Life is not sagittal

Life is not sagittal? What?? What does sagittal mean?

These are the usual responses I get when I talk to people after they’ve seen me training myself and/or clients.

There is a component of “Writing 101” about using that phrase. i.e. Write positively, don’t be conditional. The phrase should be “Life is not only or solely sagittal”. I don’t mean to imply that there is no sagittal component to life at all.

BTW, the sagittal plane is one of the three planes of movement. It’s the forwards and backwards plane (there’s also the frontal plane, side to side movement and the transverse plane, which is rotational movement).


So much of what is done in the gym is sagittal and, while it does lead to strength and endurance gains, it is not, on its own, sufficient to keep us  out of harm’s way in our day to day activities. Performing a non-sagittal movement under excessive load can lead to injury. That movement could be as simple as twisting to retrieve something out of the back seat of a car.

My suggestion is that if we’ve made an effort to get into the gym to train (and this article is directed at those fitness enthusiasts who already get themselves to the gym) then, with little or no extra time we can reach our normal training goals as well as be strong enough to handle the unexpected non-sagittal events life sends us.

Athletes already know this. Golfers, pitchers, bowlers, runners, etc know they have to work on lateral movements as well as rotational movements to improve in their sport. However, I’ve seen too many people working out in the gym training in one plane of movement. This is an injury waiting to happen.

It’s easy to include non-sagittal components to your exercises. Really.

When working on your upper body, some push/pull exercises could be replaced with cable push/pull with added rotational movement. These can be progressed to single leg and on to unstable surfaces. You don’t have to do these exercises all the time but some of the time is better than nothing.

Lower body workouts can be augmented with lateral lunges or squats. Rotational squats, just bodyweight, can be really tough even for people who back-squat heavy loads.

As an efficient time use example, when you’re bench pressing don’t sit there and check social media during your rest periods, why not do a set of single leg, single arm dumbbell RDLs and then get straight back into your pressing? Or throw in a set of kneeling Pallof presses in between your heavy rowing exercises. Simple, really.

The possibilities of combining exercises into continuous sets is unlimited. You can get your non-sagittal work done in the gym in the same amount of time you currently spend in the gym. And the rewards are plentiful.

As an example, for the older fitness enthusiast, engaging in vigorous play with a squirming two year old grandchild is possible without the risk of injury.

Life is not sagittal, it’s more than sagittal. We should train accordingly.

Posted May 6, 2014 by Mark in Fitness