Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/10/2013 (1111 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As a personal trainer proceeds through their years of education, they are taught communication and counselling approaches they can adopt to get training points across to clients. As opposed to a preacher, counsellor or director, I knew from the start that my demeanour would be that of an educator. Knowledge is power and if I am able to pound into your head some of the biomechanics and exercise physiology of the workouts and exercises you are performing, you are going to benefit that much more from it. Unfortunately, many trainers get away from the basic science of strength and conditioning in favour of fads and specialty equipment and forget to educate and teach their clients, and as a result most clients and gym members are clueless when it comes to the why and how of what they are doing.
If you want a no-think workout, attend a group fitness class; they will do a great job of challenging you and providing variation to your workout. If you want to think a bit and understand the process your body is going through, get a good trainer.
That brings us to our topic for the month: Exercises that incorporate more than one movement plane, and defining a movement plane, would be a good start. Simply put, a plane divides the body into segments (front/back, left side/right side, top/bottom) and therefore a movement plane is a single direction of movement in one of these planes. Since we live in 3D, there are three planes in which movement can occur: frontal, sagittal, and transverse (hopefully that is as science-y as we will get). Many basic exercises, and even more complex, multi-joint exercises like a squat, dead lift and even explosive Olympic lifts like a clean and press involve only one plane. Can you guess which one?. Consequently, these exercises are, in a way, limiting, because sports, work and life in general happen in multiple, simultaneous planes.
Many trainers institute the use of compound exercises with their clients, involving putting two exercises together to create a more difficult movement. This can effectively increase your heart rate and does add to the complexity of an exercise, but often does not truly involve simultaneous movement in multiple planes. The best way to incorporate multiple movement planes into an exercise is to consider the principle of movement uptake vs. movement creation, which we have discussed before when dealing with functional core exercises. This principle implies that you can work in a plane of movement not only by moving in that direction, but also by fighting excess movement in any given plane. Fighting excess movement in one plane will allow you to move in another at the same time -- and this is how life happens.
Take, for example, the lunge -- an incredibly dynamic, multi-joint, lower-body exercise that incorporates many different training principles. Performed classically, the movement is in only one plane, but if we modify the movement direction or create an unbalanced system, we have developed the lunge into a multi-plane exercise. We can advance this principle even more with the use of a small piece of equipment called a landmine. This simple training tool sits on the ground, is a receptacle for one end of an Olympic bar and allows the user to add different variations of rotation to classic exercises. The clean and press is an advanced Olympic lift used overwhelmingly in sport-specific strength and conditioning, and it is again a single-plane exercise (which is not very sport-specific!). But when this exercise is performed using the landmine, a second and even third plane of movement is added.
(To see the outlined exercises, view the video at winnipegfreepress.com or try the Blippar app on your smartphone.)
This list of exercises is by no means exhaustive. If you or your trainer are intent on incorporating this training principle into your routine, get creative, but use caution. As you add planes of movement to an exercise, you also increase stress to joints, muscles and tendons and, as always, even the exercises outlined above are not appropriate for all levels of fitness. There is an inherent risk when increasing the complexity of your workout. But there is also reward. If today that reward is nothing but learning a bit more about how your body moves in the gym, sport and life, then I have done my job as an educator.