Pritchard: Understanding the planes of motion (column) |

Pritchard: Understanding the planes of motion (column)

Jimmy Pritchard
Better Version of You
Jimmy Pritchard is the director of strength and conditioning for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

The human body moves in a multitude of ways, particularly within sports and recreational activity.

There are three primary planes of motion, known as the sagittal plane, the frontal plane, and the transverse plane. These involve flexion/extension, abduction/adduction, and rotation, respectively.

Unfortunately, many strength and conditioning programs fail to address all three planes of motion, as well as provide a variety of movements. It is essential to move through every plane of motion, especially in a loaded manner, to assist with athletic performance as well as injury prevention.

Common issues

Many training programs are founded on three basic lifts: squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting. These are undoubtedly fantastic contributors to the development of overall strength; however if done alone, they fail to address movement in all three planes of motion.

To gain a firm understanding of why this important, one must take a step back to perform further analysis. In a broad sense, sport is a collection of unpredictable movements that are variable in nature. Kinematic angles are ever-changing, and no one movement is ever the exact same, despite the perception that they are.

A jump shot in basketball is never the same within a game situation — hence why some are made — and some are missed. At times, a player may be wide open, while at others he may be fading left or right to avoid a defender. The intention to make the basket is constant; however the execution is where the variety lies.

What this tells us is that movement must be done in every plane of motion to accommodate for variety.

Take a back squat for example: Rather than back squatting at the same depth week after week, variety should take place. One phase should include a lateral lunge, the next a box step up and the last a rotational box jump. This allows for the athlete to receive new stimuli and adjust accordingly. Not only will this elicit greater strength and power gains, but it also will assist in injury prevention due to the fact that mobility through a wider range of motion is necessary for execution.


If humans quit jumping, skipping and hopping in multiple directions, their ability to execute those movements quickly atrophies. We were made to move in variety ways on a frequent basis — plain and simple.

An important point I must contend, however, is that strength and conditioning are not simply a collection of randomized movement for the sake of doing so. Variety in movement is an art form that must be carefully crafted by a qualified strength-and-conditioning professional.

Early stages of preparation are typically very general and meant to be an adaption period when performing a program, whereas later stages requiring “peaking” become extremely specific. Proper progression of movement must first be understood so that injury is not at stake.

My greatest piece of advice is to look at your weekly program and ensure that you have at least one movement for both the upper and lower extremities that addresses each plane of motion. From there, analyze your sport or activity of choice and tailor the program to what’s necessary. Last, honestly assess areas of weakness you may have or need to work on and include extra movement within those motions.

As previously mentioned, look at program design as art, backed by science to ensure its effectiveness.

Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in Exercise Science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength and conditioning at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or, or visit

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