The three cardinal planes of motion are three imaginary planes (imagine them as planes of glass), in which all possible motions of the human body take place. The first is the sagittal plane. Imagine this as a plane of glass that separates the body into left and right halves. The movements of flexion (like a bicep curl), extension (like a tricep extension), dorsiflexion (bringing the foot closer to the shin), and plantar flexion (pointing the toes towards the ground) take place in the sagittal plane. The second is the coronal/frontal plane. Imagine this as a plane of glass that separates the body into front and back halves. The movements of lateral flexion (bending side to side), abduction (raising your arm out by your side), abduction (bringing your arm closer to your body), inversion (this is the position where an ankle sprain most commonly occurs), and eversion (the opposite of inversion) take place within the coronal/frontal plane. The third is the transverse/horizontal plane. Imagine this as a plane of glass that separates the body into top and bottom halves. The movements of rotation (spinning your torso from side to side), pronation (the action holding a glass of water and pouring it onto the ground), and supination (the action of turning your palm to the sky) take place in the transvers/horizontal plane. These planes enable us to biomechanically organize the movements of the human body into a system!


Honestly, I love the sagittal plane (I just needed a nifty title to catch your attention). A TON of what we do, be it throughout our activities of daily living or in our exercise routines, occurs in the sagittal plane. Walking, running, typing, standing up, sitting down, bending forward, bending backwards, bench pressing, bicep curls, tricep extensions, squatting, deadlifting, forward and backward lunges, pull-ups, dips, and many more take place in the sagittal plane.

While some have instances where small portions of the movement occur in a different plane, they primarily happen in the sagittal plane. Here lies the problem! So much of what we do is in one plane, meaning that there is often a much lesser amount of training that happens in these other planes of motion! So, what? Keep reading!


First, we need to acknowledge that there are differences between where athletes and non-athletes spend most of their time. Beyond that, there are differences among athletes in different sports. What I mean by this is that depending on the sport that an athlete plays, it may be necessary that they spend most of their time in the sagittal/coronal/transverse plane, for that sport. For example, a 100m sprinter will likely spend the majority of his time in the sagittal plane. On the other hand, a wrestler is forced into countless awkward, unconventional positions, causing them to have to react any way that they can (meaning that they must employ movements in every plane to advance in position). Because of this, certain athletes must train in ways that are functional in relation to their sport, which may not involve much training outside of their normal position. However, other athletes and almost everyone else who doesn’t play a single sport, is not bound by the necessity to train only in a single plane (and shouldn’t)!

Every movement that takes place is a result of the activation of muscles. The muscles that cause us to move in the sagittal plane are not always the muscles that cause us to move in the coronal plane, are not always the muscles that cause us to move in the transverse plane. Repeatedly moving/training only in one place of motion can possibly lead to muscular imbalances (which can lead to improper compensations), and restrictions of certain motions in certain joints due to a chronic lack of movement of those joints in other planes of motion (i.e. poor hip rotation). Beyond that, not moving or training in all planes of motion can prevent us from being prepared when life decides to take us out of the sagittal plane (like when we slip on the ice, have to catch a child when they are falling off the couch, take a family bowling trip once every other month, etc.). Faries et al. explains that “...most sports and even activities of daily living require force production and acceptance in multiplanar, dynamically unstable environments.” If we don’t normally move or train in a multiplanar fashion, we can’t expect to be ready to stabilize ourselves and function optimally when life presents us with multiplanar challenges!


-The sagittal plane, coronal/frontal plane, and the transverse/horizontal plane separate the body into halves, and give us a way to organize the movements of the body

-Often, people live their lives and exercise most of the time in the sagittal plane

-Because of this, we tend to not incorporate movements in the other planes of motion

-This can lead to muscular imbalances, improper compensations, and us being unprepared when life leads us into multiplanar situations

THANK YOU. I truly hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of The Spine Times. If you would like to read further on this topic, I have listed the references I used below. If you have any questions about the importance of training in a multiplanar fashion, please ask! Also, if there is a topic that you would like to learn about, email me and let me know what it is, and I will do all that I can to help.

Jake Croft, DC


Andrews, James R. Physical Rehabilitation of the Injured Athlete. ElsevierSaunders, 2012.

Faries, Mark D., and Mike Greenwood. “Core Training: Stabilizing the Confusion.” Strength and Conditioning Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, 2007, p. 10.

Liebenson, C. Rehabilitation of the Spine: a Practitioner's Manual. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007.

Reed, Casey A., et al. “The Effects of Isolated and Integrated ‘Core Stability’ Training on Athletic Performance Measures.” Sports Medicine, vol. 42, no. 8, 2012, pp. 697–706.

Padua, Darin A., et al. “Comparison of Isolated and Integrated Training on Functional Performance Measures.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 42, 2010, p. 66.

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