The ABCs of Movement: Cardinal Planes of Motion

We know that for fitness and athletic endeavors we can use the Athletic stance as our reference starting point. From this position, we can observe how the displacement of a limb, repositioning of the Body or a limb, or movement from the athletic stance affects the center of gravity in relation to the original base of support.

The C in the ABCs of Movement is the Cardinal Planes of Movement, which helps us identify in which direction(s) we are moving, what joint(s) of the body are being acted upon, the muscles responsible for the joint actions, and the awareness that we need to program movements in all three planes of motion.

The following table shows the three cardinal planes of motion, how they are defined in relation to the body, primary joint actions, and sample movements in that plane:

Cardinal Plane of Motion How the Plane is Defined Primary Joint Action(s) Sample Movements in the Plane
Sagittal · Divides body in left and right halves

· Movement occurs primarily forward and back

· Flexion (two joints getting closer together)

· Extension (the return from flexion)

· Walking

· Running

· Squatting

·  Nodding

Frontal aka Coronal · Divides body in front and back halves

· Movement occurs primarily side to side or to the side

· Abduction- movement of limb(s) away from the midline of the body

· Adduction- return from abduction

· Lateral flexion- movement of head or trunk to one side or the other

·Side bends

· Side steps

· Arm flapping (airplanes)

· Putting in golf

· Pitching a baseball

Transverse aka Horizontal · Divides body in top and bottom halves

· Movement occurs primarily across the horizon

·Rotation trunk, hip, and/or shoulder · Swinging a bat


· Flyes

· Cable Rotation



Movement programming would be easy if we moved in one and only one plane but that is most often not the case. This provides the strong argument to train movements, not muscles. I agree to an extent, but as with everything in strength and conditioning—it depends! Our task is to understand on what it depends in order to make the best programming decisions for our clients/athletes.

Since we are focusing on the ABCs of movement, the movements I choose to focus on are single-planar and start form the athletic stance. Once we master single-planar movements, we can progress to moving in two and then any combination of planes. The goal is movement mastery, which includes physical, cognitive, and proprioceptive components. Our next segment on the ABCs of Movement is on Developmental Progressions.

About Rick Howard

Interested in sharing information on youth-centered fitness, youth sports, and youth coaching.

Posted on January 13, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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