Whether we’re new to strength training or crushing WODs like it’s our jobs, getting strong in the sagittal plane is necessary for strength and power development. As a powerlifting wannabe, squats, deadlifts and presses are my life, but it can’t be my whole life.
Lifters are required to be really great at just a few main lifts (three for powerlifting and two for weightlifting), all of which live in the sagittal plane. This is precisely why we should look at motions that take us outside this plane and start getting strong there too.
Getting stronger in various planes keeps us more resilient, bulletproofs our bodies for in-season training, and takes us from average gym-goer to #BasicAthlete (again, I’m not talking about elite-level people here. Just regular guys and gals who enjoy performing their best).
Take a look at sports outside the platform. Pitchers don’t get better at throwing just by throwing balls day in and day out, nor do sprinters get faster with sprinting alone. Likewise, we can’t improve our lifting if we’re repeating the same 2-3 lifts in the same plane year round. That’s a recipe for injury and it leaves a lot of potential on the table.
And yet….so many of us stick to the sagittal plane for months on end!
The off-season is the best time to do this work, and necessary if we wish to remain resilient.
A quick lesson on planes of motion
I never talk about planes of motion with clients but for this post, it’s good to know what they are.
Sagittal: Occurs from the front to back. It’s where us lifters tend to live. Think squats, deadlifts, walking, and lifting a wine glass up and down (you know, for the biceps).
Frontal: Side-to-side motion like skater lunges, shuffles, jumping jacks and cool dance moves I’m far too uncoordinated for.
Transverse: Primarily rotational movements, like swinging, chopping wood, doing Ninja shit.
Here are some ways to get yourself stronger outside the saggital plane and bulletproof your body for your athletic endeavors:
1.) Emphasize single-leg work
There are lots of ways to accomplish this. My go-to exercises are:
- Side lunges
- Shuffles and skaters
- Offset lateral step-ups
- Lateral hops
- Side splits on the reformer (Pilates)
- Fencing on the tower or Cadillac (Pilates)
2.) Throw in rotational movements
A life spent only in the sagittal plane can get boring AF. Rotational movements are the spice of life, not to mention critical for maintaining core stability and building rotational power (for throwing, swinging, punching villains in the face).
- Rotational Med ball throws or slams
- Woodchops (med ball or cable)
- Sandbag rotational overhead press
- Landmine chops
- Spine twist (Pilates)
- Saw (Pilates)
- Criss-cross (Pilates)
- Around the world on the Cadillac (Pilates)
- Side kneeling or standing twist (Reformer or Cadillac)
3.) Play with anti-rotational movements
I’m starting to play with these now that powerlifting season is over and I’m too beat up for squats and deadlifts:
- Lateral sled drag
- Pallof presses
- Gyrations (<— just kidding)
- Ab wheel rollouts at 45 degree angles
4.) But first, get better in the saggital plane…
It may sound like I’m contradicting myself but we should all get strong in the sagittal plane first. When a client comes to me with poor posture, stability issues and muscular imbalances, I won’t bother to teach them anything in other planes right out the gate. But if I can get them into better alignment and balance out their weakest areas first, they’ll be in a much better position to move in the other planes later on.
- Get strong in the sagittal plane first
- Start incorporating movements in different planes, especially in the off-season
- Don’t marry yourself to just 2-3 main lifts, even if that’s all your favorite sport requires
- Unless you’re training for the Olympics or a professional league, you’re a #BasicAthlete and that’s better than about 90% of the people you know. Just accept your level of awesomeness as good enough
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