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 both athletes and everyday recreational exercisers, traditional training protocols have often focused upon splitting the body into distinct 'parts' and exercising muscle groups separately and independently of each other in order to achieve results. Yet as our knowledge of the human body has continued to evolve, a much newer way of thinking looks at addressing 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 get a better understanding of this, the body essentially has three different movement patterns. These are defined as:
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 really 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. In fact, our muscles will always try to work in unison with each other 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, they will track back, sprint sideways, weave in and out, they will jump, perform twisting headers, throw-ins or even overhead and scissor kicks! The point is all sports will require some form of multi-planar movement which replicates life movement too.
It is important therefore that our workouts should emulate real-life movement patterns too. What we should be looking to do is 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 as it combines both sagittal and transverse movement.
The Limitations of Uni-Lateral Movement Programs
Most athletes typically perform a lot of straight-line exercises or uni-lateral movements, which no doubt mirrors some of the movement they perform in their sport. However, not only are such exercises repetitive, but they can lead to muscular imbalances, which in turn can lead to serious 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 the muscles that produce sagittal movement whilst largely ignoring the muscles used in frontal and/or transverse movement. It is these later muscles that 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 joint dysfunction or muscle weakness caused by un-strengthened stabiliser muscles, brought about by performing repetitive uni-planar exercises. These stabiliser muscles become weaker over time (as the other muscles become progressively stronger) causing a muscular imbalance. These stabilisers stop supporting and working in unison as they should with the other muscles. Our joints and stabilisers require multi-planar exercise routines to load them effectively and therefore 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. These exercises can also improve neurological efficiency. Sports scientists have shown that multi-directional movement not only improves but also strengthens the body's connection between the brain and the muscles, enhancing the nervous system. That is because when performing multi-planar exercises, we have to slow down and become more conscious of the movement in order to perform it properly. Over time these kinds of exercises can improve our central nervous system, allowing for greater and more powerful contractions over time.
As more research is done, sports scientists are seeing the real benefits that can be derived from multi-planar exercises. Sports teams and professional athletes are now adopting this type of exercise into their routines to ensure better conditioning and reducing injury risk. One of the skills of developing an effective exercise program is to address the needs of the individual whilst providing a program that will improve functional fitness and reduce the likelihood of injury. Through the adoption of routines that integrate multi-planar movement we can all improve our physical condition and our wellbeing from professional athletes through to recreational gym users.
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About the Author
Matthew holds a degree in Exercise Physiology and has over 12 years' 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 with a focus on physical conditioning and injury prevention. Matthew can be contacted through MotivatePT.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: