How Exercising in 3 Dimensions Reduces Injury (U.S. News & World Report)

Posted: Oct 12, 2022 in In the News

This article originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report on October 12, 2022.


Most cardiorespiratory exercise moves in one direction – forward. Whether you enjoy running outdoors, performing high-intensity intervals on an elliptical machine or walking on a treadmill, you're moving in what is called the sagittal plane. This means that you are moving in an up/down or forward/backward motion. The same holds true for many resistance training exercises, including push-ups, bench presses, biceps curls and squats.

While those are all great forms of exercise, it may be beneficial to consider moving your body in different ways. This can add variety to your routine, help prevent injuries and prepare the body for activities of daily living and sports.

5 Main Movement Patterns

There are many ways in which the human body can move. They fall into five primary movement patterns:

  • Bend-and-lift: Think of squatting down to lift a child up off the floor.
  • Single-leg: Climbing stairs, or even simply walking, involves a series of single-leg movements as you transition from one foot to the other.
  • Pushing: This type of movement can occur in multiple directions, such as when pushing open a door, lifting an object overhead to place it on a high shelf or using your arms to push yourself up out of a swimming pool.
  • Pulling: Like pushing movements, pulling can occur in multiple directions, such as when pulling open a door or rowing a kayak or rowboat.
  • Rotational: These movements often occur in the torso as force transfers from the legs to the arms, such as when throwing a ball, or during twisting movements like driving a golf ball.

Many movements you might perform over the course of a particular day are more complex than a single movement.
Yes, you will likely walk and climb stairs and otherwise mimic those cardio workouts, but you might also lift a child up out of a car seat and twist to place them down. You might carry bags of groceries in from the car, then lift some of those items up onto high pantry shelves. You might perform any number of tasks that challenge your body as part of your work, during sports you play on the weekend, while doing yard work, or while completing chores around the house.

Exercise in the Sagittal Plane

There are three planes of motion, the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes. Many exercises only require movement within one plane.

  • The sagittal plane represents an imaginary line that runs front to back and divides the body into right and left sides. Examples of exercises that take place in this plane include walking on a treadmill, doing bicep curls and squats.
  • The frontal plane runs side to side and divides the body into the front and back. Exercises in the front plane include jumping jacks, grapevines, side lunges and side shuffles.
  • The transverse plane runs horizontally and divides the body into top and bottom sections. Exercises in this plane include internal and external shoulder rotations, wood chops and standing gate openers.

Multiplanar Exercise

To have a balanced workout regimen, incorporate exercises that include all five primary movement patterns in all three planes of motion, which sounds much more difficult than it is. Most yoga classes and well-designed group fitness classes will accomplish this in a single workout, making them a great option for most people.

In addition, many exercises can be performed in sequence to create a full-body resistance-training circuit or even combined into more complex movements for experienced exercisers. Examples include lunges with a twist (which can be performed as a body-weight exercise or with external resistance in the form of a medicine ball or dumbbell), a lunge matrix that has you moving in multiple directions rather than only forward and high planks with a thoracic spine rotation.

Why Exercise in 3 Dimensions?

Being able to move safely in all directions is essential, whether you are working to improve performance or just trying to get healthy. Injuries often come when we move in a way that we aren’t accustomed to, which is why ankle sprains and knee ligament tears are so common among athletes who don’t train adequately for the sudden stops, starts and changes of direction their sport entails.

For non-athletes, this often occurs because of a loss of balance coupled with an inability to quickly regain balance and stability. Training for these moments and strengthening the body in different ways and in multiple directions and angles will help reduce your risk of injury, no matter what movements you tend to do in your everyday life.


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