Life is lived in three dimensions, which means our bodies are required to move in a wide range of movement patterns and through three planes of motion. Unfortunately, many of us get stuck training in 2/3 of these planes with the normal forward and backward, up and down, and side-to-side movements, often overlooking rotational movements. This obviously not ideal for well rounded strength and power, and it leads to reduced mobility and an increased chance of injury as we get older.
When you think about every day life, it contains situations where we rotate our bodies (or resist rotation) like looking both ways before crossing the street, taking groceries out of the car or shoveling snow. With athletes, rotational movements are even more important, as sports require a lot of explosive rotation as well as anti-rotation. So, why do so many people neglect transverse plane exercises, a.k.a. rotational and anti-rotational movements? Probably because the average trainee isn’t even aware they are missing this key component. A component that will improve the way they perform during physical activity. A component that comprises of one-third of the way we move. This is why we are here to teach about the transverse plane, as well as provide you with 14 simple and effective transverse plane exercises that you can employ into your training plan today.
Sagittal Plane: This plane divides the body into right and left sides. Movements in the sagittal plane are flexion and extension, meaning forward and backward or up and down i.e. bicep curl and squats.
Frontal Plane - This plane divides the body into front and back sides. Movements in the frontal plane are abduction and adduction. Any lateral (side) movement i.e. dumbbell lateral raises and lateral lunges.
Transverse Plane - This plane divides the body into top and bottom halves. Movements in the transverse plane are rotational, both internal and external rotation. i.e. horizontal wood chop, medicine ball throws.
All 3 planes of motion are important and deserve equal respect.
Yet, the Transverse Plane, aka axial plane or horizontal plane, is so often neglected when exercising. Most of our workouts include Sagittal Plane movements (squats, deadlifts, bench press) with a few movements in the Frontal Plane (side lunges, lateral raises).
But what about the Transverse Plane?
Note: Yes, certain sagittal plane exercises place stress on the transverse plane as you must resist rotation. However, it is not even close to enough to be content.
Transverse Plane = Rotational Movements
Rotational and anti-rotational exercises are both equally necessary. Let's quickly go over the two.
Rotational exercises require you to twist through a rotational pattern. Your internal and external obliques, serratus anterior, rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis are the primary muscles engaged when you twist your torso explosively in one direction.
Rotational exercises will prepare you for the movements used in sports and everyday life. Training for core rotational strength will allow your body to move fluidly with greater ease while increasing the power and explosiveness of the movements and decreasing the risk of injury.
Remember, force is transferred from your lower body to your upper body via your core!
Create stability through the core without moving at the spine.
Think of anti-rotation exercises as a force being delivered that is trying to cause trunk rotation, and your duty is to prevent that rotation from occurring. That is the true function of the rotary muscles of the core – stability and prevention of rotation.
Rotational training and anti-rotational training go hand in hand - Think of it this way, you need rotational strength and power to punch someone hard enough to knock them down, and you also need stability so once you connect you can resist the force and keep balanced.
If you are an athlete or you've done a functional training program, then you know this kind of training places greater emphasis on the transverse plane than bodybuilding programs. Multitudes of people are expanding their training regimens to include more transverse plane work thanks to insights from athletes and pro trainers on platforms like Instagram. Nevertheless, still, so many people's training pans are lacking transverse plane movements.
Athletes train in the transverse plane as it correlates to an improved performance in their respective sports. i.e. swinging power for golfers, punching power for boxers, balance and stability for football players.
The same benefits that athletes get from transverse training will be useful to the average Joe or Jane in his or her daily life, in and out of the gym.
Do not confuse anti-rotational movements with anti-lateral movements. A lot of people think they are performing anti-rotational movements when they are holding a weight offset while they are in an upright position. This isn't anti-rotational, this is anti-lateral. To make it anti-rotational, you need to be fighting a force that is trying to make you rotate, not lean. A simple way to turn these offset movements that are actually anti-lateral into anti-rotational is to put yourself in a hinge position, that way you are actually resisting a force to rotate.
So, the simplest way to understand anti-rotational movements is to think about it in terms of "is this movement trying to force me to rotate or is it trying to force me to lean to the side?" Be mindful and ask yourself that question if you have any doubts with the movement you are working on.
Imagine a straight line running down vertically through your head into your spine. Rotating or twisting movement in the spine is considered a transverse plane movement.
Although not related to the axis running down your spine, any rotation inward or outward from your body is considered limb rotation as well as a transverse plane movement. If your limb is twisting outward away from your body it is considered external rotation. If your limb is turning inward to your body then this is internal rotation.
This rotation or transverse exercise is described when your arm or leg is at 90 degrees to the body and then moves away or toward the center. Many people mistakenly consider exercises like seated hip adduction or chest flys sagittal movements but they are actually types of transverse plane movements because of the rotation within the hip or should joint.
These transverse exercises involve bodyweight-only movements, resistance bands, kettlebells (or any weight), and a wall ball, all of which are available at gyms or you can buy without breaking the bank.
1. Kettlebell Lunge Twist (0:10)
2. 180˚ Squat Jump with Toe Touch (0:25)
3. Low Lunge Twist with Reach (0:34)
4. Pallof Press (0:48)
5. Single Leg Hip Rotation (1:04)
6. Kettlebell Rotational Swing (1:14)
7. Wood Chopper Low to High (1:27)
8. Wood Chopper High to Low (1:41)
9. Russian Kettlebell Twist (1:57)
10. Rotational Forearm Plank (2:07)
11. Plank Pull Through (2:22)
12. Stability Ball Kettlebell Torso Twist (2:40)
13. Rotational Wall Ball Throw (2:50)
14. 180˚ Rotational Wall Ball Throw (2:58)
This exercise can be done without a weight. But, to make it more challenging, hold a kettlebell (or medicine ball or weighted plate) in your hands as demonstrated.
This exercise will have you pivoting as you swing the kettlebell from the left to right. Please watch the video (1:14) and pay attention to how his feet pivot with each swing.
Practice the movement without a kettlebell first. Get a hang for the mechanics of the pivot and swing. If you want you can hold onto something light like a shoe.
This is the same exercise as the one above but in reverse, from high to low.
This can be done with or without a weight.
The key to this exercise is to not rotate your body. Try to always keep your hips squared forward to the floor.
If you need to, practice this exercise without a weight first just to get a hang of the movement.
Do this exercise with a workout partner to make it more fun while challenging yourself.
This is the same exercise as the one above but you are doing a one 180˚ hop so you can alternate sides with each throw.
Sample Transverse Plane Workout #1:
Plank Pull Through - 3 sets x 20 reps (10 each side)
Russian Kettlebell Twist - 3 sets x 20 reps (10 each side)
Pallof Press - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Wood Chopper High to Low - 3 sets x 10 reps
Wood Chopper Low to High - 3 sets x 10 reps
Low Lunge with Twist Reach - 3 sets x 20 reps (10 each side)
Sample Transverse Plane Workout #2:
Circuit #1 x 3 rounds:
- Kettlebell Lunge Twist x 10 reps (5 each side)
- 180˚ Squat Jump with Toe Touch x 10 reps (5 each way)
- Plank Pull Through x 20 reps (10 each side)
Circuit #2 x 3 rounds:
- Pallof Press x 10 reps
- Wood Chopper High to Low x 10 reps
- Wood Chopper Low to High x 10 reps
Circuit #3 x 3 rounds:
- Stability Ball Kettlebell Torso Twist x 12 reps (6 each side)
- Kettlebell Rotational Swing x 10 reps (5 each side)
- Rotational Wall Ball Slams x 10 reps (5 each side)
Rest between rounds and circuits but keep rest time to a minimum.
Since we are going to try to relax the upper body to get better function out of the mace, do myofascial release on pecs, lats, upper traps, and upper abdominals. Also, warm up with some rotational body movements such as trunk twists, opposite toe touches, etc.
Ultimately, rotational and anti-rotational training are both working for the same team. The core.
Postural strength is an important factor in all sports performance, and in life. A strong core protects our internal organs from injury. It also allows us to maintain a stiff torso when under external forces - this prevents the spine from moving in ways it’s not supposed to move. Just think of a football player getting tackled. That’s one of the biggest reason this kind of training is important and should never be underestimated - Injury prevention is key!
Your core includes much more than just your six-pack. Your core is a girdle of muscle that lies beneath your six pack and extends around your lower back, connecting to your glutes, hips, and obliques.
When this corset of muscle is strengthened properly, you’ll have ripped abdominals and an excellent center of gravity.
So how exactly do you do this?
Train in all 3 planes of motion and keep practicing and performing your transverse plane exercises!
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Since you are still reading thus far. And you probably like, have, or are intrigued by the steel mace, then you may have already got the word on how the steel mace smashes through the Transverse plane. The offset weight of the mace (and the design in general) makes it ideal for rotational and anti-rotational movements.
The steel mace won’t allow you to cheat like many other tools. It won’t give you the option to move your upper body in a rigid fashion. Instead, you'll move in a relaxed fashion with your upper body as you begin to do things like trunk rotation or foot pivots. The steel mace is great for developing good rhythmic movement, needed for actions like throwing a ball or sprinting. i.e. sprinting - it's your lats and glutes working diagonally during a sprint that give you your explosiveness.
Now let's get into some examples of transverse plane exercises with the steel mace taken from the Instagram Steel Mace community.
The following exercises in the transverse plane of motion are best done in sets of 10-15 reps each side.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about the mace, including hand placements, starting positions, grip orientation, and tons of video exercises so that you can become a pro mace user/trainer.
Related: 17 Killer Steel Mace Core Exercises
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