Training With a Twist: The TransversePlane Workout

By Andrew Heffernan |

Chances are you spend most of your gym time moving in just one direction.

Think about it: Standard gym moves like lunging, squatting, and running are all variations on front-to-back movement. So are lying-down exercises like presses and crunches, and machine-based moves like rows and curls. In every case, you move your body (or parts of it) forward and back, as if walking down a narrow alley.

Outside the gym, of course, it’s a different story: You twist, you turn, you bend. You step in all directions. You’re a three-dimensional mover.

Fitness pros have terms for each of these dimensions, or planes of action: the sagittal plane, which covers all those front-to-back gym moves; the frontal plane, which describes side-to-side movements like jumping jacks and side shuffles; and the transverse plane, which includes rotational motions that involve twisting or turning, like swinging a bat or throwing a ball.

Of these three planes, gym-goers are most likely to neglect the transverse plane — and that’s a mistake. In our day-to-day lives, we rotate all the time: to check for oncoming traffic, to pass the salt to the person next to us, to put on a jacket. And rotation may be even more vital in recreational activities: You can’t play golf or tennis, or practice yoga or the martial arts, without lots of turning and twisting action through your spine, shoulders, and hips.

The most important reason to include transverse work in your routine has nothing to do with adding yardage to your drive or power to your punch, however. “Primarily, transverse training helps prevent injury,” says Ben Bruno, a strength coach at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning in North Andover, Mass. Here’s why: The muscles that function in the transverse plane — such as the obliques on the sides of your torso — don’t just help you rotate; they prevent you from rotating too much.

In tennis, for instance, you need to rotate powerfully in one direction as you swing through the ball, then slow down to a stop just milliseconds later. Working some transverse-plane moves into your gym sessions can help a player develop this ability to “anti-rotate” — to slow down or stop from over-rotating when twisting and turning with force and speed.

What follows is a full-body strength-training workout consisting of exercises that challenge you to twist and turn strongly and safely. Perform once a week as described, or substitute any of the individual moves for their more standard equivalents (listed along with each exercise) whenever you want to add a twist to your workout.

The Transverse-Plane Workout

Instructions: After a brief warm-up, perform the following six exercises in the order described. Perform exercises A and B as straight sets (do a set, rest for 30 seconds and repeat). On C1 and C2, do a set of C1, rest a minute, do a set of C2, rest, and repeat until you’ve done four sets of each exercise. Perform exercises D1 and D2 in a similar manner for a total of three sets of each movement.

Workout designer Ben Bruno says you should “twist through the torso, and not the spine” when doing these transverse-plane exercises.

A| Rotational Lunges













  1. Alternate sides until you have completed 10 reps on both sides.

Two sets of 10 per leg

Walking lunges, reverse lunges

“The rotational lunge is great for hip mobility,” says Bruno, which makes it a terrific exercise for preventing injury in the lower back and knees, and a solid warm-up.

B| Rotational Medicine-Ball Throw







  1. Repeat the movement with your right shoulder facing the wall.

Two sets of 10 per side

Medicine-ball overhead throws, medicine-ball slams, explosive pushups

Don’t leave your feet out of the exercise. Your trailing foot — the one farthest from the wall — should turn inward, along with your hips and shoulders.

C1 | Landmine Reverse Lunge







  1. Repeat the movement for the appropriate number of reps, stepping the left foot back each time, then perform the movement stepping the right foot back, this time holding the bar in your right hand.

Four sets of eight

Barbell lunges, dumbbell lunges

If you don’t have access to a landmine unit, brace one end of a standard Olympic bar in the corner of the gym or against a couple of weight plates on the floor, and lift the opposite end.

C2 | One-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press







  1. Repeat the movement for the appropriate number of reps with the right arm before switching the weight to the other arm.

Four sets of eight reps per arm

Dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press

D1 | Three-Point Dumbbell Row







  1. Repeat the movement for the appropriate reps with the right arm before switching to the other side.

Three sets of eight

Machine row, barbell row, TRX row

“I often see people heaving a very heavy weight on this move, like they’re starting a lawnmower,” says Bruno. Instead of doing that, he suggests, lighten the load and keep your shoulders level throughout the exercise.

D2 | Landmine Romanian Deadlift







  1. Complete all reps on your left leg, then switch to your right foot and repeat.

Three sets of eight on each leg

Single-leg Romanian deadlift, stiff-leg deadlift

This article has been updated. It originally appeared in the October 2013 image of Experience Life.

       Three sets of eight per side. Side planks, twisting crunches, twisting situps. For an added challenge, hold the extended position for a slow 10-count.

Go, Team!

Muscle Bound