Since the beginning of the modern era of physical training, the accepted thought process on program organization has been a body part approach where the body is divided into its major muscle groups and trained accordingly I E. chest back legs shoulders etc. This arrangement has been an easy, understandable way to segment programs and has
brought good results, especially when applied towards a bodybuilding style program.
But has this organizational strategy come with the cost? Consider thefollowing:
Imagine for a moment that there are no individual muscles. No simple groups to target. What if all we had to work with were our various joints and the movements that they are capable of? Letting go of our traditional muscle-based approach to strength training and understanding how the body actually moves are the first steps to integrating a planar training approach to program design.
The central nervous system (CNS) coordinates the muscles in concert to produce specific movements. It does this by using something called motor engrams. These are movement programs that we have developed for all general actions. Familiar movements build detail ontothese programs, creating highly developed and refined motor engrams. These well-practiced programs run smoothly at many different speeds and can be executed successfully in changing environments (i.e. off balance, rushed, or form an unusual position).
Unfamiliar movements have incomplete or rough engrams. These programs are a work in progress and can often go awry. We have to slow down and be very cognitive about the action in order to control it properly and we tend to be much less successful. These unpracticed actions often feel "uncoordinated" and in the event that a situation demands that we run an unfamiliar program at higher speed, the chances of failure of injury increase dramatically.
Training using a movement or planar approach results in a complete workout that not only will involve every muscle group around the major joints (the goal of those looking for aesthetics), but will also work though every motor plane, giving balanced training that will help to improve many of our traditionally rough movement patterns, increase overall function and reduce the chance of injury. Integrating more complex and coordinative multi-planar movements into the program will build further on this new foundation to stimulate the CNS to create and refine motor engrams that will then be applied to sport and life.
Let's go back and review the planes of motion. These elements are often the first things taught in basic fitness courses but sadly are promptly forgotten as there was no emphasis placed on applying them. As the body moves through space, it uses any combination of three planes of motion. These are as follows.
Sagittal Plane of Motion:
Movement forward and back, or through the mid-line of the body. An example of sagittal plane movement is a biceps curl or a step forward lunge.
Frontal Plane of Motion:
Movement side to side or along the frontal plane, such as abduction and adduction. Exercises that work through the frontal plane are the dumbbell lateral raise or side lunge.
Transverse plane of Motion:
Movements that include horizontal abduction or adduction or rotational actions. Examples here are the bench press or a cable wood chop.
Below is an example of a traditional, full body strength training program that is representative of the industry standard. It is comprised of 22 exercises (5 for legs, 3 for chest, 3 for back, 3 for shoulders, 2 for biceps, 2 for triceps and 4 for the core). It could be divided up by muscle group over a two or three day period. The point is to evaluate the exercise selection. View the program while considering only the first two columns.
"Body Part" Based Training Program
|Legs||Squats||Hip, Knee & Spine||Sagittal|
|Legs||Lunges||Hip & Knee||Sagittal|
|Calves||Standing Calf Raise||Ankle||Sagittal|
|Chest||Bench Press||Shoulder & Elbow||Transverse|
|Chest||Incline Dumbbell Press||Shoulder & Elbow||Transverse|
|Back||Close Grip Pull Up||Shoulder & Elbow||Sagittal|
|Back||Seated High Row||Shoulder & Elbow||Transverse|
|Back||Bent Dumbbell Row||Shoulder & Elbow||Sagittal|
|Shoulders||Military Press||Shoulder & Elbow||Frontal|
|Shoulders||Lateral Dumbbell Raise||Shoulder||Frontal|
|Shoulders||Front Dumbbell Raise||Shoulder||Sagittal|
|Triceps||Lying Triceps Extension||Elbow||Sagittal|
|Triceps||Cable Press Down||Elbow||Sagittal|
|Core||Stability Ball Crunch||Spine||Sagittal|
On the surface it appears to be well-balanced and would result in good aesthetic results. Now take into consideration the last 2 columns of information. The key stats are as follows:
While this program seems well-put together at first glance, the glaring imbalances are apparent under the "planar lens". While likely to create great aesthetics, by not utilizing a planar approach during the planning phase, this program is also poised to reinforce an inability to move effectively in the frontal or transverse plane with the lower body, act in the frontal plane with the trunk and contribute to muscle imbalances, joint tightness and movement dysfunction.
So how is a planar program planned?
Below are the basic guidelines.
The program below uses a planar approach to break down the body, ensuring balanced training for every joint across all planes of movement. The program is written to integrate traditional exercises with functional actions, and utilizes some of the innovative equipment mentioned above. The approach promotes the aesthetic improvements that are associated with first traditional program and creates a heightened state of bodily readiness and function for movement in sport and in life. Below the program is an easy to use checklist to track what movements have been included in the program.
|Exercise||Major Joint(s)||Plane(s) of Motion||Direction||Body Part(s)|
|Squat||Hip||Sagittal||flexion / extension||Legs|
|TRX Suspended Lunge||Hip||Sagittal||flexion / extension||Legs|
|Lateral Step Up||Hip||Frontal, Transverse||adduction, horizontal. exten.||Legs|
|Transverse Plane Lunge||Hip||Transverse||horizontal flexion / exten.||Legs|
|Close Grip Chin Up||Shoulder||Sagittal||extension||Back|
|Incline Dumbbell Press (narrow)||Shoulder||Sagittal||flexion||Chest|
|Wide Grip Pull Up||Shoulder||Frontal||adduction||Back|
|Military Dumbbell Press||Shoulder||Frontal||abduction||Shoulders|
|TRX High Row||Shoulder||Transverse||horizontal extension||Back|
|Chest Press||Shoulder||Transverse||horizontal flexion||Chest|
|Prone Chest Raise||Trunk||Sagittal||extension||Core|
|TRX Suspended Pike||Trunk||Sagittal||flexion||Core|
|Lateral Trunk Flexions||Trunk||Frontal||lateral flexion||Core|
|TRX Side Plank with Reach||Trunk||Frontal, Transverse||lateral flexion & rotation||Core|
|Cable Wood Chops||Trunk||Transverse||R & L rotation||Core|
|Heavy Ball Diagonal Rotations||Trunk||Transverse||R & L rotation||Core|
Training Program Movement Checklist
|Frontal||Right Lateral Flexion||??|
|Left Lateral Flexion||??|
The key stats are listed below:
If this planar training program is evaluated under a body part based lens, we find an even distribution of exercises for all body parts using 4 less exercises. The exception to this is while the biceps, triceps and calves are not targeted specifically, they are very much involved in many of the more compound movements. If we wanted to address these components specifically it is very easy to add in specific exercises after the main part of the program is complete.
In comparison to the first sample program, it is clear how a planar approach results in a much more complete and effective training plan that facilitates both aesthetic improvement and supports human movement and improves athletic development and functional fitness. This program could easily be made shorter and more coordinatively challenging and functional by integrating more multi-joint and multi-planar exercises. In this case the approach and evaluation process is the same but made a little more complicated due to the complexity of these types of actions.
A planar approach to training organization is challenging at first. It represents a major shift away from the way the fitness industry as a whole has been conditioned to think. While considering its validity, it is important to remember the adage of functional training... "The body knows only movement, not muscle." ...and ask the question "Why then are we training using a muscle based approach?"
Those who attempt this shift will be rewarded with effective programming that works on an entirely new level.