Runner's Movements, Motions, Planes and Axis


By Rick Morris


Your body goes through a lot of motions and movements when you're running or working out.  Your various joints flex, extend and rotate. You move through different planes and axes. Because your body has so many joints and muscles, all of these movements in different directions and in various planes can get discombobulating. Here are some brief descriptions of the movements, motions, planes and axis that you body uses when you run, strength training or perform any physical activity.




Every movement your body makes moves through in a plane and around an axis. A plane is a flat surface in which your movement takes place while an axis is a straight line that your joints rotate around.


There are three planes that your body uses for movement. The first is the sagittal or anteroposterior plane. The sagittal plane is an imaginary flat surface that passes down the center of your body dividing it into a left and right side. There are many possible sagittal planes, but only one cardinal sagittal plane. A cardinal sagittal planes divides your body into two equal left and right sides.  When you move your arm directly forward or backward you are moving your arm in the sagittal plane.




























The next plane is the horizontal plane. This is a flat surface that divides your body into a top half and a lower half. Just as with the sagittal plane, there are a great number of possible horizontal planes but only one cardinal horizontal plane that divides your body into an equal top and lower portion.  When you turn your head from side to side you are rotating your head in the horizontal plane.


The final plane is the frontal plane. The frontal plane is an invisible flat surface that divides your body into a front and rear section.  Again, there are many possible frontal planes but only one cardinal frontal plane that divides your body into equal front and rear parts. When you move your arms directly to the side you are moving them in the frontal plane.




There are three axis of movement that go along with the three planes  - frontal horizontal axis, sagittal horizontal axis and vertical axis. When you move a part of your body in the sagittal plane your are rotating around a front horizontal axis. For example when you perform a biceps curl your elbow joint is acting as a front horizontal axis.


When moving in the frontal plane your body is rotating around a sagittal horizontal axis. An example of this is moving your leg laterally away from your body in a standing position. In that example your hip joint is acting as a sagittal horizontal axis.


If you move in the horizontal plane you are rotating around a vertical axis. When you turn your head to the left and right you are rotating around your spine which is acting as a vertical axis.


Movements and Motions


Running and all other forms of physical activity are made possible by your various movements and motions. Every movement takes place in one of the above planes and around one of the above axis. But, there is more to movement than just planes and axis. The next part of the equation is the type of movement.


The first and most common type of movement occurs in the sagittal plane and around a frontal horizontal axis. I am sure you have already heard of these well known movements - flexion and extension. Flexion takes place when the angle decreases between the two bones attached to the joint being affected. When you flex your knee joint, the angle between your femur or upper leg and your tibia/fibula or lower leg decreases.


Extension is the opposite of flexion. Extension occurs when the angle between the two bones increases. When you straighten or extend your knee joint the angle between your upper and lower leg increases.


The next most common movements are adduction and abduction.  These two movements are in the frontal plane and around a sagittal horizontal axis. Abduction is a movement laterally away from the middle of your body. From a standing position, when you move your leg to the side away from the middle of your body you are abducting your leg. Adduction is movement in the opposite direction - toward the center of your body. When you return your leg from the abducted position back to a normal standing position you are adducting your leg.


The final movement is rotation. Rotation takes place in the horizontal plane. When you turn your head from side to side you are rotating your head in the horizontal plane around your spine which is acting as the vertical axis. With the head and torso there is only one type of rotation. When you are dealing with your extremities there are two kinds of rotation - internal and external. Internal rotation takes place when the front part of your arm or leg rotates towards the middle (midline) of your body.  When you turn your knees towards each other in a standing position you are internally rotating your legs. External rotation is the opposite direction.  If you turn your knees away from each other in a standing position you are externally rotating your legs.

There is one more type of movement you should be familiar with. This one is a combination of movements through two or three planes and is called circumduction. An example of circumduction is moving your arms around your body in a windmill motion.


That's about it. There are other anatomical terms that are used by physiologists to describe various movements and motions but if you are fairly familiar with these you will know everything you need to understand the moves your body makes when you are running or strength training.



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