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Multiplanar Training

February 16, 2011

By Gerard Bochese

Most strength and conditioning programs focus on isolated uni-planar exercises.  Think of all the machines lined up in a gym setting.  The leg extension, the bicep curl, the shoulder press – all these machines isolate a body part and move in only one plane of motion.

However, the central nervous system is designed to optimize the selection of muscle synergies (groups of muscles working together) to perform movement patterns in all three planes of motion at different speeds of motion.  This is the difference between what we do in the gym and what we do in the real world.  To start bridging the gap between gym training and real world movement you must start to include multiplanar training in your workouts.

Multiplanar training means training our bodies in all three planes of motion: sagittal plane (forward and backward), frontal plane (side to side), and the transverse plane (rotational movements).  Multiplanar training cannot be done on any machine with a fixed path of motion (which is pretty much all of them).  The tools to achieve this type of training are dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls, cable systems and body weight—basically, any tool where the movement becomes user defined and thus is not fixed.

Let’s use the lunge to demonstrate multiplanar movements.  Imagine you are standing on a clock face.  A forward or reverse lunge, where you are lunging to the 12 (forward) or 6 (reverse), would be considered a lunge in the sagittal plane.  To achieve the frontal plane you must lunge laterally or side to side.  Stand in the center of the clock and laterally step to the 9 and then to the 3.  The leg landing on the 9 or 3 will bend into a lateral lunge and the fixed leg will remain straight, with a stretch in the inner thigh (adductor complex). The transverse plane requires a rotational movement.  Standing in the center of the clock, step with your right foot toward the 4 and with your left foot toward the eight.  To create the rotation in your hip complex during this movement the fixed foot must remain pointing straight toward the 12.  As the hips open up to step toward the 4 and 8 you’ll get a rotational movement in the transverse plane.

If you think about movements you do in the real world, especially in recreational activities like playing tennis or golf or pick up basketball, you will find you are constantly moving in all three planes of motion, not just forward and backward.  So to be strong and effective in these movements and to help prevent injury when you lunge sideways for a tennis shot or twist your body to grab a loose ball on the basketball court, or just to play with your kids, you must train these movements during your workout routine.

Note: The least trained movement in most people’s workout routine is the transverse plane (rotational pattern), yet this is our most powerful movement pattern. The human body creates power through torque (twisting motion).  Think about when we shovel snow, start a lawnmower, throw a punch at a heavy bag, throw a football or baseball—we generate power by rotating our body through these movements.  Even when we walk and especially when we run, our gait consists of the opposite arm and leg moving with a rotational rhythm through our core.

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