The 8 Planes of Motion in Strength Training

STACK Expert Robert Pomazak prescribes exercises that use all eight planes of motion in your strength training to avoid imbalances and prevent injury.

Planes of Motion in Strength Training

When training for strength, it's easy to neglect one area of the body in favor of another, creating imbalances that can lead to structural compromise and injury. To make sure you don't miss anything, train in multiple planes of motion and complexes rather than by body part.

Let's break it down to the essentials of strength training. Here are the eight planes of motion and complexes, along with sample exercises to add to your program.

Planes of Motion

Horizontal Push

Exercises that move a load horizontally in the sagittal or transverse plane of movement, including shoulder flexion or adduction. Horizontal push exercises also involve an extension of the elbows away from the body ( e.g., the Bench Press ) .

  • Exercises : TRX Push-Up, Incline Bench, Neider Press, Cable Chest Press
  • Tip: Perform exercises standing up and unilaterally (one arm at time). This adds a stability component and is more functional for athletes.

Horizontal Pull

Movements associated with pulling a load horizontally to the body. Abduction of the shoulders and flexion of the elbows recruit the biceps to work. (e.g., rowing exercises)

  • Exercises: Bent Over Row, Horizontal Pull-Up, TRX Row, 2-Point Standing DB Row
  • Tip: By using multiple grips (narrow and wide), you can target different areas of the back and body.

Vertical Push

Movements that involve an extension of a weight, vertically pushing it away from the body (e.g., Overhead Shoulder Press).

  • Exercises: Jackknife Push-Up, Push Press, DB Split Press, Seated Arnold Press
  • Tip: Add a vertical push to another compound exercise to add difficulty and increase the demands on your body.
  • Caution: Take previous shoulder injuries into consideration before adding vertical pushes to your strength training program.

Vertical Pull

Movements that involve moving a load down to the body from the extended position.

  • Exercises: Pull-Up, Lat Pull-Down, Heavy Rope Exercises, High Pull
  • Tip: Use multiple grips to add variation to Pull-Ups. Modify exercises (e.g., perform Band Pull-Ups if regular Pull-Ups are too difficult).

Knee Complex

These exercises can be categorized as both push and pull, so they are in their own section. Knee-dominant exercises are initiated by extending the knee joint, which leads to extending the hip.

  • Exercises: Pistol Squat, Single-Leg Box Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat, 3D Lunge Series, Step Ups
  • Tips: Train the knee complex with both bilateral and unilateral (single-leg) exercises. This will develop the balance, flexibility and single-leg strength athletes need to perform well.

Hip Complex

Hip complex exercises involve an almost isolated extension of the hip, with little knee extension. The focus is to recruit the posterior leg and back muscles—i.e., the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

  • Exercises: Single Hip Extension, Swiss Ball Glute/Ham Bridge, Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift, Good Morning
  • Tips: Posterior chain injuries are one the leading causes of pulls and strains. Isolated hamstring and glute exercises should be used with low weight until the movements can be done with complete control and stability.

Rotational Core

These exercises develop the structural girdle that supports the body through all planes of motion. It is essential to build a strong core to develop strength in the other planes of motion.

  • Exercises: Med Ball Over the Shoulder Throw and Catch, Cable Rotation, Wood Chops, Barbell Torque, Med Ball Corkscrew
  • Tips: Rotational core exercises should be the foundation of your program, since they mimic many of the everyday movements an athlete needs to make.

Load Carry

Loaded carries build dynamic core stability through movement. Walk 20 to 30 yards carrying a load in one hand for a weighted walk.

  • Exercises: Single-Arm Farmer's Walk, Double-Arm Water Bucket Carry, Zig Zag Plate Carry with Calf Raise
  • Tips: Athletes need great hip stability, and the alternating unilateral stresses placed on the body during loaded carries strengthen the hip girdle and develop grip strength in the forearm flexors and extensors.

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