When you look at sports and athletic performance, you see that we move in multiple planes, usually at the same time. However, most of the exercises we perform are done in only one plane.
So what's the issue? Deadlifts, Squats and other exercises are effective, but you need to train in multiple directions to become a complete athlete.
Here's how to develop the three planes of motion.
The Sagittal Plane
The sagittal plane bisects our bodies into right and left halves. Motion in this plane occurs around a horizontal axis from left to right that runs perpendicular to the plane (as seen in the image above). Exercises done in this plane train linear, straight line movements such as sprinting, jumping, squatting, pushing and pulling.
Many of these movements are foundations of what we do in the weight room when we train athletes. Below are some key sagittal exercises:
- Deadlift – For an in-depth breakdown of one of my favorite lifts, check this out. The Deadlift is a great exercise to teach a hinge pattern and create a strong posterior chain, with powerful hips and hamstrings. A key attribute of athleticism is having powerful hips; and variations of the Deadlift should be incorporated into the programs of all athletes.
- Squat – Another key exercise performed in the sagittal plane. A proper squat pattern is a foundational movement for healthy individuals, from infants to the elderly, as well as a big factor in athleticism. A good Squat trains the hips, hamstrings, quads and calves, while improving mobility in the hips and ankles (another huge advantage for athletic performance.)
- Reverse Lunge — A great exercise to train single-leg strength, core stability and eccentric control of the hips. Because of the position-specific strength and stability it requires, we use it a ton for pitchers and other athletes who need to improve their linear speed. It forces multiplanar core stabilization through a full range of motion, giving an added training effect to the central nervous system.
- Jumps (Broad/Vertical) – Jumps are terrific measures of power, which is why they're included in many combines for player evaluation. They're also great in the weight room. Jumping is probably the easiest and most efficient way to train power. Even more important, Jumps teach you how to land properly to safely and effectively absorb force.
Use these exercises to build a baseline of strength and stability. But when you exclusively emphasize sagittal plane movements in the weight room and day-to-day life, you lose the ability to reproduce foundational movements outside of linear patterns. Lateral and rotational movements are critical to sports and important to maintain in life.
We often need to spend time relearning these patterns in the weight room. If you want to maximize your athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury, move beyond the sagittal plane and incorporate frontal, transverse and multiplanar movements.
Frontal Plane: Lateral Strength
The frontal plane bisects the body into anterior and posterior sides. Motion occurs along an axis that runs front to back, perpendicular to the plane. Most exercises done in the frontal plane train lateral/medial movements.
Sports require a constant ability to change direction, both reactively and powerfully. Thus, we have to train those medial/lateral abilities in the weight room. Shuffling, cutting, coming around the edge on the line—all involve motion on the frontal plane. Here are some key exercises we use to train in the frontal plane:
- Sidestepping – The Sidestep is not just for rehab programs. It's a great way to train glute activation, hip abduction and adduction, knee and trunk stability. The Sidestep creates the foundation for stabilization and control with lateral movement, so taking the time to use them with new athletes or during warm-ups is important.
- Lateral Bear Crawl – One of my favorite tests of hip and core dynamic stability. When done correctly, it forces you to resist several forces to maintain your position, while improving scapular motion/stability and hip abduction/adduction.
- Lateral Lunge – The ability to cut and change direction on the field requires a high level of eccentric strength in the hips as well as good body control to maneuver in space. The Lateral Lunge is a great exercise to teach change of direction, training proper lateral hip loading, positive shin angles, and core stability.
- Lateral Broad Jump – Another key area of changing direction is to be powerful out of a cut. We use the Lateral Broad Jump to train lateral power. Teaching proper landing mechanics with the Lateral Broad Jump, initially done with two feet and progressed to a single-leg landing, is important to prevent injuries and help athletes learn to load their hips better to absorb and output force more efficiently.
Transverse Plane: Rotational Strength and Stability
The transverse plane splits the body into superior and inferior parts (upper/lower). The axis of movement runs from the head to the ground, perpendicular to the plane of motion. Transverse plane movements are mainly rotational patterns, as well as horizontal abduction/adduction.
For sports like baseball, golf, tennis and lacrosse, if you are not efficient rotationally, you set yourself up for injury, because they all require a tremendous amount of rotational strength and stability. Yet, how often during our day or while training do we rotate?
Although everything from throwing a baseball to turning over to get out of bed requires rotation, most of the movement limitations I find during assessments are with this simple pattern in the transverse plane. Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell always talks about training your weaknesses, so performing these exercises in the transverse plane is important for both performance and injury prevention:
- Rolling Patterns – Lie on the ground and roll around a bit. You'll be surprised how challenging this is for most people, especially adults who may not have gone through true rotation since they were young children. Rolling patterns are great to teach stabilization through movement and get athletes reacquainted with foundational rotation.
- Seated Hip Flow – This is a great drill to warm up the hips, develop core strength and stability through rotation, and stimulate the CNS. By creating active ranges of motion through the hips and pelvis, you can move more efficiently on the field.
- Standing Band Rotations – A great way to train rotational stability, power, and eccentric loading of the hips. Maintaining control through a range of motion allows you to establish the base to reproduce the movement on the field. For more on that topic, check out the link here.
- Rotational Med Ball Throws – Especially for baseball players, there's no better way to train rotational power than to load the pattern with a rotating throw. The additional weight forces you to properly load and rotate your hips coming through to get force behind the ball.
Multiplanar: Putting it All Together
As I stated earlier, we do not move strictly in one plane, and this is especially true in high intensity sports. Therefore, you need to integrate these movements in order to have the best carryover to your sport. Here are some of my favorite multiplanar exercises:
- ½ Get Up – One of my favorite "bang for your buck" exercises. It trains rotational power and stability, shoulder stability and coordination, all while challenging numerous positions at once.
- Rotational Landmine Press – A great exercise to train transference of power through the kinetic chain. Incorporate many variations of the Press to get as sport-specific as you'd like.
- Crow Hop Rotational Med Ball Throw – This one not only does a great job of training coordination of rotational, lateral and linear power, it's also one of the best ways to get fired up during a training session. Throwing a ball against a wall as hard as you can—what's more fun than that?
If you want to maximize athleticism and sports performance, you need to train a variety of movements through multiple planes of motion. If you want to compete like an athlete, you must train like an athlete and move the way an athlete moves.
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