What are the Three Anatomical Planes of Movement?

A topic that is always fun and will really develop your coaching skills as a fitness instructor and personal trainer. It is also a topic that can crop up in both the level 2 gym instructor and level 3 personal trainer theory exams. Having a good understanding of this topic will also help your exercise programming at both levels 2 gym and level 3 pt as you prepare for the practical observations.

It is not uncommon for clients to “train what they can see”, it is the role of a personal trainer or fitness instructor to educate the client and design training plans that follow the principles of program design to ensure each plane of movement is covered. Overtraining or undertraining in each plane can cause injuries; pain, and reduced mobility. To avoid this from happening it is important to ensure each plane is considered when planning and programming exercise prescription. Understanding what the planes are and how to incorporate them in to your programming will take your knowledge and results for your clients to the next level.

Anatomical Planes of Movement

Anatomical planes help us understand how the human body is designed to move. A simple way to describe the way in which the human body moves is to use planes of movement. Planes of movement are imaginary flat surfaces that represent anatomical cross-sections of the body, identifying the direction of movement the human body can move in that plane. Every day we use all 3 planes of movement without even thinking about it as we go about our day, from commuting to work; putting the shopping away, tidying the house, or playing sport. Our bodies are designed to change direction.

The Three Movement Planes

Our bodies are designed to move, we can walk forwards; backwards, step sideways, jump up and down, and we can twist and turn. All of these movements can be grouped together into 3 planes. The names of the planes are; Frontal, Sagittal, and Transverse. Each has its own classification of movement, handy when it comes to planning workouts.

Frontal Plane:

A vertical plane that divides that body into anterior and posterior parts (front and back).

Joint actions that take place in this plane are abduction; adduction, and lateral flexion.

Example exercises in this plane include abduction; adduction, frontal lunge, dumbbell side raises.

Example daily movements could be side stepping at a famous “fresh” sandwich bar, side stepping in tennis, or reaching sideways to pick up a book from a table.

Sagittal Plane:

A vertical (head to toe) plane that divides the body into left and right parts.

Joint actions that occur in this plane are flexion; extension, plantar flexion, and dorsi-flexion.

Example exercises in this plane include leg extension; forward lunge, biceps curl, or triceps extension.

Example daily movements are placing your shopping away into cupboards in front of you, raising a cup to your mouth, or kicking a football.

Transverse Plane:

A horizontal plane that separates the upper body and lower body.

Joint actions that occur in this plane are rotation; circumduction, horizontal flexion, supination, pronation, and horizontal extension.

Example exercises in this plane are transverse lunge or lying dumbbell flys.

Example daily movements in this plane could be getting into your car; turning to talk to someone, changing direction in sport, breaststroke in swimming, or throwing activities in athletics.

Key Point: A plane of movement is an imaginary flat surface that represents an anatomical cross-section along which movement can occur.

Super Study Skills

Make the most of your revision time now that we have covered anatomical planes of movement. We all learn differently and as fit pros we can benefit from using a number of learning techniques to help build strong memories while studying. While you study for your personal trainer qualifications it is a good idea to apply visual, auditory, and kinaestheic learning styles. Pick an idea or two from below once you have reviewed this post and begin to really apply your study skills to fully understand the subject of movement planes.


Movement will help to practice different movements in the gym and try to see what planes you move in on a daily basis. Movement helps our brain build better memories, as we learn what it feels like to perform the action. You can also move your study location, different locations will help us form stronger associations with the the topics we study. Find a few favourite places to study.


You can also record this as a blog on audio and listen as a personal revision podcast while you travel to work; uni, or any other adventure you might well be on.


Spend some time in the gym observing your friends performing exercises in the gym, watch live sport or training sessions to pick out what drills and movements are performed in each plane. You could even film yourself and and create your own personal video blog to remind you of the movements, this would also be very helpful to keep an eye on how your own practical skills are coming on.

Become a Personal Trainer

PT Skills provides a range of online personal trainer; fitness instructor and weekend personal training courses. Our courses are blended, online home study with practical workshops and assessment days to prepare you for a career as a personal trainer.

If you would like to learn more about nutrition for fitness and exercise to turn your passion into career with a personal training qualification, please visit our website for details on our Diploma in Personal Trainingfitness instructor qualification, or any of our level 2 awards for Instructing kettlebellscircuits, and suspended movement training.