02. Planes of Motion

Lesson 2: Planes of Motion:

by Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

Video # 2: Planes of Motion

Sagittal Plane

Sagittal Plane:

Etymology – “shaped like or resembling an arrow,” 1540s, from Modern Latin sagittalis, from Latin sagitta “arrow”  – think of the direction an arrow flies (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Definition: The sagittal plane is a plane that divides the body into right and left halves.

  • Motion: Sagittal plane motion runs parallel to this plane, generally in a forward, backward, up and/or down direction – Imagine being trapped in a narrow hallway.
    • Note: The muscles that move us in this plane, generally run up and down in the front and back of our bodies.

Activity:  Name all of the sagittal plane exercises you can think of:

Sagittal Plane Movements
Upper Body: Core:
Lower Body: Whole Body:


Frontal (Coronal) Plane


Frontal Plane (Synonym – Coronal Plane):


    • Frontal – 1650s, of the forehead; 1971 with reference to the naked body; from Modern Latin frontalis, from front-, stem of frons “brow, forehead” – Think the plane of the forehead (Online Etymology Dictionary)
    • Coronal – 1540s, “pertaining to a crown” (or, later, to one of the extended senses of Latin corona), from French coronal (16c.), from Latin coronalis, from corona (see crown (n.)). – Think the “crowning” plane (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Definition: The frontal plane is a plane that divides the body into front and back halves.

  • Motion: Frontal plane motion runs parallel to this plane, generally in a side-to-side, up and/or down direction – Imagine being sandwiched between two pieces of glass (one in front and one in back).
    • Note: The muscles that move us in the plane generally run up and down on the sides of our body.

Activity:  Name all of the frontal plane exercises you can think of:

Frontal Plane Movements
Upper Body: Core:
Lower Body: Whole Body:


Transverse (Horizontal Plane)

Transverse Plane (Synonym – Horizontal Plane):


    • Transverse – “lying across,” early 15c. (earlier transversary, c.1400), from Latin transversus “turned or directed across,” past participle of transvertere “turn across,” from trans- “across” (see trans-) + vertere “to turn” (see versus). The verb transvert is recorded from late 14c. (Online Etymology Dictionary) – Think the plane that “runs across”
    • Horizontal – 1550s, “relating to or near the horizon,” from French horizontal, from Latin horizontem (see horizon). Meaning “flat” (i.e., “parallel to the horizon”) is from 1630s. Related: horizontally(Online Etymology Dictionary) – “Think the plane that runs with the horizon”

Definition: The transverse plane is a plane that divides the body into top and bottom halves.

  • Motion: Transverse plane motion generally refers to motion that rotates, pivots or moves horizontally medial to lateral/lateral to medial – Think of how your joints would move with a pin stuck straight through from the top (also known as an x axis)
    • Note: The muscles that move us in the plane generally run horizontally across our body or diagonally (obliquely)

Activity:  Name all of the transverse plane exercises you can think of:

Frontal Plane Movements
Upper Body: Core:
Lower Body: Whole Body:


Activity – Progressing exercises through multiple planes:

Before you click on the hyperlinks, try to visualize how the exercises in bold could be done in multiple planes: Push Ups

Pull Ups

Step Ups:

  • Sagittal: Step-Ups (Same video progresses through all 3 planes)
  • Frontal
  • Transverse



Answer Key:

Note there are dozens of exercises that could be added to the graph below.  This is just a sample set of correct answers.  If you have a question about a particular exercise please feel free to ask in the comments box below.

Sagittal Plane Movements Upper Body:

Lower Body:


    Whole Body:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Sprinting
  • Jumping
  • Cycling
Frontal Plane Movements(Coronal Plane) Upper Body:

 Lower Body:

  • Side Bending
  • Side Planks

 Whole Body:

  • Jumping Jacks
Transverse Plane Movements (Horizontal Plane) Upper Body:

Lower Body:


  Whole Body:

  • Golf Swing
  • Baseball Swing


Click Here for – Lesson 3: Joint Actions

© 2014 Brent Brookbush Questions, comments, and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged –


02. Planes of Motion — 36 Comments

    • Hey Donald,
      French Press (aka Skull Crusher :-) )
      Sagittal plane
      Elbow Extension
      Prime mover is the Triceps
      This exercise does require a significant amount of shoulder and scapular stability

      Hope that answers your questions…

  1. Is the difference between shoulder press and military press that in the shoulder press you use a thumbs up grip and in the military press you use a palms out grip?

    • I believe the only difference is the name… although the military press is traditionally a frontal plane exercise, where as shoulder press may be used for sagittal, frontal, and scapular plane variations.
      Hope that answered your question,

      • In my experience, a shoulder press and a military press are the same types of movements (overhead). So, how does a military press move only in the frontal plane, while a shoulder press can involve the sagital, frontal, and scapular? If the difference is truly only in their name, then shouldn’t the planes involved remain constant?

        • I guess I would consider a shoulder press to be a dumbbell press, which makes the sagittal, frontal, and scapular planes more accessible, as opposed to a military press which I generally think of as a barbell frontal plane press.
          There is not a strict categorization or naming criteria for exercise, so as long as you understand the concept you can call it whatever you would like :-)

    • In reality, more exercises likely fall between planes than in one plane or another. We can organize our analysis by considering which two planes the movement falls between. For example, an incline press will fall between the frontal and transverse planes, where as scaption (exercise for shoulders) would fall between the sagittal and frontal planes.
      This is different from multi-planer movement patterns that have components of different planes, or different joints moving through different planes. For example, in a lateral lunge – the leg that is straight and out to the side is in the frontal plane, while the leg that is bending (the one you sit behind) is actually moving through the sagittal plane. You could make a similar analysis of a movement like a lunge with trunk rotation.
      Last, remember that your planes move with your body. So in a golf swing you bend slightly forward at the waist. This changes the orientation of the transverse plane – it know tips down to the front. I would consider the golf swing to be primarily a transverse plane movement pattern with a slight lean toward the frontal plane.
      Hope that answers your question,

  2. There appears to be numerous links with contradictory terms used to express the three Cardinal Planes of Motion, based upon the Anatomical Position. My understanding is that the Sagittal plane can also be referenced as the Anteroposterior (AP) plane; the Frontal plane as coronal or lateral plane; and the Transverse plane as the cross-sectional, axial, and/or horizontal plane.
    However, the link, http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/anatomical-planes-body, (as well as many others), has the term lateral plane being interchangable with the term Sagittal plane (vs. the Frontal Plane). Because I teach EXSC classes, I want to correctly inform and educate my students. Please back me up on my planal terminologies listed in my first paragraph, or correct me!
    Thank you for your professional clarification

    • Hey Enita,
      I can see where the confusion would lie, although I cannot say I can be of much help. I generally use the terms sagittal, frontal or coronal, and transverse or horizontal.
      I think other words may lead to confusion due to their varied use in other aspects of human movement science. For example, lateral could refer to lateral movement (side-to-side), lateral in relation to medial, or a lateral view which would look on a cross-section made parallel to the sagittal plane.
      The same goes for “cross-sectional” being a synonym for transverse… what if you have a frontal plane cross-section of the brain to view the organization of the corpus callosum, internal capsule, basal ganglia or sulci?

      I do my best to use the most common and clear language I can, and I generally kick vague or confusing terminology to the curb.

      Sorry I could not be of more help,

    • Hey Keith,
      Observe the movement – try to determine which joints are in motion, look at each joint individually and determine the direction of motion at that joint, match that motion to a joint action, repeat for each joint moving in the exercise…

  3. many of our everyday movements cannot be specifically be defined, i.e. the movement occurs in the oblique plane. what does that mean, i thought all movements occure in a specific plane. please describe me a common movement or a sport specific movement in their planes.

    • Hey Clyde,
      Many of our every day movements can be broken down into component motions that occur in various planes. For example, walking involves sagittal plane motion at the hip, but the pelvis must rotate around the hip in the transverse plane.
      An oblique plane would be a diagonal plane that lies between two planes (Oblique means diagonal). For example, you may have done an exercise called “scaptions” for your shoulders that lie in the plane of the scapula, which would be a diagonal plane between the frontal and sagittal planes.
      In sport we are often moving in multiple planes at once. Try to break down each movement into its respective joint motions and analyze each individually.
      Hope that helps.

  4. The anatomical planes of the body are typically referenced with the body in the anatomical position (standing erect, arms hanging at sides, palms facing anteriorly, fingers extended and thumbs facing laterally). When we move into varying positions (other than the anatomical position) planes of reference can become less clear. All anatomical references are typically relative to the anatomical position.


    • Hey Jeff,
      By convention the planes of motion move with you. That is if you did a traditional (hands and elbows wide) chest press standing, a bench press, or a push up the plane would still be transverse.
      Hope that helps,

  5. do you have any examples of lower and upper body exercises for supination and circumduction?along with their planes

    • Supination is a natural part of the concentric phase of most leg exercises, and circumduction is not normally something we “train”.
      You may look at posterior tibialis activation for examples of exercises that focus on “supination”, as far as circumduction… well… other than “arm circles” I don’t know of any common exercises.

  6. How the duck can you say a chest press is transverse plane? Transerve plane exercises are anything with a rotation. There is no rotation in chest press lat pull down military press or anything of the Above mentioned. They are all sagittal plane. What the duck are you taking about

    • Although I would like to post your question and explain the transverse plane I cannot use the post because of the language.
      I recommend you review your planes of motion. Transverse/horizontal plane movements include rotation, but they also include movement that run parallel to that plane or the “horizon”. This includes the joint actions horizontal abduction/extension, horizontal adduction/flexion, protraction, retraction and potentially the abduction and adduction seen as part of pronation and supination of the ankle joint.

      Reviewing a good anatomy text should clear this up for you.
      My recommendation is Musculoskeletal Kinesiology by Neumann

  7. Im studying for the NASM cert. It asks what sports movement requires a combination of all planes (transverse, sagittal, and frontal). I can not find it anywhere in the book or online. Can you help me? Also what are the prime movers.

    • All movement requires control in all 3 planes. Can you give me the possible answers to the question so I can help you further?

      • Well, the first few questions ask about activities that are done in the sagittal plane, then the frontal plane, then the transverse plane. I got those but the next statement was……. Describe a sports movement that requires a combination of all of these planes. Identify the prime movers for this movement…… This was the one I was confused on. I don’t have an answer for this. But I see what your saying. So maybe its all movements? Thank-you for getting back to me!

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  14. The best explanation of body planes I have ever seen/heard. Now it makes sense. Brent you are a great teacher. The props really helped.


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