Corinne Austin | Personal Training

Fitness in 3D

About two months ago fitness in three dimensions was a new concept to me.  It’s one that I am now aware that I’ve been practising with my clients and myself for a while but had never thought to giving it a name or title, or from differentiating it from other types of exercise programming or modalities.  The idea of three-dimensional fitness was recently thrown upon me by one of my amazing industry mentors, John Polley, who gave it’s positioning even more power and substance when he alluded to it meaning not just on a physical level, but also to opening our minds to the mental and emotional elements of it too.


We are a three-dimensional body in a three-dimensional world.  So it begs the question of when we exercise, should we perhaps give some energy and thought as to how to maximise our potential in functionality and day-to-day living by replicating in a gym or fitness setting the abundance of movements, positions, and scenarios that life itself throws upon us?


For many moons, gym workouts and exercise programmes have been designed around attaining strength we can measure – which is all well and good if your sport is powerlifting.  But the majority of us aren’t involved in powerlifting or other sporting endeavours that demand masses of strength.  So, what if we could simplify strength to being a physical capability that we are simply able to use, harness and grow in a way that benefits our daily lives and circumstances?   In this instance, strength could simply mean living with greater levels of agility, mobility, power, and prowess in a way that promotes greater freedom within the body as well as within the programming of an individual’s fitness aspirations.


So what does fitness in three-dimensions mean?  When it comes to our anatomy and physiology, one crucial element that we often overlook is the fact that the human body rarely performs the exact same movement the exact same way.  In fact, the only place where human movement is consistently repetitive is in the gym – when else would you do ten or twenty squats that are not just following the same linear pattern but that are also performed with immaculate precision?  In most other settings, our movement patterns are broad and varied, and more often than not are tri-planar; we move through the three planes of motions that the human body was designed to move in – front and  back (what’s known as the sagittal plane), side to side (the frontal plane), and rotational (what’s known as the transverse plane).


When our amazingly intricate and complex bodies are given a narrow range of specific movement patterns that get repeated across time, it can have a freezing affect on our muscles and joints and our body learns to appreciate this as our normal.  This can mean it essentially disregards the many thousands of other ways there are to move the body.  This is where Katy Bowman’s concept (from her book ‘Move your DNA) of ‘Floppy Fin Syndrome’ can explain things quite nicely.   An Orca that is in captivity will swim around his tank in one preferred direction, and over time, we would note that his dorsal fin collapses.  This is a result of his body being exposed to the exact same forces day in and day out, and his body accommodates his repetitive environment by shutting down the myofascial systems in it’s body that aren’t required for this recurrent movement pattern.  This is entirely different when an Orca is swimming freely in the wide expanses of the unpredictable ocean – his body is endlessly exposed to a wide spectrum of force magnitudes and direction.  In the face of these conditions, the Orca’s body maintains the ability to remain strong and responds accordingly.


Three-dimensional movement improves our movement literacy.  This enables us to move skilfully, with greater levels of agility and mobility, preventing injury, boosting our performance across a much greater range of activity, and you simply just move and feel better.  Embracing a movement philosophy that incorporates physical activities in all three planes of movement challenges both the brain and the brawn.  When exposing your body in controlled, safe environments to the vast, weird and wonderful ways our bodies moves, our bodies automatically accept this large variety of joint motion and become more resilient when faced with similar movements in less controlled environments in life or sport.


And finally, after now having thoroughly touched on the physical aspect of three-dimensional fitness, we can also consider together the other two elements that make fitness three-dimensional – and they are the mental and emotional sides.  These two factors have a reciprocal relationship with the physical side of three-dimensional fitness.  How?  It’s well documented that by exercising or moving our bodies there is a plethora of positive changes that happen within the brain, to our emotions, our ability to focus and concentrate, the production of happiness hormones like dopamine, and stress reduction.  But as well as this relationship, we also need to consider one’s emotional state prior to embarking on exercise too.   If a person is highly stressed, underslept, feeling anxious, or is just simply feeling low, then we need to be a little more clever and considerate of the frequency, timing, intensity and type of the movement activities we select for them, as their minds simply aren’t in the space to accommodate too much, too often, or at too intense of a rhythm or pace.  Further, if following a regular exercise programme and we aren’t getting the physical adaptations we would come to expect as a result of the programme, this may also be a sign that we need to dig beyond the physical side and consider what is going on mentally or emotionally that may be stalling or inhibiting physical adaptation or improvements.


Three-dimensional fitness is alive and very real, and if we want to be able to affect positive change in the whole human being – as opposed to just the human body – then it really is about whole-body integration and consideration.  And once we accept these complexities we have a much greater foundation upon which we can use the full potential of the human being to maximise their quality of life in physical, mental and emotional realms.


  • Corinne Austin
  • Movement and Health Coach