What is Multiplanar Movement and Why is it Important?

In the previous article, I discussed two possible holes in CrossFit’s training methodology. Here’s a quick recap: CrossFit is a sport that enables athletes to be well-rounded, essentially perform a variety of different tasks in a number of different environments. It differs greatly from the sports of weightlifting, running, gymnastics, or any field sport because they all require sport-specific tasks and that is all these athletes can perform. If you ask a weightlifter to run a half-marathon, it may take them several hours to finish, if they finish at all. And vice-versa – if you ask a marathon runner to bench press his/her bodyweight, they probably won’t be able to do it. This is where CrossFit is different: it is not sport-specific and it prides itself on developing  well-rounded athletes who can accomplish any task that is thrown their way.

However, even with this ideology, it seems that CrossFit programming is lacking in the areas of sprint work and multiplanar movement, which are most commonly required for field sports; however, these skills have been known to show up at the CrossFit Games as well. In order to understand why the lack of emphasis on these two skills is important, we must first understand what they are.

Multiplanar movement refers to the three different planes that humans are made to move through effortlessly: sagittal, frontal and transverse. The sagittal plane (forward and backward movement as well as flexion and extension) is the most common plane of movement and the one that we see most often in CrossFit. This includes movements such as squatting, running, deadlifting, rowing, burpees, box jumps, etc. The frontal plane is made up of any lateral (side-to-side) movement, such as a lateral lunge or side shuffle. Finally, the transverse plane consists of rotational movements, like a baseball pitch, chopping wood, or cutting direction like in a sprint. It is important to note that we never move through one plane at a time, but it is common that movements typically have a bias towards one of the planes. 

Training multiplanar movement is important for a number of different reasons. First of all, humans were made to move throughout these three planes freely with activities like running, jumping, throwing, carrying, and many more. However, our bodies tend to adapt to how we move everyday so if we’re not moving throughout these different planes, then we are depriving our bodies of these natural methods of movement. The problem with only training one plane of movement (most commonly the sagittal plane) is that when we are exposed to movement in the other planes, such as in a cutting drill or throwing a ball over and over again, injuries can occur more easily. For example, ACL tears and ankle sprains are common for athletes who are not used to changing direction quickly (movement in the frontal plane). So, what do you think? Should CrossFit do a better job of implementing programming that includes multiplanar movement?