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The Three Planes of Movement and Why They Matter

in Southfield, MI

The Three Planes of Movement and Why They Matter

The spine is an amazing structure. It serves as the foundation for nearly every movement we make. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful and aware in our spinal movements. 

Unfortunately, our everyday activities don’t always “align” with the spine Especially when we’re not vigilant about the three planes of movement in the body.

Moving your spine in all three planes – an action that’s emphasized in Pilates – provides a healthier and more active lifestyle.

The Three Planes of Movement 

The body, and thus the spine, moves in three different planes of movement. They are as follows:


Imagine a vertical sheet running through the entirety of your body from one side to the other – separating your front body from your back body. This frontal plane is known as the coronal plane.


Now, envision another vertical sheet that runs straight down the middle of your body – separating the left side from the right side. This longitudinal plane is your sagittal plane.


Finally, a third sheet – this one horizontal – runs through the torso and separates your body into the upper and lower halves. This axial plane is also called the transverse plane.

The combination of these three axis is the basis for the complex movements we’re able to take with our spines.

Spinal Movements In These Planes

Any time we move the body and spine, we want to be aware of these planes and allow the body to move along them rather than through them. When we move in ways that don’t take these planes into consideration, it can lead to spinal pain and injury. 

The spine itself is capable of five distinct movements (though this number varies depending whether you include each side as a separate movement):

1. Extension

Any time you push the chest forward and tilt the pelvis back, this is an example of extension. If you practice Pilates or yoga, the bridge pose is a perfect example of extension. Spinal extension stretches the chest muscles which support the spine. It also strengthens the lumbar (lower) spine. 

2. Flexion

If you find yourself in a standing forward fold and reaching toward your toes, your spine will be in flexion. The abs are engaged and the back is pushing outward. This movement strengthens the thoracic (middle) spine and the abs.

3. Rotation

Spinal rotation occurs both to the right and the left (though not simultaneously!) Any time you’re standing or sitting upright and twisting from your torso, that’s rotation. It’s also considered rotation when the hips rotate but the upper body remains still. This is a fundamental movement for much of what you do everyday so keeping this range of movement open and fluid is crucial for preventing injury.

4. Lateral

Just as in rotation, lateral movement has both left and right components. In this case, the movement targets the side bodies. When you bend to the side in a stretch, that’s lateral movement. Also similar to rotation, lateral movement is at the core of many of our regular daily movements.

5. Axial

If you’ve ever been told not to slouch and immediately sat up straight, then you were engaged in axial movement. This movement is all about your spine’s ability to lengthen and contract in tandem with the rest of your body. Any of the other above movements you make with the spine are going to be more effective when done with a lengthened spine. Regularly emphasizing that space between the discs will lessen compression issues too.  

Keep Your Spine Healthy With Pilates and GYROTONIC®

You’ve probably heard of Pilates. It’s most often touted for its ability to build your abs. And yes, the intense focus on activation of the lower back and pelvic stabilizers, also known as the “powerhouse”, certainly does that. But these muscles also support the spine.

Furthermore, Pilates focuses specifically on the flexibility of your spine in all planes of motion. Practitioners are encouraged to pay close attention to their postural or range of motion limits so they can work safely within those parameters.

Meanwhile, GYROTONIC® is a system of exercises that also works in all possible planes of movement. The exercises are conducted on specially designed equipment to allow for natural, continuous movement patterns and uniform resistance through all changes of direction. 

The circular exercises create a bridge between muscle contraction and release while the fluidity of movement helps balance your working muscles through the rhythmical contraction and release of opposing muscles groups.

Ready to Try Something New For 2023?

Are you looking for a way to rehab your spine? Or perhaps your focus is on keeping it limber and healthy. Whatever the case, you can do so by focusing on the three planes of movement. 

Contact us today to find out how practicing Pilates and/or GYROTONIC® at our center will safely emphasize these movements within proper range of motion.

You’ll see how both are a winning recipe for great spinal health.