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Why 3D Strength Training is SO Important

There are things we say in fitness, but I’m not sure we are really confident in what they mean. For example, if I say “we should be strong in all planes of motion and directions” that sounds like a difficult statement to argue with. However, when I then look at strength training programs I don’t see this reflected at all. Why does this happen and is it really important to focus upon something like multi-planar strength training?

The Planes Of Motion

Pretty much every fitness training certification will at least mention the three planes of motion. These are ways we divide how the body moves and the forces that it creates and has to resist to produce our movements. While most strength training programs will acknowledge their existence, there has been SO little focus on how do we apply them to our workouts and why they need to be part of our programs.

When we walk and move in most everyday activities we use all three planes. The sagittal plane is probably most familiar as it can be thought of as moving straight up and down or back and forth. Most of our strength training programs use the sagittal plane almost exclusively because it is a stable environment and easy to apply load to our body and see “strength” gains. Why do I put strength in quotations?

strength training

Of course at some level we do gain strength that will apply to how we move and perform in life. However, if we only focus on sagittal plane training we won’t develop strength that we want to accomplish, we will probably develop compensations in our movement, and stall in our strength training rather quickly.

That is because our bodies are made to move in many complex ways in real life and that requires muscles, chains, and a nervous system that does more than just move up and down. The two other planes of motion are equally as important but because they don’t typically adhere to our familiar gym exercises we write them off as “accessory”, “too functional”, or terms that overall imply they are less valuable than those sagittal plane movements.

How or body is actually designed to create movement 

How Do We Make Our Strength Training 3-D and Why?

The easiest way to describe why using the other planes of motion are important is by giving you two old sayings that have great application to our strength training discussion…..

“You are only as strong as your weakest link.”

When we neglect lateral and rotational strength training we leave giant links that become weak. That is not only in terms of actual strength of the muscles, but the ways the muscles learn to work together and this greatly impacts the amount of strength we can ultimately build.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

This speaks greatly to our nervous system that dictates EVERYTHING in our strength training. It isn’t “sexy” to talk about because you can’t see your nervous system and no one ever complimented how good your nervous system is looking. However, our nervous system is the software to allow our hardware to work well.

When we perform strength training programs we are giving information to that software. If we give it good information we keep building up the capacity of our ability to use our hardware. Giving it poor information keeps us on version 1.0 pretty much for good.

As pro baseball reconditioning specialist, Dr. Jennifer Reiner-Marcello, has described training the body with these other planes of motions improves our bodies “movement vocabulary.” I’ve used this term in the past as well and basically it means that your body has a great ability to develop strength in more diverse ways.

DVRT Japan Master, Taizo Omura shows is an example of how we expand our movement and strength training vocabulary in our Power Clean matrix. 

Imagine if you were sick or hurt and I asked you “what’s wrong” and “how you are feeling?” If the ONLY word you knew was “good”, then that is the only way you could respond to me. However, if you knew more words you could tell me more. That is very much how the body operates as well.

So Why Don’t Other Strength Training Programs Focus Upon Multi-Planar Strength?

This is a question I ask myself to be honest. In fact, it is something that my colleagues and I speak quite a bit about to each other because there is definitely a huge misunderstanding of actually how to get strong, the type of strength training that takes us well beyond any lift we can do in the gym.

The easiest answer is that most still associate greater weight in an exercise with producing greater strength. That is true if we are talking about the same exercise. However, if we introduce these other variables we have work the body that is doing that isn’t so obvious.

For example, world renown fitness expert Alwyn Cosgrove posted this DVRT last week. In talking with Alwyn, he mentioned as well how people were questioning how it was building strength. We get it, for many it looks like a “circus trick” and others are trying to figure out what muscles we are working.

Let’s answer those questions! Step-ups, lunges, our sprinter stance and so forth all introduce the need to RESIST the frontal and transverse planes to high degrees because of the stance out body takes. This is a lot like what happens when I walk. We are moving through the sagittal plane, but there is a lot of work by muscles in resisting lateral motion and limiting how much rotation I create. It is this reason that so many people find such exercises challenging even though they may have a big squat or deadlift (those exercises build good foundational strength, but don’t expand our movement vocabulary).

strength training

Alwyn amplifies these ideas by placing and Ultimate Sandbag upon his shoulder which demonstrates why we focus so much on a simple concept like load position. If Alwyn placed the weight in front of his body, it would be a good exercise, but it would keep him rather stable. The way most people load their bodies keep them in very stable environments. However, the shoulder position is like a moving side plank so we are making him produce force while resisting lateral motion to a higher degree.

On the other side we have a suitcase MAX step-up being used. The movement of the Ultimate Sandbag is very unique here given that it is an unstable object, has dimension that other tools don’t possess, and allows this positioning to be used very safely and effectively. Of course what is most important is what the position is doing.

DVRT Master, Cory Cripe shows how in our world everything has progressions and building blocks. Knowing what those are in your training is essential in creating strength training success. 

Almost every exercise that people know has the weight moving in line with our body. Think about it, can you think about a common gym exercise that does not? The WHOLE point of our MAX drills is to have our body have to produce and resist forces in all three planes of motion. That is what makes it so challenging and been called the most important exercise in strength training by strength coaches!

Now what you see is Alwyn needing to have the strength to basically on one leg step-up to a box (with a good amount of weight on his body), resist the lateral motion of the shoulder load (that still challenges him to move up on the box), and resist the motion of the Ultimate Sandbag in the MAX position trying to pull him out of alignment.

While it would be easy to see the weight Alwyn is lifting, how do you measure and see the amount of work his body is having to do to RESIST as well? Since most injuries are traced back to our inability to adequately resist force, we have an exercise that actually does way more for us because we have to both produce AND resist force at high levels.

In upcoming posts I will discuss how we build such drills in a progressive manner but we have to first start seeing the value in strength training in a more holistic and smarter way if we want to deliver far SUPERIOR results for ourselves and others.

Our holiday sale is in full effect this week! Save 25% ALL throughout DVRT (except live courses) and when you invest in our top selling Ultimate Sandbags get our total Body Armour program. That is a year’s worth of programs showing you how we combine bodyweight, kettlebells, suspension, and of course Ultimate Sandbags into dynamic programs for FREE! Use code “holiday25” for this week only and discover why DVRT is the leader in functional strength training HERE.

The great coaches of Envision Fitness in Vancouver Canada, Steve Di Tomaso and Kari Negraiff helped fitness pros learn about these concepts in a recent DVRT Level 1 & 2 certification. Find out why we don’t teach “sandbags” but a bigger world of functional fitness HERE