked in the frontal plane.
It’s crucial to exercise in all three planes of motion because focusing on only one will, over time, create muscle imbalances. For example, most daily workout routines primarily occur in the sagittal plane with exercises like running, bicep curls, and traditional sit-ups. Over time, this routine will overwork the hip flexors, which in turn shuts down the glutes and abs. It’s important to note that sitting also occurs in the sagittal plane. So in this case, you would go from a static sagittal plane motion in sitting all day to a dynamic sagittal plane motion in going for a run. By adding in some exercises that occur in the frontal and transverse planes, you would create a more balanced, total-body workout. This will both prevent injury down the line and help you reach your fitness goals.
An easy way to achieve this is by taking traditional exercises and tweaking them to hit all three planes of motion. You can easily achieve this with lunges and squats. So the next time you go to exercise, try doing a set of each of these exercises in each plane of motion.