image of two black women workout out outside
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The planes of the body are used by health professionals to describe how your body moves during exercise.

You can see them as flat surfaces that divide the body into four parts.

Knowing the body planes can help you design a workout program that strengthens your body in all directions.

This article will show you all the useful terms about the three planes of the body.

There are three planes.

  1. Coronal (frontal) plane: separates the front (anterior) and back (posterior) of the body
  2. Sagittal (longitudinal) plane: separates the left and right sides of the body
  3. Transverse (axial) plane: separates the upper (superior) and lower (inferior) halves of the body

It is useful to imagine a large sheet of glass running through your body.

Imagine a sheet of material that runs through the side of your body, so that the back of your body is not visible.

Imagine a vertical sheet of skin that runs through your body from front to back, so that you can see the left and right sides.

Imagine the plane as a sheet of horizontal fabric that runs through your torso, dividing your body into two parts.

It is useful to think of your body moving along the glass sheets but not through them.

illustration of the three body planes
Art & Illustration Illustration by Brittany England

The plane is called the frontal plane. The body is divided into two parts, the front and back.

The movement in the frontal plane can be either side-to-side orlateral. These include:

  • Abduction: moving your limbs laterally, away from the midline of the body (e.g., lifting your leg to the side)
  • Adduction: moving your limbs medially, toward the midline of the body (e.g., lowering your arm down to the side of your body)
  • Elevation: raising your scapula (shoulder blade) upward
  • Depression: lowering your scapula (shoulder blade) downward
  • Inversion of the ankle: sole of your foot turns inward toward the midline of the body (a component of supination
  • Eversion of the ankle: sole of your foot turns outward away from the body’s midline (a component of pronation)

Imagine you lift your arms out to the sides. If there was a glass sheet, your arms would move along the plane.

If you were to lift your arm straight in front of you, it would break the glass sheet, meaning you are moving in a different plane.

In day-to-day life, moving in the frontal plane is less common. It is important to include some of these movements in your fitness routine. Examples include jumping jacks, side lunges, side shuffles, side bends, andlateral arm and leg raises.

Art & Illustration Illustration by Brittany England

The longitudinal plane divides the body into two parts.

The movement in the longitudinal plane involves forward and backward movements. Our day-to-day activities usually occur in this plane since we swing our arms and legs in front of us.

“The plane’s movements include:”

  • Flexion: bending a limb to decrease the angle at a joint (e.g., lifting a dumbbell during a bicep curl flexes the elbow)
  • Extension: movement that increases the angle at a joint (e.g., lifting your leg behind you when standing extends the hip joint)
  • Dorsiflexion: bending the ankle so the top of the foot and your toes move toward your shin
  • Plantar flexion: bending the ankle so the foot pushes down and your toes point away

Considering it’s one of the most common planes of motion, there are many exercises that move in the sagittal (longitudinal) plane. Examples include bicep curls, forward or reverse lunges, squats, deadlifts, walking, and running.

Art & Illustration Illustration by Brittany England

The upper and lower halves of the body are divided by the plane.

Movements that occur in this plane involve rotation or horizontal movement, which include:

  • Rotation: rotating the torso or a limb around its vertical axis (e.g., turning your head to the left or right)
  • Horizontal abduction: moving the arm away from the midline of the body when it’s at a 90-degree angle in front of you
  • Horizontal adduction: moving the arm toward the midline of the body when it’s at a 90-degree angle to the side

The movements in the transverse plane are less common but they are important in certain exercises and sports activities.

Examples of exercises in the transverse (or axial) plane include swinging a golf club or baseball bat, seated hip abduction/adduction, chest flys, seated twists, or any move that involves rotation of the torso.

Art & Illustration Illustration by Brittany England

Anatomical position is used to describe human body parts. It is often used by healthcare professionals to discuss parts of the body in a consistent manner.

A person should be standing upright with their arms at their sides and feet pointing forward. Their forearms should be turned out so that their palms are facing the other way.

Anatomical terms are often based on their position in relation to a standard position. We base all terms on a human body in order to ensure consistency.

The location, size, or purpose are the factors that determine the terms of an anatomical term. It takes time to learn how the terms apply to movement and body positions. Here are some common terms for the direction.

  • Medial: movement toward the midline of the body
  • Lateral: movement away from the midline of the body
  • Proximal: in proximity or closer to (often with reference to the center of the body or a specific extremity, i.e., the knee is proximal to the ankle)
  • Distal: distant or further away (often with reference to the center of the body or a specific extremity, i.e., the wrist is distal to the elbow)
  • Superior (cranial): upper or above
  • Inferior (caudal): lower or below
  • Anterior (ventral): front of the body
  • Posterior (dorsal): back of the body

Learning these terms can help you understand movement patterns and the body. The inferior vena cava is above the superior vena cava.

Another example would be the serratus anterior, which suggests the muscle sits on the anterior (front) side of the body. Finally, the vastus lateralis sits on the outside of the quadriceps (thigh) while the vastus medialis sits on the inner part.

Art & Illustration Illustration by Brittany England

The body has many fluid-filled spaces and organs to keep them safe.

The two main body parts are the torso and the head. The abdominal and thoracic cavity are separated by the diaphragm.

Thoracic cavity

The thoracic cavity sits above the diaphragm and contains the lungs, heart, esophagus, trachea, and various blood vessels and nerves.

Abdominopelvic cavity

The abdominopelvic cavity sits below the diaphragm and is usually divided into two smaller cavities: the abdominal and pelvic cavities.

The abdominal cavity contains the large and small intestines.

The rectum and the Urogenital system are found in the pelvic cavity.

Dorsal cavity

The lower and upper parts of the brain are divided into two smaller sections.

The cranial cavity contains the brain while the spinal cavity contains the spinal cord.

Our bodies move along planes in many directions, whether we are exercising or just doing our day-to-day activities.

The three planes of motion are frontal, longitudinal and axial. The planes are moving side-to-side, front and back.

By learning how our bodies move, you can better understand how the body works and how to program effective workouts to develop well-balanced strength.