Anatomical Planes

I guess right off the bat I should specify, we’re talking planes as in a geometric surface, not airplanes… so sorry everyone who came to learn how to make flying machines out of bodies. 

 
Anatomical Planes are imaginary “sheets” drawn through the body which we can use to describe movements and positions which are:
 

Sagittal Plane: Divides your left & right side. Forwards & backwards movements.

Frontal Plane: Divides your front & back sides. Side to side movements.

Transverse Plane: Divides your top & bottom. Twisting movements.


We’re going to go into more detail of each below, and in this blog, we’ll mostly focus on their role in describing movement & exercises, which is the most relevant to training and basic anatomy.

 
Remembering these 3 main planes is fairly simple but getting your head around what movements occur in which plane(s) can be a bit trickier, so we’ll give you lots of examples as we go!

 
P.s., all these planes are described in the Anatomical Position, and they do move with you – so if you lie down flat on your back, the planes rotate too!

 

Sagittal Plane


A plane going from the top of your head down to your feet in an anterior-posterior direction (i.e. front to back). It separates your left and right side.
Saggital-Plane.jpg 140.19 KB

Sagittal movement occurs parallel to this plane, so if the plane goes from front to back, sagittal movement goes front to back (or back to front) such as a lunge.

Planes-Lunge.jpg 173.7 KB
 
A nice trick you can use to remember movement in the Sagittal plane is instead of imagining a single plane down the centre of the body, imagine two planes - one just outside each shoulder – making a little corridor with you in the middle.

 
Any movement that fits within these two “walls” is Sagittal, like our lunge:
Planes-Lunge-Corridor.jpg 167.06 KB


Examples of Sagittal Movements:

Squat
Biceps Curl
Deadlift
Front Splits
Forward Roll
 

The predominant Anatomical Movements in the Sagittal Plane are Flexion & Extension.

 
Interestingly, most of our human movements are Sagittal, we’re forwards and backwards kind of people. Walking, running, sitting – all our most natural movements are sagittal. This is really useful to keep in mind when you’re planning your training, we often default to these straight forwards-backwards movements, but you get a tonne of benefits from spending time in the Frontal and Transverse planes… so let’s find out what they are!

 
 

Frontal (Coronal) Plane


Sometimes called the Coronal Plane, this plane going from right to left, separating your front from your back.
Frontal-Plane.jpg 197.09 KB


Same as before, movement in the Frontal plane occurs parallel to it. It runs right to left, therefore movement right to left (or left to right) is Frontal (or Coronal) movement, such as a Star Jump/Jumping Jack.

Planes-Star-Jump.jpg 289.58 KB

 
I find it rather unfair that the Frontal plane deals with sideways movements and not forward movements.


We can use the same “corridor” trick as we did with the Sagittal plane earlier, by taking our single central Frontal plane and turning it into two: one just in front of your tummy and the other just behind your back. Any movement that fits inside these “walls” is Frontal:
Planes-Star-Jump-Corridor.jpg 246.16 KB


Examples of Frontal/Coronal Movements:

Side Bends
Pull Ups
Lateral Raises
Inversion & Eversion of the foot
Cartwheel

 
The predominant Anatomical Movements in the Frontal Plane are Adduction & Abduction.

 


Transverse Plane


Finally, the Transverse plane runs parallel to the ground through the centre of your body, dividing top and bottom.
Transverse-Plane.jpg 153.63 KB

In some ways, you can think of this as a catch-all for all the angles that aren’t front-back (sagittal) or side-side (frontal), any diagonals will be on the Transverse plane. You can also think of Transverse movement as rotation or twisting. For example, a Band Retraction:
Planes-Retractions.jpg 156.08 KB


Unfortunately, the lovely corridor trick doesn’t always with this plane, but if it helps, you can imagine an axis going straight down vertically through a joint which stays still, then any movement around this axis is transverse:

Planes-Retractions-Axis.jpg 162.57 KB


Examples of Transverse Movement:

Russian Twists
Hook Punch
Pirouette
Wall Ball Slams
Roundhouse Kick

 
The predominant Anatomical Movements in the Transverse Plane are Internal & External Rotation.
 

 
Multiplanar


In the movements describe above, they don’t all fit perfectly into their respective planes – there’ll almost always be some sideways movement in a sagittal exercise for example – but they do mostly follow one direction or another.

 

However, as you can imagine there are loads of exercises that pass through two or even all three of the planes! These are multiplanar (or biplanar for two and triplanar for all three). Here’s a few examples:

 

Cossack Squats
A frontal lunge out to the side, with a sagittal squat on one leg.
Planes-Cossack-Squat.jpg 143.69 KB




Pallof Press
A sagittal extension of the arms forwards, while resisting transverse movement to the side.
Planes-Pallof.jpg 189.48 KB


Lunge with Twist
A sagittal lunge forwards with a transverse rotation
Planes-Twisting-Lunge.jpg 212.43 KB


Planes can also describe movement on a smaller level, of individual joints. For example, the ankle has triplanar movement, able to dorsiflex/plantarflex (sagittal), invert/evert (frontal) and rotate (transverse). The elbow on the other hand, can only flex & extend (sagittal).

To help you remember all three planes and their corresponding directions, just think of a few exercises that you love to do and try and work out which planes they move in!

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