Three Dimensional Fitness


by Lisa Snow

Look around your local gym, and you’ll see people doing what looks like an incredibly wide variety of exercises: machines and free weights, exercises for arms, legs, and abs.  But look closer, and you’ll realize most exercises (and most pieces of equipment) only work in one dimension.  The human body is designed to move in three-dimensional space, utilizing all three planes of movement: sagittal (i.e. a bicep curl), frontal (i.e. a dumbbell side raise, or a kid lying down to make a snow angel), and transverse (i.e. a dumbbell fly, as well as rotational moves).  Sadly, most people are almost exclusively doing sagittal moves, resulting in one-dimensional fitness.  A leg press, a leg curl, a leg extension, a bicep curl, and a tricep extension are all examples of sagittal (forward and back) moves.  It’s not that these exercises are bad—in fact, many of them are excellent—the problem is that we aren’t balancing them with movements from the other two planes.

There are many benefits to multi-planar training.  Because you work the muscles from different angles, you will recruit more muscle fibers, resulting in increased strength.  You will also engage more of the small stabilizing muscles; strengthening them reduces your injury risk and gives you a stronger core.  Activities in daily life—playing sports, carrying groceries, running for the bus, or taking care of a house and kids—all happen in 3D.  Functional exercises mimic these real life situations, providing strength that works when you need it most.

While most machines lock us into single-plane movements, a few machines, such as a cable crossover, do not.  Take advantage of these whenever you can.  In addition, today’s functional training tools allow unlimited three-dimensional movement: the BOSU balance trainer, stability ball, TRX suspension trainer, TRX rip trainer, medicine balls, Gliding discs, and kettlebells are all good examples.

But what about when you are working out at home with little to no equipment?  You can still add 3D moves to your workout.  Each of these exercises can be done with a medicine ball or even a soup can.

Side Lunge: Stand tall holding the ball, and take a big step out to the side with your right foot, bending your right knee, but keeping the left knee straight, pushing the hips behind you.  Push the ball straight in front of you on the way down, and pull it back into your chest as you come up, returning your feet to the start position.  (If you don’t have a ball, just do the motion with your hands as if you were holding a ball.)  Repeat on the other side, alternating feet with each rep.

Pushups with ball rolling: Perform one pushup with the left hand on the floor, the right hand on the medicine ball.  While staying in the plank (top of pushup) position, roll the ball across so you can place your left hand on it.  Perform your second pushup with your right hand on the floor, and your left hand on the ball.  Keep rolling the ball between hands after each rep.

Step-back Lunge and Twist: Holding the ball in front of you, step back with your right foot, bending both knees to 90 degrees, stopping when the right knee is about an inch above the floor.  As you lower into the lunge, twist the ball and your and chest to the left.  Return to the beginning position, and repeat on the other side.

Diagonal Chop: Do a shallow squat, lowering the ball to below the right side of your knees.  As you come up, raise the ball high overhead and to your left.  Complete one set on this side, then perform the second set the other direction.


Lisa Snow is an ACE and NSCA certified personal trainer with nutrition and fitness certificates from the National Personal Training Institute.  She has over 5 years experience helping women from teens to seniors look and feel their best.



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Three Dimensional Fitness