It’s taught in high school, it’s presented again in your early stages of becoming an certified personal trainer. It’s always brushed off because let’s be honest, it’s boring and not sexy for social media. But it’s essential to know as a coach and trainer, appreciating the planes of motion and the rate at which you should implement them.
Exercise and program selection as a powerlifting coach is simple enough right? We just have 3 lifts we need to perform, and we need to nail their technique for optimal force production and more weight to be added overtime. Biomechanical proficiency isn’t commonly understood and constructed in many programs released these days. Unfortunately due to this, the specificity of our sport has come at a cost. The cost being movement variability, accessing ranges outside of our extended position and the ability to have control within those ranges.
Instead of addressing the nature of each individual and how they are actually moving, we are going above and beyond with these complex rulings to justify the rate in which we develop our systems. There is no reason to progress a lifter if the underlying issues continue to arise and movement dysfunction is still present. Assess, address and progress. I guess this is where we can talk about the planes of motion and how they relate to the principles in which we construct our coaching.
As powerlifters majority of our movements are done in Sagittal Plane Motion. This is up and down forward and back. In the sagittal plane your body always wants to keep things balanced, this means head over your rib cage/diaphragm, your diaphragm over your pelvic floor diaphragm/hips and your hips over your ankles. This is why we can lead into kyphotic or lordotic positions, it’s your bodies coping mechanism to keeping balance. Once you have have quality sagittal movement, meaning the ability to remain stacked, a vast majority of your pain and movement dysfunction will be resolved.
But, if you look at frontal plane movement, your side to side or abduction and adduction of joints, this isn’t thought of being applicable in powerlifting as we don’t move in frontal plane during our 3 barbell lifts. However, how many times have you heard the cues “push your knees out” “Spread the floor” or “Pull the bar apart”. Just because we don’t move in frontal plane doesn’t mean we don’t want to have access and control over it. We want the muscles that are responsible for this to be tight in order to have joint stability and control. The balanced body also brings true for frontal plane movement, if we turn you from front on, to side on your body wants and needs to be stacked. In a rested standing position for example, is majority of your weight leaning on your right food causing axial shift in skeletal structures causing opposing adduction and abduction of foundational joints.
Moving on from there and into transverse plane, this is the last movement we specifically work on as many people lack movement variability in sagittal and frontal plane. These are your rotational muscles, again we don’t rotate in powerlifting but how often is it that we see swifting in someones squat or swaying in their deadlift? These muscles are still important even if it is just isometrically to provide rigidity in our bigger lifts.
Suffering from niggles or injuries to those little stabilisers like Quadratus Lumborum (QL)? I’m going to speak from experience now, your QL is a frontal plane muscle, it’s main job is to help your ribs and hips move side to side and keep you standing upright. But as we know your muscles don’t just do 1 job, the body has 50 thousand backup plans to get shit done. That’s what makes humans so resilient.
Several months ago I was extremely lordotic (extended), which meant that my QL instead of doing its frontal plane job, became a primary mover in the extension of my hips because my glutes weren’t taking the responsibility. So therefore we have 2 problems, the first being you have a tiny muscle doing the role that a huge group of muscles should be doing. Now your QL will do the job, but it will never perform tasks as well or as powerful as your glutes, leading to inevitable injury. Secondly, because the responsibility of stabilising extension is such a big task, it then limits the effort being put into frontal plane tasks, so yet again another muscle is going to have to take on that role, and down go the dominos.
I hope you’re still following me and that ramble cleared some of the points of starting in sagittal tasks and NAILING them before progressing into frontal and further into transverse. Have big muscles that are responsible for certain tasks actually doing them!
If you put muscles in their position to work, they will take on the task at hand. Muscles ARE DUMB! Think of them as rubber bands, all they do is contract and relax, they don’t have the ability to figure shit out, they do what they are told by your brain and nerves. So regardless of how strong a muscle is, if it’s in an inefficient position to work it will never be as powerful as you want it to be. Your body will definitely try to optimise movement patterns, hence massively grown spinae erectors as powerlifters, but if you can’t hold a zone of apposition they will never have leverage to do their job properly, so you need to put them in a position to do so.
Sometimes it may be about balancing weaknesses, I’m not to sit here and speak in absolutes. But in my experience, if we focus on improving joint restrictions and the variability of joints, you will find the things you previously thought to be weak are no longer, or muscles that were previously weak can now access range to become stronger a lot quicker.
How often do you hear the story, I have weak glutes or a weak core? I don’t necessarily think they are weak. Especially if you’re squatting heavy ass weight. I just don’t believe you’re putting them in a position to actually work.
Now what has this got to do with planes of movement you may ask? I guess what I’m trying to point out here that exercise selection and the ability to implement the correct drills based on someone’s movement characteristics plays a much greater role than you think. Ensure you have quality sagittal plane movement before progressing a client and don’t be afraid to regress things. Complexity isn’t the answer.