Want full-body, head-to-toe fitness? Start working out in three dimensions.
“At your average gym, everyone does exercises that mostly go front-to-back,” says physical therapist Gary Gray, founder of the Gray Institute for Applied Functional Science in Adrian, Mich. Standards like treadmill running, stationary cycling, and lunges are perfect examples of moves that literally keep you on the straight and narrow.
“But we’re three-dimensional people in a three-dimensional world,” says Gray. “So we should incorporate strength training in 3D as well.”
Three-dimensional, or “tri-planar,” exercises include movements that go side to side and in a rotational arc, as well as front to back. They are a cornerstone of functional exercise, a system that focuses on enhancing practical fitness capacity (see “Ready-for-Anything Fitness”).
This 3D approach doesn’t just increase strength, explains Gray. It also improves movement literacy — your ability to move skillfully, without effort or strain, in any environment you wish, from the gym to the office to the sports field.
The result? Functional, real-world fitness that prevents injury, boosts performance, and helps you move better and look your best.
Tri-planar moves can be complex compared with standard-issue gym exercises. That’s the whole point, says Gray, who designed the workout on the pages that follow: Functional training is designed to challenge brain and brawn alike.
“Learning should be a big part of training. Not the type of learning where you listen to a teacher, but where you successfully complete a new, challenging exercise and say, ‘Look at what my body just did!’”
The 3D Workout
Perform the following series of functional-fitness moves one to three times a week on nonconsecutive days, making the following adjustments as needed.
Beginner: Do each move slowly for the noted number of reps, completing one full set of the workout. Ease into a full range of motion.
Intermediate: Combine all the moves into a circuit, resting 30 seconds between exercises. Go through the entire sequence two to three times.
Advanced: Double the number of repetitions listed for all the moves. Run through all the exercises as a circuit, resting minimally as needed. Complete the circuit three to four times.
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and about hip-width apart.
Push through your heels and raise your hips high off the floor so that your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Maintain this position throughout the exercise.
2. Raise both arms toward the ceiling.
3. Keeping your arms straight and parallel to one another, lower your arms overhead as close to the floor as possible.
4. Keeping your arms in the same position, raise them toward the ceiling again and lower them to the floor. Repeat three times.
5. With hips still extended, reach your arms up toward the ceiling.
6. Reach both arms down and to the right, allowing your chest and torso to rotate. Your back will lift off the floor as your weight shifts to your right shoulder. Repeat the movement by rotating to the left. Repeat three times.
1. Begin at the top of a pushup position, with your hands beneath your shoulders, arms straight, the balls of your feet planted firmly on the floor, and your body straight from head to heels. Contract your abs and engage your glutes to maintain a straight position; this will be your starting point for each portion of the exercise.
2. Draw your right knee close to your chest, then do the same with the left. Repeat for a total of two reps.
3. Lift your right leg off the floor, keeping it straight with toes pointed toward the floor. Raise your leg up and back as far as you can, then lower, and repeat on the other side. Repeat two times per leg.
4. Draw your right knee toward your chest and across your body to the left, as if you’re trying to tap your opposite arm. Return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side. Repeat two times per leg.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the handles of a TRX.
Keeping your body straight, with abs and glutes engaged, and your shoulders pulled back and down, lean back until your body forms a 45-degree angle to the floor. Adjust your feet forward or backward so that your arms are extended straight. This is your starting position.
2. Pull yourself up toward the handles, keeping your elbows close to your sides, your neck in a neutral position, and shoulder blades retracted and away from your ears.
3. Lower your body with control until your arms are fully extended, and pull yourself back up. Repeat three times.
4. From the same 45-degree starting position, pull yourself up and slightly to the right by pulling harder on the right handle.
5. Lower your body with control and repeat, pulling up and slightly to the left by pulling harder on the left handle. Repeat three times.
6. Pull yourself toward the handles again, this time rotating your body as far as possible toward the right as you do so.
7. Lower yourself under control and repeat, rotating toward the left. Repeat three times.
1. With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you.
2. Jump your feet backward so you land in a pushup position.
3. Jump forward into the squat position so your feet land just behind your hands.
4. Jump backward to return to the pushup position.
5. Jump forward while rotating your body so your feet land to the right, knees outside your elbows.
6. Jump your feet back into the pushup position.
7. Jump forward while rotating your body so your feet land to the left, knees outside your elbows.
8. Return to the pushup position.
9. Jump forward into the starting squat position, then stand up. Repeat this entire sequence three times.
Standing Abdominal Press
1. Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in the knees. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height.
2. Brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and slightly tuck your tailbone to contract your abs. Press the dumbbell in your right hand overhead and slightly behind you by pressing your hips forward and leaning back. Don’t arch your back, and go only as far as you comfortably can. It is important to keep your abs and glutes engaged throughout the exercise, not only to build strength in those muscles but also to protect your back.
3. Lower your right hand to shoulder height and return to your starting stance, with hips beneath your shoulders.
4. Repeat the same movement with your left hand, making sure to keep your butt tight and abdominal muscles contracted. Alternate arms at a quick pace for 15 seconds.
5. From the same starting position, press your right hand up and to the right while also leaning back, as if winding up for a forehand winner in tennis. Again, rotate backward only as far as you comfortably can.
6. Return your right hand to the starting position.
7. Repeat the same movement with your left hand, and continue alternating arms at a quick pace for 15 seconds.
8. From the same starting position, reach your right hand across your body and “punch” the dumbbell over your left shoulder while simultaneously leaning slightly backward. Again, go only as far as you comfortably can.
9. Return your right hand to the starting position, repeat the move with your left hand, and continue alternating arms for 15 seconds.
Balance Beam Shuffle
1. Stand at the end of a balance beam (or a low, wide railing, curb, or wall) at least 10 feet long. Carefully step onto the beam.
2. Stand straight, with shoulders retracted and abs and glutes engaged, and walk forward.
3. When you reach the other end of the beam, walk backward slowly and carefully to return to your start.
4. Turn 90 degrees to your right so that your shoulders and hips are parallel to the beam and your right foot is at the end of the beam.
5. Side step across the beam, left foot leading, then reverse direction to return to the start.
3D Jump Rope
1 and 2. Stand upright, feet hip-width apart, holding the handles of a jump rope with the rope behind your heels. Swing the rope upward and over your head, and jump over it, landing lightly on the balls of both feet. Continue jumping rope for 30 seconds.
3. Next, alternate between jumping forward and backward each time the rope passes under your feet. Aim to jump several inches in either direction, or as far as you comfortably can without tripping over the rope. Repeat for 30 seconds.
4. Next, alternate between jumping right and left. Repeat for 30 seconds.
5. Finally, jump in one spot but alternate between twisting your body left and right with each jump. Repeat for 30 seconds.
1) Skip over the rope, taking off of one foot and landing on the other, alternating feet each time it comes around.
2) Cross your arms, left over right, as the rope descends in front of you, jump through the loop, then uncross your arms on the next revolution. Continue crossing and uncrossing the rope each time it comes over your head.
3) Perform double-unders by passing the rope under your feet twice per jump. To do this, jump higher and rotate your wrists more quickly.