The Top 5 Benefits of Alternative Locomotion: Part 3 – Multiplanar.

spartans bear crawlingby Joe Di Stefano of Spartan Coaches

Click here for Part I and click here for Part II

The human body has three primary planes of motion, the sagittal plane, the frontal plane, and the transverse plane.

All human movement can be categorized as occurring in in one of these planes depending on if it involves stressing the body as a left and right side, a front and back side, or a top and bottom; respectively. In short, the human body can move forward/back, side to side, and up and down.

These movements are an integral part of functional natural movements that we use at Training Camps.

Most of us would likely agree that almost everything we do on any given day involves forward locomotion on two feet, lifting, pulling or pushing weights, lounging on a couch or working at a desk. Generally speaking, nearly every possible action or movement we can make in any one of these activities is dominated by the sagittal plane with mere brief incidental exposures to the other two. Most of the time in life, whatever you are doing, it involves moving forward.

Taking a look at Spartan Race, the single most common injury we see are ankle rolls, which occur in the frontal plane after the joint loses a stability battle with rough terrain or an obstacle. Our second and third most common injuries are separation of the acromioclavicular joint of the shoulder from falling awkwardly onto an outstretched arm or injury to the rotator cuff muscles, usually the supraspinatus whose job it is to keep the ball at the top of the humerus in the shoulder socket.

Crab CrawlBoth of these shoulder injuries typically occur in a combination of the three planes but whose pathology can be traced back to sagittal plane dominated posture, the resulting dysfunctional length-tension relationships among the muscles surrounding vulnerable joints, and the fact that we rarely train the body to deal with it’s own weight under varying conditions. Ankle and shoulder injuries are common because our bodies are built and trained for forward, while these body parts are about all ranges of motion.

Most training programs, no matter how dysfunctional your flexibility, posture, or strength are will have you picking up weights on your first workout. This may get you feeling great, mainly because muscles are finally being used and previously dormant physiological processes are actually being kick-started but in the end typically you are reinforcing the postural problems created by your previously sedentary lifestyle and continuing your body’s tendency to favour the sagittal plane at the expense of the other two.

Alternative locomotion will exposure shoulders and ankles to multi-directional joint positions and stabilization requirements as well as multi-directional deceleration forces in controlled and varied postural positions. After training with these movements regularly expect to see improved posture, improved muscle function, and few aches and pains after your next race. You’ll also be stronger in most weight lifting exercises because much like trying to walk on a sprained ankle, if your body senses poor posture or high injury potential, it makes sure to only gives you enough strength to not get hurt. Briefly put, animal movements get your stabilizer muscles strong enough to start lifting weights.

Traditional training programs are almost always dominated by overhead movements with little if any productive work done to reduce injury potential. In fact, the majority of people actually lack an ability to fully flex the shoulder to an overhead position! (A simple test: Stand tall, with completely locked elbows and straight arms. Lift your arms overhead…one of two things probably happened, one, you got “tight” prior to being fully overhead or two, you arched your lower back to achieve the last few degrees of flexion in the shoulder.)

bear crawlResearch has shown that up to 54% of asymptomatic individuals already have a cuff tear their body has not told them about yet. Let me rephrase, up to 54% of people with ZERO pain in their shoulder already HAVE a rotator cuff tear, add in the people with mild to severe pain prior to the race and the deck is pretty stacked! No amount of “strengthening” or standing external rotations with a thera-band are going to prepare you to survive a full body, deadweight hang that forces full flexion of the shoulder (regardless of if you just failed my test)…Add in the momentum of swinging from bar to bar and a splash of strength in internal rotation with your entire body weight hanging in the balance and basically…. we’re lucky anyone survives it.

Experimenting with alternative locomotion will stress the body in all three planes of motion without much thought or premeditation needed. In any given workout, these movements will expose the body to it’s own weight and force the shoulder to be stable despite being confronted with multidirectional forces acting on it. The hips and ankles hip have to be more mobile yet still incredibly supportive in foreign and awkward joint positions. At the same time, the core is being forced to stabilize the torso yet still transfer energy between the upper and lower body. Oh and by the way, these incredibly beneficial exercises are 100% free and you can do them in your driveway. At some point maybe I will touch on the stoic value of doing these in public, but not today. For now, let’s injury proof your body while adding fluidity and coordination to your athleticism!

Here’s a warm up to your workouts to test your skills. Each of them we practice, perfect and put into practical use at Training Camps.

Warm up:

Bear Crawl x 15’

Lateral Ape, Left x 15’

Lateral Ape, Right x 15’

Reverse Bear Crawl x 15’


Sher JS, Uribe JW, Posada A, Murphy BJ, Zlatkin MB. Abnormal findings on magnetic resonance images of asymptomatic shoulders. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1995 Jan;77(1):10-5. PubMed PMID: 7822341.

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