A Scientific Approach To Building Strength In All Planes Of Motion

We can no longer think and train linearly. Humans were built to move - and that means move in all directions. Sports are becoming more competitive by the day, and I do not want my athletes getting blown by and ending up on the sidelines.

If you only build your athletes in one plane of motion, they will become weak in the others. Weakness is a ticking time bomb and that bomb is injury or defeat.

Building strength in all three planes of motion is critical to success, so you must recognize where you currently are with your programs and athletes.

Strength Is Never a Weakness!!

Let's start with defining “strength.” Strength is the ability to overcome or counteract external resistance of different loads with various rates of speed

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I like this definition because it states that there are variables of different loads and rates of speed. In sports, your athletes will be asked to overcome many different situations and athletic endeavors of countless variations. So let's train for them.

A Primer On Planes of Motion

There are three planes of motion:

  1. Sagittal - forward/backward motion, dividing the body into right and left sides
  2. Frontal - side-to-side motion, dividing the body into the front and back
  3. Transverse - twisting/rotation motions, dividing the body into top and bottom

Main movements in every program: (Thanks Dan John)

  • Squatting
  • Hip Hinge
  • Push (Vertical & Horizontal)
  • Pull (Vertical & Horizontal)
  • Carries
  • Core/Everything else 

Adapting your programming with any of the following will make your athletes stronger: 

  1. Increasing muscle coordination/neural recruitment
  2. Increasing rate of force development/rate coding
  3. Increasing muscle fiber cross sectional area

So now that you know those things, what's next? Well, it's where the art of programming comes into the picture by combining the planes of motion with the main movements needed in each program.

Here is what I do when new student interns start each semester:

  • I sit them down and ask them to write one week of programming for athletes in the sport of their choice. This includes three days of training with the main goal of improving strength.
  • Then we sit and review the program together, breaking down each exercise into the movement and planes it incorporates.
  • Afterwards, we tally each category and identify the deficits. Typically, we overdo the sagittal plane and squatting. We rarely have enough transverse, hip hinges, or core movements. Neglecting an area will increase the risk of injury and decrease performance.

Side Note: Each sport has its own unique characteristics and may require extra effort in one area vs. another. It is okay to spend some extra time in that sport's most dominant plane, but do not forget the benefits of the others too. Example: in track, sprinters train a lot in the sagittal plane. I also love squats and deadlifts. However, with track being linear in nature, it benefits from training in the transverse and frontal planes as well because it will improve power transfer, thus making that athlete more efficient and faster. So we get great benefits out of filling the gaps outside of that linear plane, which is why those movements are one of the biggest focuses of their training. 

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A simple system:

  • Step 1 - Identify your goal = Increase Strength
  • Step 2 - Write out program based on time, equipment, athletes, etc.
  • Step 3 - Review sets, reps, movement patterns, and planes of motion
  • Step 4 - Revise and repeat

It is that simple. People do not like simple. We all want the new shiny thing, the undiscovered secret. Sorry guys and girls, but no bells and whistles here. It’s as simple as... pick up something heavy off of the ground, carry it for a while, squat it, throw it, and repeat.

Another side note: Many coaches I have spoken with are hesitant to train rotation. Do not be afraid of rotation. Remember progressive overload. Prepare the tissue for the task. If you have zero training in rotational type exercises, you need to start with less. Less is more. Minimal effective dose.

Common Movement Variations To Mix It Up 

Introduce one big change at a time. You can manipulate the programs you currently have with a few minor adjustments and get the most bang for your buck. To get you started, below are a couple ideas/variables you can change or adapt in your current programs. I recommend picking one and testing it for a cycle. 

  • Utilize unilateral and staggered stances: trap bar deadlift with one foot forward, one foot back
  • One-leg/one-arm variations: one-arm overhead kettlebell press/one-leg Romanian deadlift
  • Odd objects: stone/sandbag/yoke/slush pipe
  • Carries/loading and unloading: pick up a heavy object from the ground and load in/on a box
  • Sleds: One-arm sled pull/lateral sled walks
  • Landmine twists/presses
  • Kettlebells: one-arm swings, snatches, Turkish get-up
  • Crawling: all types
  • Back extension with rotations

Putting It All Together

The following workout is a total body, three-day-a-week, off-season program for a football player.

DAY 1

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DAY 2 

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DAY 3 

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Final Thoughts

Small changes make for big impacts. Do not alter everything you are currently doing. You do not necessarily need to have every movement pattern and every plane of motion in every workout.

You just need to make sure you have it covered by the end of each week.

Review what you are doing, identify the gaps in the planes of motion, and make one change. Work with it and adapt it. So get out there, have fun, and train strong. 

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About The Author

Ryan is the Director of strength and conditioning at Pro Performance RX In Morgantown, West Virginia. Ryan has been working in the private sector with hundreds of youth athletes for the last 5 years. He is always excited to talk training and dig deep into the Why. Never stop learning, growing and adapting. In the great words of Bruce Lee be like water.

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