Sports Coach Logo Sports Coach Training Principles Fitness Components



Benefits of a Multi-Planar Movement Exercise Program

Matthew Rowe explains the benefits of a multi-planar movement workout for improving strength and physical conditioning.

When developing fitness and conditioning programs for athletes and everyday recreational exercisers, traditional training protocols have often focused on splitting the body into distinct 'parts' and exercising muscle groups separately and independently of each other to achieve results. Yet as our knowledge of the human body has continued to evolve, a much newer way of thinking addresses the body as a whole, training the body for better movement and mobility - thereby ensuring a stronger and more resilient body.

Types of Movement Patterns

To better understand this, the body essentially has three different movement patterns. These are defined as:

  • Sagittal - movement forward and backward
  • Frontal - movement side to side
  • Transverse - rotational movement

To put this into some sort of context, the lunge would be an example of a sagittal movement plane (forwards and backwards), whereas the medicine ball wood-chop would be a transverse movement plane. Yet both of these exercises have one thing in common. They are both uni-planar (in other words, performed in a straight line). Most of us typically perform a high level of uni-planar exercises in our workouts, from squats and lunges to chest press and overhead press. So, what is wrong with this?

In simple terms, our bodies were designed to move in different planes of motion without being confined by machines or to straight-line movement patterns. Our muscles will always try to work in unison to achieve better and more efficient free movement. Let us take a simple example. Does a professional football player just run forward and backwards on the pitch? Of course not. They will run forward, trackback, sprint sideways, weave in and out, jump, perform twisting headers, throw-ins, or even overhead and scissor kicks! All sports will require some form of multi-planar movement, which replicates life movement too.

Therefore, it is essential that our workouts also emulate real-life movement patterns. We should be looking to start adding multi-planar exercises by combining one or more of the above movement planes into one exercise. Let us take the example of a step up onto a bench and then performing a medicine ball torso rotation before stepping back off the bench. This would be an example of a multi-planar movement combining sagittal and transverse movements.

The Limitations of Uni-Lateral Movement Programs

Most athletes typically perform many straight-line exercises or uni-lateral movements, which no doubt mirrors some of the movements they perform in their sport. However, such exercises are repetitive, leading to muscular imbalances and severe injuries. Let us take running, for example. Commonly performed by athletes and recreational gym users alike, this is an example of a predominant straight-line sagittal movement exercise. This involves working heavily on the muscles that produce sagittal movement while mainly ignoring the frontal and transverse movement muscles. These later muscles are largely responsible for providing stability to the sagittal muscles when we run. The result is that we develop unconditioned and weak stabilising muscles, making the body far more prone to injury. Think about how many runners suffer from weak hamstrings, shin-splints, hip-flexor soreness, and much more?

Sports injury specialists commonly find that the cause of most of these muscular injuries is a joint dysfunction or muscle weakness caused by un-strengthened stabiliser muscles, brought about by performing repetitive uni-planar exercises. These stabilisers stop supporting and working in unison with the other muscles. These stabiliser muscles become weaker over time (as the other muscles become progressively stronger), causing a muscular imbalance. Our joints and stabilisers require multi-planar exercise routines to load them effectively and build strength in and around the joint.

Improving our Neurological Response

The advantage of multi-planar movement extends beyond just a stronger and more functional body. Sports scientists have shown that multi-directional movement improves and strengthens the body's connection between the brain and the muscles, enhancing the nervous system. When performing multi-planar exercises, we have to slow down and become more conscious of the movement to perform it properly. Over time these kinds of exercises can improve our central nervous system, allowing for greater and more powerful contractions. These exercises can also improve neurological efficiency.


One of the skills of developing an effective exercise program is to address the needs of the individual while providing a program that will improve functional fitness and reduce the likelihood of injury. As more research is done, sports scientists see the real benefits derived from multi-planar exercises. Sports teams and professional athletes are now adopting this exercise into their routines to ensure better conditioning and reduce injury risk. By adopting routines that integrate multi-planar movement, we can all improve our physical condition and well-being, from professional athletes to recreational gym users.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • ROWE, M. (2013) Benefits of a Multi-Planar Movement Exercise Program [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Matthew holds a degree in Exercise Physiology and has over 12 years of experience in the fitness industry. As a qualified personal trainer, he works with individuals of all abilities, from professional athletes and sports teams to everyday individuals looking to improve their fitness. Matthew lectures in sports science focusing on physical conditioning and injury prevention. Matthew can be contacted through MotivatePT.