Understanding The Planes Of Movement

The Planes Of Movement

Human anatomy and kinesiology have a language just like any other area of study. Having terms to refer to bones, muscles, directions, and types of movement helps us be specific. It also helps us clearly communicate with other people about the body. That is especially true when talking about planes of movement because understanding simple aspects of movement makes it possible for us to better understand more complex movement.

Why do we need planes of movement?

The planes of movement help us describe actions that happen from anatomical position. Remember that in anatomical position, we are standing upright with our arms by our sides, with our palms facing forward. Realistically, we don’t begin or end most activities from anatomical position. But even though it might be overly simplistic for describing real-life movement, it helps us establish our basic understanding of the directions of movement before diving into more complexity. 

What are the planes of movement?  

There are three main planes of movement. They are described from anatomical position in a way that is similar to an x/y/z coordinate system on a graph. These are hypothetical, or imaginary lines in the body. They are not actual lines that you can see of course. 

Sagittal plane

If you picture the body in anatomical position and then place a vertical line through the body which divides it into a right and left side, you are describing the sagittal plane. Movements of flexion and extension happen in this plane. For instance, sit-ups happen in the sagittal plane. In the sagittal plane, we have an additional term that refers more specifically to bisecting the body exactly through the midline. That’s referred to as the midsagittal plane. 

Frontal or coronal plane

If you draw a vertical line through the body in anatomical position that divides the body into a front and back, then you are describing the frontal plane. That plane is also called the coronal plane. The movements that happen in that plane are abduction and adduction. Jumping jacks, for example, are a great example of a movement that happens in the frontal plane.

Transverse or horizontal plane

Finally, if you draw a horizontal line through the body that divides the body into a top and bottom section then you are describing the horizontal plane. That plane is also called the transverse plane. Rotational movements happen in that plane. Turning your head to look over your shoulder and rotation of the spine are examples of movements that happen in the transverse plane.

Planes of movement in real life

In real-life movement, we commonly move in more than one plane at once. If you pick just about any familiar movement, you can imagine this. For example, if you picture reaching above your head to get an item out of a cabinet, you are likely reaching at an oblique angle. So, rather than purely doing flexion and extension in the sagittal plane, you are actually doing some combination of flexion/extension and abduction/adduction. Those kinds of combinations better reflect real-life movements. 

This is sometimes referred to as moving in diagonal or oblique planes of movement. In order for movement to happen in the diagonal plane, the joint, or joints, that are moving must be able to move in at least two of the planes already described. In addition to the example already given, a baseball pitch, a golf swing, kicking a football, and some yoga postures, all happen in the diagonal plane.

However, if we experience pain, injury, weakness, tightness, or other sensations in our body, it can be helpful to break more complex actions down into simpler individual planes of movement. That has the potential to tell us something about how we might address what we’re experiencing if it is something we want to change. In even more complex and dynamic movements like walking, we aren’t just moving a single joint through more than one plane at a time. We’re moving many joints through multiple planes simultaneously. So you can imagine it might be overwhelming to try to diagnose an issue with dysfunction or design a strength-training plan for everything all at once. This is where it can be helpful to break things down into parts.


There are three main planes of movement, the sagittal, frontal or coronal, and horizontal or transverse planes. These planes are hypothetical lines through the body, not physical lines that we can see. However, the concepts of these simple planes can be helpful for understanding more complex, multiplanar movements.

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