How do sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes differ from one another? (2023)

There are three basic reference planes used in anatomy: the sagittal plane, the coronal plane, and the transverse plane.


  • Think of planes of motionlike this
  • Human Movement Terminology
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Learning Objectives

  • Identify the three basic anatomical reference planes

Key Points

  • A coronal or frontal plane divides the body into dorsal and ventral (back and front, or posterior and anterior) portions.
  • A transverse plane, also known as an axial plane or cross-section, divides the body into cranial and caudal (head and tail) portions.
  • A sagittal plane divides the body into sinister and dexter (left and right) portions.
  • Body planes have several uses within the anatomy field, including in medical imaging, descriptions of body motion, and embryology.

Key Terms

  • coronal plane: Any vertical plane that divides the body into anterior and posterior (belly and back) sections.
  • transverse plane: Any plane that divides the body into superior and inferior parts, roughly perpendicular to the spine.
  • sagittal plane: Any imaginary plane parallel to the median plane.

Body planes are hypothetical geometric planes used to divide the body into sections. They are commonly used in both human and zoological anatomy to describe the location or direction of bodily structures. Reference planes are the standard planes used in anatomical terminology and include:

  • The sagittal plane (lateral or Y-Z plane) divides the body into sinister and dexter (left and right) sides. The midsagittal (median) plane is in the midline through the center of the body, and all other sagittal planes are parallel to it.
  • The coronal plane (frontal or Y-X plane) divides the body into dorsal and ventral (back and front) portions. It also separates the anterior and posterior portions.
  • The transverse plane (axial or X-Z plane) divides the body into superior and inferior (head and tail) portions. It is typically a horizontal plane through the center of the body and is parallel to the ground.

While these are the major reference planes of the body, other planes are commonly used in relation to these three. A longitudinal plane is any plane perpendicular to the transverse plane, while parasaggital planes are parallel to the saggital plane.The coronal plane, the sagittal plane, and the parasaggital planes are examples of longitudinal


How do sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes differ from one another? (1)

Anatomical Planes in a Human: There are three basic planes in zoological anatomy: sagittal, coronal, and transverse. A human in the anatomical position, can be described using a coordinate system with the Z-axis going from front to back, the X-axis going from left to right, and the Y-axis going from up to down.

Medical imaging techniques such as sonography, CT scans, MRI scans, or PET scans are one of the primary applications of body planes. By imaging a patient in standard anatomical position, a radiologist can build an X-Y-Z axis around the patient to apply body planes to the images. The planes can then be used to identify and locate the positions of the patient’s internal organs. Individual organs can also be divided by planes to help identify smaller structures within that organ.

Body planes are used to describe anatomical motion in the X-Y-Z coordinate system that the body moves through. An anatomist could model a limb’s range of motion by measuring which planes the limb can move through and how far it is able to travel.

(Video) What are the Planes of Motion? | Frontal Plane, Sagittal Plane, Transverse Plane Exercise Examples

Anatomical change during embryological development is also described and measured with body planes. For example, during human embryonic development the coronal plane is horizontal, but becomes vertical as the embryo develops into a fetus. In comparative embryology, body planes provide a basis for comparing the ways in which different types of organisms develop anatomically within the womb.

What are the planes of human motion and why do we care? Let’s sort this out, just between us. If you’re a student of physical therapy, chiropractic or other medical profession, you’ll get this in school if you haven’t already. Those of you who are planning to certify in personal training or strength and conditioning will need to know it. While it’s true that many of the rest of us don’t really need to know planes of human motion, it’s also true we’re going to bump into the terms more and more when reading modern training articles. It’s time we caught up with this generation of training lingo. We’ll take the simple route…promise.

The main problem for most of us is that we weren’t introduced to the terms in our early training (today we read that asWho needs it?). Additionally, the actions along the planes don’t seem to match the describing terms. For example, the frontal plane motions are left to right, and our brains just kind of disconnect in a sort of “I can’t learn that” frustration when we see frontal associated with side to side.

At its simplest:

  • Sagittal = forward or backward
  • Frontal = side to side (definitely confusing)
  • Transverse = rotational

To picture the three planes, imagine slicing through the body, like so:

  • First through the center, dividing the body from the left to the right to make up thesagittal plane
  • Next through the body from the left side to the right, separating the front and back halves to create thefrontal plane(front side and back side)
  • Finally cutting straight through the hips to divide the top of the body from the bottom, thetransverse plane

That’s not so hard. It starts to get a little more complicated when we begin to sort out which motions move along the planes. You want to think of the motion as moving along the surface of the plane, rather than visualizing the sectioned-offbody.

How do sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes differ from one another? (2)

Think of planes of motionlike this

Sagittalplanemotionwould include forward and backward motions, like sit-ups, back extensions or biceps curls. The sagittal plane cuts through the center of the body, so the motion is front to back or back to front, including straight forward running. Squats involve flexion (forward motion) and extension (backwardon the way up), so would fit into the sagittal plane.

Frontalplane motionwould include leaning from left to right as insidebendsand lateral raises, or perhaps you might picture jumping jacks for a good image of movement along the frontal plane.

Transverse plane motionis the hardest to picture because the plane is horizontal as it divides the top from the bottom, so it’s hard to get our heads around it being a rotating action. The main thing to remember isrotation. An example of a transverse plane exercise would be floor to overhead diagonals with a medicine ball, and a transverse activity might be swinging a golf club.

Why would an average trainee need to know this? Two reasons, really. It comes up fairly often as we read the work of our favoritewritersbecause these folks know this stuff and it comes out naturally for them. It’s frustrating to have to skim sections because we don’t know the lingo, and in internet reading, skimming a section often means losing interest and clicking away before we get to the vital parts.

Secondly, what’s most important about the planes is to know they exist and to make sure our training programs include exercises along each. Our most common gym exercises are on the sagittal plane, moving forward or back such as in flat pressing, pushups, crunches or even squats and lunges.

When you create your training programs, be sure to add some frontal plane and transverse plane exercises to bring up your built-in injury prevention. That’s what’s going to help ensuregoodbalance in your muscular body. Training only on one plane will pretty much do the opposite.

(Video) Body Planes and Sections: Frontal, Sagittal, Oblique, Transverse | Anatomy and Physiology

Human Movement Terminology

Nowlet’s take a look at a few other common movement terms that are a touch out of range of many of us. We’ll keep it as brief and simple as possible so you’ll have acheatsheetfor reading some of the more advanced corrective exercise articles found on the ‘net, stuff thatmight turn around that aggressive aging process.

Prone vs supine
Prone is lying face down; supine is face up.

Superior vs inferior
Superior means closer to the head; inferior means closer to the feet.

Medialvs lateral
Medial refers to nearer to the center; lateral refers to farther from the center.

Posterior vs anterior
Posterior is toward the back;anterioris toward the front.

Distal vs proximal
Distal means farther from the torso; proximal means closer to the trunk.

Extension vs flexion
Extension straightens a joint; flexion bends the joint.

Supination vs pronation
Supination and pronation are used to describeactionat the feet or forearm. In the feet, supination refers to excessive outward action; pronation refers to the ankle turning in. With the forearm, supination refers to turning the palm up; pronation refers to turning the palm down.

Medialvs lateral rotation
Medial rotation turns toward the center of the body as in internal rotation; lateral rotation turns away from the body externally.

Inversion vseversion
Inversion turns the foot in;eversionturns the foot out.

Elevation vs depression
Elevation means upward; depression means downward. These terms are most often used to describe faulty scapula position, too high or too low.

Protraction vs retraction
Protraction moves a joint forward; retraction moves it backward.

Adductionvs abduction
Adductionbrings the limb in toward the body; abduction moves it away.

(Video) Body Planes - Planes Of The Body - Sagittal Planes, Transverse Planes And Frontal Planes

Dorsiflexion vs plantar flexion
Dorsiflexion at the ankle is to bring the toes toward the shin; plantar flexion points the toes away.

Joint mobility vs flexibility
Joint mobility encompasses the ability of the joint to move through its full range of motion; flexibility is about muscles, not joints, and is about lengthening to optimum.

Stability vs mobility
Stability is the muscle, tendon and ligament action needed to hold a joint in position; mobility requires the correct muscle action on one side of a joint and the necessary muscular flexibility on the other to produce full movement through a joint’s range of motion.

Activation vs dormant
Activation means an action to trigger a muscle that’s not firing well; dormant refers to an inactive muscle group, at varying levels from fully inactive to fully engaged.

Tendons vs ligaments vs fascia vsmyofascia
Tendons connect muscles to bones; ligaments connect bone to bone; fascia is connective tissue that covers soft tissue from head to toe, superficial to deep;myofasciais fascia covering muscle

Lordotic vs kyphotic vs lordosis vs kyphosis
Lordotic is the curve of the spine bending to the front; kyphotic bends toward the rear; lordosis describes the amount of lumbar curve (toward the front); kyphosis describes the amount of bend at the thoracic spine (to the rear)—hyperlordosis indicates too much lordotic curve

Bilateral vs unilateral
Bilateralrefers to both sides of the body working together; unilateral is one side alone

Concentric vs eccentric
Concentric shortens the muscle; eccentric lengthens, ie in bicepscurlsthe concentric action brings the wrist toward the shoulder; eccentric returns the weight to the side

Isometric vs isotonic
Isometric changes the muscle tension without changing the length; isotonic changes the muscle tension while changing the length

Origin vs insertion
Origin of a muscle is the stationary attachment site of muscle to bone; insertion is the mobile attachment end site

Primer mover vs synergist vs antagonist
Prime mover is the main muscle that carries out an action; synergist assists the prime mover; antagonist performs the opposite action

Planes of movement — Sagittal vs frontal vs transverse
Sagittal refers to forward or backward; frontal (aka coronal) refers to side to side; transverse refers to rotational —more on planes of motion here.

There ya go: the simplest movement cheatsheet on the ‘net.

(Video) The Planes of Motion

Now, here’sa short human anatomy FAQ,

To continue your learning about human planes of motion,watch the preview clips of our Immaculate Dissection Functional Anatomy video.

In this article,Adam Wolf discusses the frontal plane lunge and integrated motion.

These two Gray Cook topics will probably be interesting to you:

What’s Behind a Mobility Problem?

Reactive Neuromuscular Training

Here Charlie Weingroff explains the “Joint by Joint Approach,” which is your next step in learning about programming for human motion.

For much more on anatomy, check out this fabulous new way of learning anatomy using body painting.

How do sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes differ from one another? (3)

Tap into the Brains of Some of the World’s Leading Performance Experts

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How do sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes differ from one another? (4)

Inside the OTP Vault, you’ll find over 20 articles and videos from leading strength coaches, trainers and physical therapists such as Dan John, Gray Cook, Michael Boyle, Stuart McGill and Sue Falsone.

Click here to get FREE accessto the On Target Publications vault and receive the latest relevant content to help you and your clients move and perform better.


1. Planes of Motion (sagittal transverse frontal) - Show Up Fitness
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2. Anatomical Planes & Axes Explained
3. Human Body Planes - How to Identify Frontal, Sagittal, and Transverse
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4. 3D anatomical plane, sagittal, coronal and transverse plane in 3D view
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5. anatomical sectional planes: frontal, sagittal, transverse planes
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6. EASY TRICKS for Anatomical Body Planes and Sections [Direction/Position]
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