When we think of Bruce Lee throwing a kick, Muhammad Ali dodging a punch, or a great wrestler like Dan Gable swiftly shooting in for a double-leg takedown and dumping his opponent on the mat, we can easily imagine strength exerted on multiple planes. This multi-dimensional strength and stability is achieved through specific strength conditioning. It is the key for optimizing body movement and power for a combat athlete’s knock-out punch. It also provides incomparable groundwork for other athletes, too.
The majority of today’s programs favor traditional strength and conditioning approaches which are often heavily biased towards sagittal plane (forward and backward) movements. We definitely need strength in the sagittal plane, and many of the big-bang-for-the-buck exercises like squats and deadlifts occur in this plane.
But in designing our training, it is important to understand that the human body does not move in just one direction. We can also move side-to-side, forward, backward, and in rotation.
Training in multiple planes, or multiple directions, helps us achieve higher levels of body awareness, balance, and coordination."
This improved programming allows for quicker reaction times and more efficient neuro-motor function. Training in all the planes can help athletes and clients avoid injury and enhance their performance. It’s a required practice for any athlete determined to consistently perform on an elite level.
Movements in the sagittal plan move forward and back, or through the mid-line of the body. Common examples of sagittal plane movements are a biceps curl or a sit-up.
Movements along the frontal plane can be described as side-to-side, such as abduction and adduction. Exercises that work through the frontal plane are side lunges and jumping jacks.
Movements in the transverse plane include horizontal abduction, adduction or rotational actions. Exercise examples include the Russian twist or a cable woodchop.
One major reason most sports injuries occur in the frontal and transverse planes is that most athletes are only training in the sagittal plane. Athleticism depends on a tremendous amount of movement in different planes of action. Strength and conditioning programs for athletes should strive to include as many variations of movement as possible to train muscles in as many planes as possible (Kenn, 2003).
As trainers and coaches, we must prepare our athletes by strengthening their bodies in all three planes. If your athletes understand the difference between these three planes of movement and can develop their ability to efficiently weave their movements together, then they will be well-rounded and less prone to injury. For example, a fighter in the ring or cage spins, moves left and right, dodges kicks, pivots, punches, and is constantly tackled. If his or her body is weak in a particular plane, the likelihood of an injury is much greater.
Most popular training methods do not use multi-planar movements. Powerlifting, Olympic lifting, CrossFit training, and bodybuilding tend to primarily work in the sagittal plane. Very few movements are in the transverse or frontal planes. Additionally, most of these training methods do not include multi-planar movements—combinations of frontal, sagittal, and transverse planes of motion. These popular training methods are still valid for training athletes, but coaches should also consider ways to train sport-specific movements that athletes will perform on the field of play (Brown, 2013).
As strength coaches and trainers, we can create workouts that hit all of these planes, or we can select compound exercises—triplaner movements—that hit all three planes in one rep. One of the best triplanar movements of all is the get up.
The get up is a highly functional movement and total body exercise. Its benefits include improved shoulder stability and strength, correction of left-right asymmetries, overall mobility, core strength, improved movement skills, overall proprioception/coordination, and time under tension. The get-up also teaches athletes to stabilize themselves and create whole body tension in a variety of positions.
The above-mentioned list of benefits is more than enough justification to include the get-up in our workouts. But, I think that one of the most valuable benefits provided by the get-up is that it passes through all three movement planes from the ground up, and again on the way back down to the ground. For that reason alone, the kettlebell get-up is one of my favorite options—it forces you to work in EVERY plane of motion.
The get-up provides a variety of functional movement patterns and an unmatched stimulation to our vestibular and nervous systems. Once they have mastered all the steps of the get-up, you can even lead your clients and athletes through the movement with their eyes closed for a greater nervous system challenge. The body awareness developed from practicing get-ups provides tremendous value for athletes and the general population.
When designing a strength and conditioning program, we need to include multi-planar movements, multi-directional movements, and various stances which are appropriate for our athletes. Exercises like the get-up will help athletes move more efficiently and will decrease their chances of injury while increasing their overall functional strength.
Brown, T. (2013, September). NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, Issue 12. Retrieved November 18, 2016
Kenn, J. (2003). The Coach’s Strength Training Playbook. Monterey, CA: Coaches Choice.
There is an abundant amount of information floating around the internet with regards to proper training, proper nutrition, proper mental preparation, and proper technique for grapplers. In fact, there’s so much out there, it becomes a much bigger job to sift through the good and bad and extract what you need as an individual than it should be. Your job, as an athlete, is to do the damn thing.
Do the thing and you shall have the power” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Emerson was a 19th century American poet (among other things), but he may as well have been a sports psychologist with a mindset like that. All of the information athletes are perpetually bombarded with is meant to help them, though it seems to just distract defer focus to ideas and concepts they don’t need to be scrutinizing. Ultimately, an athlete (and grapplers in particular) need to shut their minds down and be an absolute animal to get the job done on the mats. In order to be successful, athletes must simplify and execute.
There are more clinical terms for this concept found in sports psychology. “Attentional Focusing” for example, is “the ability to focus attention on cues in the environment that are relevant to the task in hand.” In short, the capability of an athlete to focus on task-relevant cues in order to achieve what they need to. The ability to simplify and execute. The ability to do the thing.
James Kerr in his bestseller “Legacy” puts it this way:
“Under pressure, your attention is either diverted or on track. If you’re diverted, you have a negative emotional response and unhelpful behavior…if your attention is on track, you have situational awareness and you execute accurately. You are clear, you adapt, and you overcome.”
With so much information constantly at our fingertips, it becomes tough to sift through and determine what is right for you. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people you trust to advise you for your particular athletic goals, and reliable resources (like FUJI Fit) to direct you appropriately. And it’s important to do this in preparation for events, not the day of.
Ultimately, when you hit the mats, all the thinking should’ve already be done. The ability of you as an athlete to focus on the task at hand, to simplify and execute, will be the difference in success and failure the vast majority of the time. The training, the eating, the mental preparation, and the technical components of you as a grappler need to be the object of your attention leading into a competition, once you’re on the mats, your attention should be on one thing: execution.