Why CrossFit Athletes Need to do More Triplanar Training

Triplanar training is when we use movements in all three planes of motion.  These planes are saggital (forward/backward), frontal (left/right, sometimes called coronal) and transverse (rotation).  Technically speaking, all training is triplanar as ALL movement has at least a small component in each plane. For the purpose of this article, I want to talk about triplanar training as being training that specifically employs movements in the frontal and transverse planes as well as the traditional saggital plane of motion, where most gym based training, including crossfit spends the majority of its time.

planes of motionSource: Functional Movement Hacks
The planes of motion

Now we know what it is, why do we need it?

1. Triplanar training makes you stronger

Quick anatomy lesson: Muscles attach to bones through tendons.  Depending on exactly which bones they attach to and where specifically they attach on those bones determines the direction(s) in which they can produce force and therefore create movement.  At a basic level, this is the reason your bicep can bend your elbow, but not straighten it, or extend your hip.  At an advanced level, this is the reason you need to get your hip into flexion, adduction and internal rotation to get the best stretch in your glute (fancy talk for a crossover step on a box with a turned in toe, try it).

Given that muscle attachment points are not all saggitally aligned, we can see the human body was not evolved (or created, you decide) for just moving forwards and backwards.  As we discussed with the glute, to get the most stretch in a muscle, we often have to go across multiple planes.

Thuri Helgadottir training a variety of planes of motion

‘Why would we want to get the most stretch in a muscle?’ I hear you ask, good question.  By training a muscle in its most lengthened state, we are putting it in its weakest position, this is why the bottom of a squat is harder than the top – quads and glutes are more stretched, and also why your bicep is stronger with arm fully bent than nearer to fully straight. 

In short, only working in the saggital plane is training some really important muscles in a partial range of motion, just like doing shallow squats, this is not what we want.  By training our muscles in a bigger range of motion, we improve recruitment of muscle fibres and will get more strength gainz.  This carries over to our traditional saggital lifts too – it’s very common to smash PRs after adding some triplanar variations to your big lifts. 

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