Anatomical Terms of Motion
and Location

Anatomical terms of motion and location are the basis of describing human structure and function. When sport and strength coaches understand the framework of movement, they are equipped with better tools for training athletes.

Selecting sport-specific skill and training drills require an analysis of movement. Distinguishing various ranges of motion allows coaches identify which exercises best match movement and strength demands of sports.

The Standard Position

We need a starting point--a base position as a frame of reference for describing movement. The standard anatomical position is just that--the body stands erect with the palms facing forward. Terms, positions, and movements begin here.


Anatomical Terms of Location

Next, the principle directions give us perspective about locations of body structures. For example, if you perform a side bend, the movement is described as "lateral" flexion. If you injure the "anterior" cruciate ligament, the term indicates that the structure lies toward the front of the knee.

The Anatomical Planes

The cardinal planes describe the primary directional movements of the body. The planes help us communicate direction, joint, and muscle movements. Most exercises occur in the sagittal plane, which slices the body into left and right portions. Forward and backward movement fall into this plane (e.g., walking, bicep curl).

The transverse plane cuts the body into top and bottom halves. Exercises involving the rotation of the trunk, or twisting movement, follow this plane.

The coronal plane divides the body into front and back portions. Lateral leg land arm actions involving abduction (away from the midline of the body) and adduction (toward the midline of the body) such as during jumping jacks fall along this plane. Of course, real life movements involve any number of combinations of these primary planes.

The visuals shown above are the courtesy of Dr. Christine Brooks. For more on online courses in anatomy, physiology, and high performance athletes, please check out Learn It EZ. The illustrations and animations make learning easy and applicable for sport professionals.

Terms of Motion

These anatomical terms of motion are used to describe various joint actions. Knowing these actions is very useful for selecting exercises to work particular muscle groups or simulate sport movements. These include:

Abduction: Lateral movement away from the midline of the body

Adduction: Medial movement toward the midline of the body

Flexion: Bending the joint to decrease the angle

Extension: Straightening the joint to increase of angle

Hyperextension: Extending the joint beyond the standard position

Rotation: Twisting; rotary movement around the longitudinal axis of the bone. Shown below, external rotation at the shoulder joint.

Circumduction: circular movement (combines flexion, extension, adduction, and abduction)

Inversion: Moving the sole of foot toward medial plane

Eversion: Moving the sole of foot away from medial plane

Pronation: Internal rotation resulting in appendage facing downward

Supination: External rotation resulting in appendage facing upward

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