Tri Plane Movement and Functional Training, these are both current words used to describe movement and training by the personal training and allied health profession (osteopath, physiotherapist, exercise physiologist and chiropractor). The health and fitness industry is going through yet another change, just like the swiss ball was the man of the moment in the 90’s, pilates and the core were the trend of the early 2000’s, many trainers and health professionals are now focusing on training movement rather than muscle, training functional exercises rather than non functional exercises, training groups of muscles rather than muscles in isolation.

What this means in simplistic terms is that trainers and health professionals (osteopaths, physiotherapist, chiropractors and exercise physiologists) etc are now moving away from the body building approach to training and conditioning (that is isolated weight training) and moving towards training that integrates movement with resistance that mimics upright function such as gait and other movement patterns that we perform on a daily basis i.e. squat, sit to stand, step up and down, push, pull & rotate.

This does not suggest that one training approach or philosophy is better than the other, it fundamentally comes down to what the specific individuals goal is. For a body builder looking to compete, then traditional weight lifting techniques that have been proven to produce muscle gain is required. For the olympic power lifter, olympic lifts are practiced. For the sporting indivdiual, there will be likely a combination of functional movement exercises as well as some strength, olympic and powerlifting techniques. For the individual wanting to improve their overall wellbeing, strength and mobility, there is also likely to be a combination of the above.

So what does tri plane movement, functional training etc etc mean. Tri Plane movement simply refers to movement in the three planes (sagittal, frontal and transverse planes). If we look at the individual who is standing up right, the best way to describe movement in the sagittal plane is forwards and backwards movement. Movement in the the frontal plane refers to side to side movement (that is laterally stepping or performing a lateral lunge). Movement in the the transverse plane is when movement occurs with rotation, that is whilst standing you twist and turn to move or lunge posteriorly and laterall. Movement occurs in all three planes and this is why there is a growing change in the way that training is being carried out. Previously most gyms and training programs were focused on training muscles in these fancy looking machines and/or functional training was restricted to movement purely up and down i.e squat movement or forwards (anterior lunge). As our understanding of functional biomechanics and movement improves, so does our training approaches and philosophy. Now days we are seeing more and more clients perform movements that involve all three planes of movement and involve less fancy equipment and movements that mimic real life activity.

Functional Training is probably one of the biggest buzz words in the health and fitness industry at this particular moment. There are many indivdiuals out there claiming to provide functional training. Functional training is certaintly not something that is new, rather it has been around for many many years and simply relates to training that mimics how we function. Now how this training relates to how we function will depend totally upon what and why we are training. For an individual who sits for their job for their entire life and wants to improve this, then training should focus on improving their ability to sit whilst working. For those individuals who are wanting to improve their everyday movement, that is sit, stand, walk, step up and down, squat, lunge etc etc, then training should reflect this. For the sporting individual, the training should mimic the sporting requirements, movements or athletic components that are that sport. So functional training has many meanings and therefore can be interpreted in many different ways.

For the general public, when we look at the body and how it functions, the most common movements or positions we are in involve walking (gait), sitting, standing, squatting, lunging, stepping up and down, single leg balancing, pushing, pulling and twisting. All of these movements are impacted by gravity and ground reaction force and these are two other factors that should be taken into consideration when prescribing a program. Gravity is something that we are always working against to remain upright. Therefore gravity is something that can easily be used to increase or decrease the degree of difficulty of an exercise. Ground reaction force relates to Newtons laws and how force in one direction results in an equal and opposite amount of force in the opposite direction. This can be related to jumping and landing on the ground whereby an amount of force is exerted downwards and then the force will be transferred back into the legs and must be either shifted or absorbed by the body. So when it comes to functional training and tri plane movement training, hopefully now you will have a little bit more of an understanding of what, why and how this might be prescribed in relation to yours or anyone else’s training program.

To find out more about changing up your training program, making it a little bit more functional in relation to your specific goals, incorporating exercises that involve training in all three planes, then contact Principle Four Osteopathy on 03 9670 9290 or email

Principle Four Osteopathy is located in the heart of the Melbourne City CBD 3000 at 29 Somerset Place, Melbourne City CBD 3000 (near the corner of Little Bourke & Elizabeth St). Check us out online by going to .

Osteopath Heath Williams of Principle Four Osteopathy has a special interest in exercise prescription, functional training & conditioning. To find out more about functional training, please contact Principle Four Osteopathy.

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