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Fitness: Train Plane and Simple

by Oscar Saucedo

When I train clients, I try to teach them how to design their own fitness program. I do that by pointing out their imbalances and their posture problems, then I show them what specific exercises will help correct that. I tell them what we need to do, but I also explain why. So this month, I’ll try to leave you with something you can use to design your own fitness program.

There are 3 planes of human movement. The sagittal plane is movement that is straight up and down or front to back. This is the most used type of movements in training. Traditional exercises such as bench press, squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, leg curls, arm curls, etc., are sagittal plane movements. The frontal plane movements are lateral, or side-to-side, movements. The last one is the transverse plane, or twisting, movements.

A common mistake in fitness programs is to work only in the sagittal plane. If you use only the basic bodybuilding exercises that are often shown in the “muscle magazines”, you will work only in sagittal plane movements and probably lack frontal plane stabilization. This means that as you use only the traditional up/down and front/back movements, the muscles that move you side to side are weak and do not keep you safe and stable during the movements. For example, during a squat, you are unable to keep your knees stable in the frontal plane and they move inward (closer together, “knock-kneed”). When that happens, feet usually also turn outward and the torso will lean too far forward.  In this compromised position, you won’t be as strong as you could be, and there is a significantly increased chance low back, hip, and/or knee injury.

In the above example, one of the muscles that needs strengthening is the gluteus medius. The gluteus medius is under the gluteus maximus (butt muscle) and starts at the top of the hip bone on the side and back of the hip. Because we can’t discuss very many muscles here, we will focus only on improving your frontal plane stabilization by strengthening the gluteus medius. A weak gluteus medius can allow your knees to go in during squatting and running. Also, when standing on one leg (as you do for a moment when you walk/run), the opposite hip will fall lower and be out of alignment; then you may slightly move your torso toward the side of the foot making contact with the floor to make up for the opposite hip dropping. So the hip drops and the torso swings to the side. These things make you vulnerable to injury.

A few equipment-free gluteus medius exercises you can do wherever you are:

Prone “jumping jacks”. Lie face down. With legs straight and toes pointed, lift thighs up off the floor by flexing the glute muscles. Now, abduct (open) the legs and adduct (close) again as you do when doing a traditional jumping jack. You can also use the arms in the movement if you wish, but the goal is to activate the side of the hip.

One leg side plank. Lie on your side, elbow under your shoulder and feet stacked on each other. Flex your side abdominal muscles and side hip muscles to lift your hips off the floor.  Now, open your legs. Hold for 15-45 seconds. Then switch sides.

Side lying leg circles. Lie on your left side. Abduct (open) your right leg. Make big circles with your leg completely straight. Make sure you reach back to make perfect circles.  Do 15 circles clockwise, then 15 counter-clockwise. Big, pretty circles. Then switch sides.

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