The Flatlanders’ Workout – exercising in different planes

When I posted this tesseract themed workout and discussed different dimensions, a commenter suggested I check out the movie Flatland . I did! It’s based on an old book and you can watch the whole movie here on YouTube. The setting is “Flatland,” a 2D world with different shapes as characters. A revolution is brewing, as the shapes who don’t like change feel increasingly threatened by the “chromatists” – shapes who encourage the Flatlanders to use their ability to change colors. I won’t give away too much, but the main character (a square) is pulled into the 3D world and blown away by what he sees. It’s a strange, quirky movie and worth a watch. A little wine with it doesn’t hurt.

Speaking of being stuck in a certain dimension, most of us aren’t much better when it comes to exercise. (Nice segue, NJ.) Have you ever noticed that most exercises we do involve moving from front to back? Look around the gym. You’ll notice that whether people are doing weights or cardio , the majority are moving in this plane. This is called the sagittal plane of motion, and it cuts the body into left and right sections.

It’s important to train in different planes of motion. Not only will your muscles appear more developed this way, they will be more functional and able to work in different directions. Your body can also move from side to side (frontal plane) and rotate (transverse plane).

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Any good training program will incorporate exercises that move you in these directions. This is especially important for athletes. Injuries on the field happen most often in twisting motions, and exercising in multiple planes can help prevent this.

For today’s workout, we’ll be just like a Flatlander who’s discovered the 3D world. We’re going to take three traditional exercises and do them in different planes, taking full advantage of our 3-dimensional existence. If you’re used to doing mostly sagittal plane exercises, this might feel weird! But you’ll see why it’s important. Take your time and cut down on the time or number of reps if you need to.

This isn’t a formal workout; it’s more of a prompt to get you moving in different planes. Go slowly and pay attention to how different it feels to incorporate the frontal and transverse planes in your exercises.

1. Treadmill running

Start with 2-3 minutes of normal, forward jogging. Next lower your speed (start with 1.0) if you’ve never done this; you can raise it later. Walk sideways , keeping both of your feet pointed straight out to the side. Now, try raising the speed. Once you’re moving as fast as you feel comfortable with, stay there for 1 minute. Then switch sides, dropping the speed again first and working your way up. Switch back and forth every minute for a total of 4 minutes on each side – 8 minutes total.

If you enjoyed the sideways walking/running, try going backwards. Lower the speed, turn around, and walk. As you get comfortable, raise the speed. Hang on to the railings until you have the hang of it. (Technically this is also the sagittal plane, but the benefits are the same since you aren’t used to moving in this direction.)

2. Lunges

You’ve probably done plenty of traditional lunges. Let’s try frontal . Instead of moving your foot forward, you’re going to move it to the side and bend your knee.

Next, try transverse lunges . Instead of moving your foot straight forward, pivot and place it pointing almost backwards. If you’re starting with both feet pointing at 12 o’clock, your foot should point back to 5 o’clock. Bend your knee and lean in over that foot. (If you have any knee or hip issues, do this slowly and carefully.)

Try 10 of F and T lunges in each direction.

3. Core work

Regular crunches involve moving front to back along the line of your body, so they’re – that’s right – sagittal plane. Do 20 on a Bosu or stability ball.

Let’s work our core in the frontal plane next. Come down into a side plank and raise your top leg several inches. Try to hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Finally, let’s do transverse ab work: . Find a free motion machine or cable. Grab the fixture in your hands, stand back so that the cable is taut, and twist at the waist. Your arms are only to hold the weight. Try not to use any muscles but your obliques.

These are just a few examples of how incorporating the transverse and frontal planes can give you a more complete workout. Consider adding in more movements like these – your muscles will thank you.


Part inner nerd and part aspiring jock. Mostly inner nerd, though.

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