There are three planes that the human body can move in. The first is the sagittal plane, which includes forward and backward movements. Examples of this would be walking, squatting, and pressing up. Any movements that include rotating and twisting would be part of the transverse plane. There are rules that govern the division between these two.
“When the arms and legs adduct and abduct in line with the torso their movement is in the frontal plane. But when an arm or leg is held at 90 degrees to the body and moves toward or away from the centre, it becomes transverse plane movement. This type of movement is seen in exercises like the bench press, push-ups, chest and back flys, and seated hip adduction and abduction machines,” states an article on the three movement planes published on the website of the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
The third plane is the coronal or frontal plane of motion, which is side-to-side movement. And while we spend enough time squatting, pressing, running, doing push-ups and adductions, the frontal plane suffers from a lack of attention. This is where lateral movements come in. There will be lots of instances of seeing someone do forward walking lunges, but what about the side lunge or the banded side shuffle. In fact, the most common frontal plane exercise most gym-goers do regularly is the lateral raise.
“People end up doing lateral raises because the frontal plane exercise options are limited for the upper body and this one is the most effective one,” says Girish Venkatraman, who is a strength and conditioning coach based out of Pune. But he adds that there are many frontal plane exercises one can do for the lower body.
“Adduction and abduction work for the adductors and the gluteus medius are important. In every leg session you should add some frontal exercises. For glutes, and for beginners, do something as simple as a fire-hydrant,” Venkataraman adds.
The fire-hydrant is an exercise done on all fours, lifting the legs one by one to the side of the body while maintaining the 90-degree angle at the knee, and driving the movement using the glutes. The side plank, the warrior pose, and the lateral lunge are also frontal plane exercises worth doing.
The addition of these exercises also depends on your lifestyle. If playing sports is part of it, then doing frontal exercises is more important. “When training a tennis player we made lateral movements a big part of the pre-season training regimen. Tennis players generally train a lot side-to-side, but once the season comes and they’re already playing so much, we shift focus to sagittal plane training,” Venkatraman says.
A 2015 research on women basketball players’ movements involved training the athletes in both planes of movements. Some of the frontal plane moves they included were ice skaters, lateral hops, and side-to-side ankle jumps. “Plyometrics training is an effective modality to improve power and change-of-direction speed performance, and basketball coaches should use multi directional plyometric training rather than training in only one plane,” the study concluded.
But even your day-to-day functioning can be affected if you completely ignore these moves. Venkatraman says that if the adductors and glutes are not strengthened, the knees might cave in or cave out too much, leading to pain and discomfort.
One doesn’t always have to move side-to-side to perform a frontal plane exercise. This is because adduction (extending a body part away from the body's midline like in the fire hydrant), abduction (moving a body part towards or across the midline of the body), elevation and depression (a prime example would be a shrug where you elevate the scapula and let it fall back to its position), and the less used eversion and inversion (shifting body weight to the edge of either side of your feet) are all part of frontal plane movements.
“When we lose movement, we may start to ache, and to resolve the ache we need to start moving again. And all those little movements, how an acetabulum moves on a femur, or how a rib cage moves underneath a scapula, are unbelievably important. Those little movements set the table for the big movements that we all know so well. Frontal plane restoration is what enables all that,” writes postural restoration expert Neal Hallinan on his blog Pritrainer.com.
These movements can be sprinkled through your workout, but the regularity of doing them will make sure the body is used to moving through all planes. It is very natural as well to forget these movements because, as Hallinan adds in his blog, “we live in a sagittal minded world”. More so in the gym, because the favourite compound exercises—squatting, deadlift, and bench-pressing—are performed in the sagittal plane. Actively realising that these sagittal moves are highly dependent on the transverse and frontal planes should be the motivation to add new movement patterns to your workout.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.