Force Absorption & Production Outside the Sagittal Plane

This blog is prefaced by the fact that although frontal plane dominant exercises are important, they cannot be loaded in the same way that sagittal plane dominant exercises can be. The vast majority of strength exercises included in any strength program will be sagittal plane dominant, especially when attempting to improve maximal strength and power (see the example program provided). We are also aware that tri-planar stability is driven from the glutes during sagittal plane dominant movements i.e. squat, deadlift, linear acceleration in a sprint, however, that is a rabbit hole for another day.

In athletic development and strength programs, the pursuit of improved force production qualities is heavily biased towards the sagittal plane, this is mostly due to the glute max’s role in hip/ triple extension. However, the muscle action of hip extension is generally looked at in isolation without addressing the hip’s frontal and transverse plane functions of abduction and rotation. When programs focus on those actions, they are generally in isolation, too. Here is a blog if you want to learn more about Muscle Action vs. Muscle Function.

The sole emphasis on force production through concentric hip extension leads to the eccentric functions of the glutes being forgotten. A case could be made for eccentric strength/control of the glutes, in all three planes, to be of equal or even greater importance than pure concentric strength. The glutes’ eccentric control of the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes work to resist hip flexion, adduction and internal rotation, respectively.

To summarise:

Glute Force Production (Acceleration/Concentric Action)

  • Extension (Sagittal)

  • Abduction (Frontal)

  • External Rotation (Transverse)

Glute Force Absorption (Deceleration/Eccentric Action)

  • Flexion (Sagittal)

  • Adduction (Frontal)

  • Internal Rotation (Transverse)

How do we Implement Tri-Planar Hip Strength/ Stability in our Programming

Movement Patterning/ Programming

Athletes need to earn the right to jump and sprint, if they cannot absorb force effectively, how can them to produce force? Eccentric control takes precedence. I.e.

  • Tall to short landing, 2 leg linear landing, 1 leg lateral landing, 1 leg lateral landing, 90 degree linear landing, 180 degree landing. 

  • Sprint to deceleration. Training the athlete to decelerate will allow eccentric control of the hips to be trained.

  • Lateral shuffle to deceleration.

  • Heiden with Stick. Teaching the athlete how to produce force in the frontal plane as well as absorb force is necessary.

In sports, a jump and subsequent landing rarely occur in isolation. The same can be said for a sprint without subsequent deceleration. The best athletes are those that can absorb force efficiently i.e. landing or deceleration, and then transition into a change of direction/ force production action.

Strength Programming

  • Unilateral lower body exercises. Unilateral exercises all have an increased demand for stability in the frontal and transverse planes over sagittal plane exercises.

  • These can be progressed further to increase the frontal/transverse plane demand in sagittal plane dominant exercises with asymmetrical loading variations i.e. 1 KB Front Rack Step-Up, Ipsilateral 1 Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat, 1 Leg 2 Dumbbell RDL

  • Implement exercises that force the athlete to stabilize outside of the sagittal plane ie. lateral lunge

  • When applicable i.e. off-season or junior athletes; an emphasis on eccentric control in lifts i.e. tempo squat, tempo RDL, eccentric focused unilateral lower body exercises.

  • Exercises that target muscle function not just muscle action (link muscle action/function blog) i.e. crab walk’s only targets hip abduction, nothing wrong with these exercises as a warm-up/proprioception exercise, however, may be more beneficial using an exercise like the hip aeroplane, which challenges hip stability in all three planes at various joint angles.

As the preface mentioned, most exercises programmed to increase maximal strength and focus will be sagittal plane dominant. In order to drive tri-planar stability in these exercises, effective cueing is paramount. Ensuring bilateral exercises are cued through ’spreading the floor’ rather than just driving knees out, will ensure that hip musculature is being challenged in all three planes. Not just during the concentric phase of lifts, but eccentric too.

There is no one exercise that will make you the best athlete or lifter, but there are definitely exercises that will allow you to maximise your potential. 

Example Off-Season Program

Speed, Power + Plyometrics

A1) 1 Leg Linear Landing 3 x 8 (Tri-Planar Movement Patterning)

A2) 1 Leg Heel Raise Isometric 3 x 30 seconds

B1) Heiden w/Stick 3 x 3/es (Frontal/ Transverse Plane Power + Stability)

B2) Crab Walk 3 x 10m (Frontal Plane Hip Sensory Drill)


A1) Trap Bar Deadlift 4 x 6 (Sagittal Strength)

A2) Hip Aeroplane 3 x 5 (Tri-planar Hip Stability)

B1) 1 KB Front Rack Step-Up w/Offset - 3111 Tempo 3 x 8 (Sagittal Strength w/ Tri-Planar Hip Stability)

B2)  Feet Elevated Push-Up 3 x 10

C1) 1 KB + 1 KB Front Rack Lateral Lunge 3 x 8 (Frontal/ Transverse Plane Strength)

C2) Split Stance 1 Arm Cable Row 3 x 10

C3) Suitcase Carry March 3 x 12m (Tri-Planar Core Strength/ Endurance)

About the Author - Jamie Bouziotis
Head of Strength and Conditioning at Melbourne Strength Culture
YouTube: Melbourne Strength Culture