At TRX Training, we consistently emphasize the significance of integrating functional exercise and mobility training into your strength training regimen because they prepare your body for the movements required in your everyday tasks.
One often overlooked aspect of functional training, mobility training, and daily activities is the inclusion of multiplanar movement. These are movements that occur in multiple planes of motion, a concept that is simple yet rarely discussed in the realm of physical fitness and strength training.
In this blog, we will delve into the benefits of incorporating multiplanar movements and provide examples of exercises that encompass these movements, which you can seamlessly integrate into your home workout routine.
What are Multiplanar Movements?
Consider your daily activities—sitting at your desk, reaching for plates in a cupboard, lifting your toddler, or engaging in a game of catch with your children—and observe how your body moves during these actions. You'll notice that your body moves up and down, forward and backward, side to side, and even rotates. These are movements occurring in multiple planes of motion.
A multiplanar movement is defined as the movement of a joint that takes place in more than one plane of motion. Our bodies are capable of moving in the frontal, sagittal, and transverse planes. Multiplanar movements involve motion in at least two, if not all three, planes of motion. By incorporating multiplanar training, you are challenging your body to move efficiently in all three planes.
The 3 Planes of Motion
The three planes of motion are sagittal, frontal, and transverse. You can think of each plane as an imaginary line that divides your body in half.
1. Sagittal Plane
The imaginary line of the sagittal plane runs down the middle of your body, splitting your left and right sides evenly. Movements parallel to this line (forward and backward movement) are in the sagittal plane of motion. This includes flexion, extension, and hyperextension of your joints, as well as dorsiflexion and plantarflexion of your feet.
Sagittal movements are the most common among your daily activities — things like sitting down, bending (hinging) forward, and pushing a shopping cart.
Common exercises in the sagittal plane include:
- Walking, jogging, or running
- Climbing stairs
- Forward and reverse lunges
2. Frontal Plane
The frontal plane, also known as the coronal plane, is represented by an imaginary line splitting your body into front (anterior) and back (posterior) halves. Movements parallel to this line (side-to-side or lateral movement) are in the frontal plane. This includes abduction and adduction of your arms or legs, elevation and depression of your shoulders, and eversion or inversion of your feet.
Frontal plane movements in your daily activities include turning doorknobs, pulling to shut your car door, or standing on the tips of your toes. Actions in this plane are less common, which is even more reason to train your body to prepare for them.
Common exercises in the frontal plane include:
- Lateral raises
- Jumping jacks
- Lateral lunges
- Side shuffling
- Side planks
3. Transverse Plane
The imaginary line of the transverse plane splits your body in half at the waist, separating your upper (superior) and lower (inferior) halves. Movements parallel to this line are in the transverse plane. Transverse activities typically involve the rotation of your torso. They also include pronation and supination of your forearms and feet and horizontal abduction and adduction of your shoulders.
Traditional strength training tends to focus on the sagittal and frontal planes. Movement in the transverse plane is the least common for most people, including athletes. Most sports injuries occur from a rotational force. So if you're getting ready to pick up a tennis racket again or hit the golf course, it's vital to adjust your body to transverse movements.
Common exercises in the transverse plane include:
- Seated twists
- Dumbbell flies
- Russian twists
- Forward lunge with spinal twist
- Side plank with rotation
Which Joints Can Perform Multiplanar Movements?
Just like there are three different planes of movement that your body can move in, there are three axes of rotation that the joints can move in.
Uniplanar (or uniaxial) joints rotate in one axis, meaning they only move in one plane. The elbow is an excellent example of a uniplanar joint since it can only move in flexion and extension in the sagittal plane of motion.
Biplanar (biaxial) joints can rotate in two axes and move in two planes. The knuckles in your hands are biplanar joints. They can move in flexion and extension in the sagittal plane and laterally in the frontal plane (when you spread your fingers apart).
Multiplanar (multiaxial) joints can move in all three axes and all three planes. Your shoulder and hip joints are multiplanar. They can move in flexion and extension in the sagittal plane, laterally in the frontal plane, and rotate internally and externally on the transverse plane.
Which Joints Does Multiplanar Training Focus On?
Most multiplanar training programs emphasize the multiplanar joints, like your hips, shoulders, and trunk. However, you'll often find workouts with compound multiplanar movement exercises that target multiple joints at once.
One example is a forward lunge with a spinal twist. The forward lunge is in the sagittal plane, while the spinal twist is in the transverse plane.
4 Benefits of Multiplanar Training
The importance of multiplanar movements is pretty apparent when you look at all their benefits. Here are just a few:
1. Multiplanar Movements Correct Imbalances
Most muscle injuries occur because your stabilizer muscles can't handle your workout load. By focusing solely on uniplanar movements, your stabilizer muscles become weak over time, causing muscular imbalances. Your joints and stabilizer muscles need to be regularly conditioned with multiplanar exercises to build joint strength.
The single-leg deadlift to reverse fly (see the list of multiplanar movements below) is an excellent example of a multiplanar movement focused on stability and fixing muscle imbalances.
2. Multiplanar Training Prevents Injuries
Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts tend to only train in one plane of movement — the sagittal plane. For example, suppose your only physical exercise is running. In that case, you're only working your body in the sagittal plane and not exposing your muscles to frontal or transverse movement. Only working in the sagittal plane means you're not conditioning your stabilizing muscles, thus creating muscle imbalances.
Now imagine playing a pickup game of basketball. When you try to pivot (rotate) to change direction, you’d have a much greater chance of injuring your calf muscles or ankles. By training movement in different planes, you’re preparing your body to be more agile for sudden changes in your movement.
3. Multiplanar Exercises Improve Physical and Athletic Performance
Functional mobility and movements in each plane are crucial for athletes. Sprinting, shuffling, jumping, swinging, and pivoting are expected movements in sports. Adding multiplanar movement exercises to your training improves your body’s movement patterns, making you a more efficient athlete who’s less prone to injury.
And outside of sports, multiplanar flexibility helps you to walk up and down a staircase, put on your seatbelt, or push a shopping cart with ease.
4. Multiplanar Training Has Positive Psychological and Neurological Effects
Multiplanar training strengthens your nervous system, enabling more effective muscle contractions. Research has shown that the level of effort, rather than the intensity of exercise, determines your strength gains. This means that multiplanar movements enhance the relationship between your brain and your muscles.
Another critical factor is that multiplanar movements take you out of your standard routine. Regardless of your fitness goals, the mental effort of adapting your body to training in all three planes improves your mind-body connection, increases your muscle strength, and adds more enjoyment and motivation to your routine.
Multiplanar Training Exercises
Here are just a few examples of multiplanar movements to add to your current fitness routine.
1. Single-Leg Deadlift to Reverse Fly
The single-leg deadlift to reverse fly works in the sagittal and transverse planes. The leg extension and hinge movements are in the sagittal plane. The reverse fly is in the transverse plane, working your shoulders in horizontal abduction and adduction.
How to do the single-leg deadlift to reverse fly:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and keep a slight bend in your right knee. Using a center grip, hold two YBell Neos or YBell Arcs at your sides. This is your starting position.
- Engage your core and glutes to help your balance. In one fluid motion, hinge at your hips while extending your left leg behind you until your back is flat and parallel with the floor.
- With the YBells hanging down in the hinge position, pinch your shoulder blades back and raise the YBells out to your sides until your arms are parallel with the ground.
- Then bring the YBells back down in a slow, controlled movement.
- Slowly raise your torso back to a standing position while bringing your left leg forward and raising it in front of your body into a 90-degree bend. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 10 reps on each side.
If you’re struggling to keep your balance on one leg, you can do this exercise with both feet planted on the ground. Try to work your way up to doing this as a single-leg movement, as it’ll help increase your stability and balance.
2. Lateral Jump Burpee
The lateral jump burpee works in all three planes. The lateral jump is in the frontal plane. The push-up is a sagittal movement, but it's also in the transverse plane due to the rotation of your shoulder joints.
How to do the lateral jump burpee:
- Start standing up with a YBell Pro on the ground in front of you.
- Drop down to the floor into a plank position. Hold the YBell with a top grip in your right hand and perform a deep push-up.
- Stand up and then do a lateral jump to your right over the YBell.
- Repeat for 10 reps on each side.
3. Side Plank With Oblique Twist
The side plank with an oblique twist works in the transverse and frontal planes. The oblique twist works in the transverse plane, while the side plank works in the frontal plane.
How to do the side plank with an oblique twist:
- Lay on an exercise mat on your right side with your forearm flat on the floor. Stack your right elbow under your shoulder to allow your back to support your weight. Your right forearm should point toward the direction you’re facing.
- The outside of your right foot should be flat against the ground. Stack your left foot on top of your right foot.
- Engage your core and lift it into a side plank. Squeeze your glutes as you drive your hips up from the floor. This is your starting position.
- Keep your back straight and your chest open. Place your left hand behind your head with your elbow pointing toward the ceiling.
- Rotate your torso while bringing your left elbow to the ground toward your right elbow. Keep your left hip up and your body in a straight line as you perform the rotation.
- Slowly reverse the motion and rotate your torso back open to the starting position.
- Repeat for 8 to 10 reps on each side.
The side plank with an oblique twist is a fantastic example of a compound exercise. It combines two uniplanar movements into one, making it a more functional multiplanar exercise. And, to increase the difficulty o this bodyweight compound exercise, you could add a shoulder press to the end of the movement with a free weight.
4. Med Ball Wood Chops
Med ball wood chops work the sagittal and transverse planes. The torso rotation of the chop is in the transverse plane, while the squat movement is in the sagittal plane. As the name implies, this move is traditionally performed with a double-grip med ball, but you can use other multi-handle fitness tools, like a YBell Neo or YBell Pro.
How to do the med ball wood chop:
- Holding a YBell Pro in both hands with an under grip, start with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With a slight bend in your knees, rotate your torso and bring the YBell over your right shoulder. Keep your eyes on the YBell throughout the movement.
- Perform a diagonal chopping motion while lowering yourself into a squat, chopping the YBell down towards your left knee. Twist your torso with the YBell as you move, engaging your core strength to control your movement.
- As you rise out of the squat, swing the YBell back to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 10 to 12 reps on each side.
Why You Shouldn't Skip Multiplanar Training
You live in a three-dimensional world, so why wouldn't you train your body to move through it with ease? Many traditional training programs only include sagittal plane movements (especially cardio workouts and strength training).
If you're not training to move through all three planes regularly, you'll deprive your body of its ability to move naturally. With a more balanced approach to your training — such as combining functional multiplanar movements with your resistance training — you'll improve your range of motion, increase your body's stability and balance, develop better overall muscle strength, and help prevent injuries from occurring.