Updated: Sep 5, 2019
Choosing the correct exercise(s) to accomplish your fitness goals can often become overcomplicated. Every exercise chosen should have the intent of driving certain adaptations that progress you towards that goal. So how do you choose the correct exercises for you?
Let’s start with movement competency. Can you get in to the right positions to derive benefit from that exercise? Are you feeling the appropriate muscles working with that exercise? To feel the right muscles, the bones and joints need to be in the correct positions for the muscles to act on them appropriately. If the skeleton is not in the correct position throughout that exercise, inappropriate musculature might be called upon to help accomplish the overarching task.
If you are bench pressing, and all you feel is lower back and neck instead of the pectoralis major and triceps brachii, something is probably off. Understanding what musculature is needed to accomplish a particular movement is important; we don’t want to dump fitness on top of dysfunction.
To understand what specific muscles are required to perform specific movements, we must first understand the different planes the body moves through.
There are three planes of motion; the sagittal, frontal, and transverse. The sagittal plane is ruled by the Hamstrings, Internal Obliques, and Transverse Abdominis. Heavy hitters in the frontal plane are the adductors of the leg (Adductor Magnus), Glute Medius, and the Serratus muscle. The transverse plane is largely run by the vestibular system.
Competency in the sagittal plane is required for frontal plane movements. You cannot progress from sagittal --> frontal --> transverse without requisite sensory-motor competency of the prior plane. This ties in with proprioception: awareness of the position and movement of the body. If you’re unaware of where your body sits in space, it is hard to call upon the right muscles to produce force needed to execute that movement. If, however, you can load a hamstring, fire up an adductor and properly shift a hip, you can correctly train a movement with sagittal plane competency.
By “setting the sagittal plane,” and learning to utilize certain musculature to hold the skeleton in a particular position, you can transition or progress to frontal plane movements. A set sagittal plane requires less passive tissue strategies to hold skeletal position, meaning every movement utilizes more musculature.
Position is critical, feeling the right muscles is paramount. Own the sagittal plane first to dominate the frontal and transverse planes later.