What are the Planes of Motion? Frontal Plane, Sagittal Plane, Transverse Plane: Exercise Examples and Joint Motions

Jul 22, 2022

Edited by: Danielle Abel

The Planes of Motion Explained

The planes of motion help define the directions that the body moves within and gives structure and logic to exercise selection and program design. 

There are 3 planes of motion:

  • Sagittal plane
  • Frontal plane
  • Transverse plane

These planes "cut" or "slice" the body in different ways. It's really easy to get confused when you're thinking about complex compound movements and the different joints that are involved. 

Sagittal Plane

You can do these exercises in a narrow hallway. Imagine your shoulders were touching the walls, and you could only move forward and backward; this is considered the sagittal plane. This plane cuts the body into left and right halves. 

Exercise examples:

  • Forward Lunge
  • Bicep Curl
  • Leg Extension

Another way to think about planes is to consider the axis of rotation. In the case of the leg extension, the knee joint is the axis of rotation, where the axis of rotation is lateral to medial - towards the outside of the body and towards the inside of the body. 

Example Joint motions that typically occur in the sagittal plane:

  • Shoulder Flexion and Extension
  • Knee Flexion and Extension 
  • Ankle Dorsiflexion
  • Ankle Plantar flexion

Frontal Plane

These exercises would cause you to hit the wall in the same narrow hallway. These movements are from side to side or occur to the sides of the body, laterally. This plane cuts the body into front and back, or anterior and posterior, halves. 

Exercise examples:

  • Lateral Lunge
  • Lateral Raise

In the case of the lateral raise, the axis of rotation is through the shoulder joint, where the joint movement originates anteriorly and posteriorly. 

Example joint motions that typically occur in the frontal plane:

  • Shoulder Abduction and Adduction
  • Hip Abduction and adduction

Transverse Plane

These movements would cause you to hit one side of the wall or the other while moving in a rotational fashion from head to toe or superior (towards the head) to inferior (towards the toes). This plane cuts the body into upper and lower halves. 

Exercise examples:

  • Cable Wood Chop
  • Plank Pull Through
  • Chest Fly
  • Reverse Fly

The axis of rotation in the transverse plane is rotational from top to bottom, so from the head to the food and we're rotating around that axis.

Example Joint motions that typically occur in the transverse plane

  • Shoulder Horizontal Abduction
  • Shoulder Horizontal Adduction
  • Trunk Rotation

It is important to keep in mind that the planes of motion stay relative to the anatomical position of the body (standing up straight with palms supinated and facing forward). So even if you lie down, the planes stay the same. 

  • Bench Chest Fly (still transverse plane)
  • Machine Reverse Fly (still transverse plane)

Practical Application & CSCS Study Questions

1. What plane of motion is a lat pulldown in?

A. Sagittal plane

B. Frontal plane

C. Transverse plane

So, let's look at the axis of rotation in this movement first. In the lat pulldown, the axis of rotation is at the location of the shoulder joint; with the pulling movement, the shoulders are internally and externally rotating, vertically or upward and downward. Internal and external rotation occur within the frontal plane, so the answer would be B. 

2. What plane of motion is the squat exercise? 

A. Sagittal plane

B. Frontal plane

C. Transverse plane

Again, let's look at the axis of rotation in this movement; the ankle is dorsiflexing and plantarflexing, the knee is flexing and extending, and the hip is flexing and extending. The motions are also occurring forward and backward, so in that narrow hallway you wouldn't be touching the walls, so the answer is A. 

3. What plane of motion is the bench press exercise?

A. Sagittal plane

B. Frontal plane

C. Transverse plane

If we think about the axis of rotation in the bench press, the shoulders are horizontally abducting and abducting the arms toward and away from the midline of the body. so knowing the horizontal abduction and adduction is transverse plane, the answer would be C. 

*Keep in mind if the bench press was narrow grip, the axis of rotation would change to the elbow and would be flexion and extension of the elbow which would be sagittal plane. 

Why Care About the Planes of Motion?

The principle of specificity states that the body will adapt to the imposed demands placed upon it. So this is where strategic exercise selection and programming come in as a trainer or coach. If you're only programming exercises in the sagittal plane, like squats, deadlifts, and forward lunges, your clients or athletes will have difficulting gaining strength in other directions. For example, they may struggle with lateral and rotational strength for things like cutting and turning. Including movements that promote working in all planes of motion with different types of joint motions is more optimal for improving function. 

Support & Courses Available

Ready for more support to help you prep for the CSCS exam? Join our Facebook Group, “Strength and Conditioning Study Group,” here. Ready for even more? Our 24-module CSCS Prep Course has the planes of motion completely laid out for you with even more content than what we’ve provided here, plus chapter quizzes to help you pass the NSCA exam; click the link here to check it out.



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