Most of life’s activities take place in three-dimensional space. It is simply the way our world works. Humans are capable of creating movement in all three of these directions: forward and back, side-to-side, and rotationally.
There seems to be one place on Earth, however, that is immune to this basic principle of physics – fitness centers.
For some strange reason, the world of strength training has evolved almost entirely into a one-dimensional environment. Almost every popular exercise occurs in what is known as the sagittal plane, where motion happens in a forward and backward manner.
All strength training, regardless of which muscles you are exercising, should match real-life stress patterns. If you live in a 3D world, a quality workout will train you in the same fashion. With respect to how you develop your core, failing to live by this rule is not only a poor approach, but also a potentially dangerous one.
Your core’s main job is to resist the forces placed on it while maintaining a stable position. These forces are constantly being created through exercise, athletic skills, or by the regular activities you perform at work and at home. And they are almost always taking place in three dimensions, not just simple forward motion.
Those who wish to improve the function of their midsection cannot leave themselves vulnerable to injury during rotational (transverse plane) and side-to-side (frontal plane) movements. A strong and healthy core must be worked in all three directions regularly.
The frontal and transverse planes often show themselves to be the weakest when we take people through core testing. This has meant that core training for our athletes overemphasizes adding stress in these two directions.
I strongly recommend that if you are on a steady diet of crunches and sit ups, you should scrap them in favor of drills that apply forces in other planes of motion. You must get past the narrow mindset of training only for 6-pack abs, and open up to a much more valuable approach to training.
A side plank, or side bridge, is a great introductory exercise to work your core in the frontal plane. It requires no equipment, and is easy to make more challenging over time. You can increase the amount of time you hold the plank position, or place a weight on your top hip to increase the stabilization forces required to stay in the correct position.
A simple way to add a rotational force is to get in a basic plank, or bridge position. With your midsection braced, or tightened, all the way around, raise one arm off the ground and attempt to keep your hips from rotating. If you can keep your hips level with one arm off the ground, you have successfully resisted a rotational force through your core.
There are many ways to create lateral and rotational stresses on your midsection. Often times, this involves replicating common sports and real-life movements.
Focusing on 3D core training still includes appearance-related benefits, but it can provide so much more than what is traditionally practiced in fitness centers. You will decrease your chance for injury, and notice improvements in strength, speed and power. It is well worth the effort to change up your program.