Three-plane, pain-free
Multi-planar training for function

We reach, bend and twist in all three planes, so if we don’t train participants for function, we are setting them up for injury. With the assistance of a Chi Ball and Chi Bolster, Leslee Bender takes a logical approach to movement, starting from the ground up.

Too often, group exercise participants and clients – and instructors – feel they must lie on the floor to perform crunches, or kick their legs out, thinking they are training the core when, in reality, these movements are inappropriate and overuse the hip flexors. The core is not one small isolated area: the core begins from the floor. Every time your foot hits the ground you are moving in all three planes, activating the core.

Most people spend too many hours in flexion – sitting at desks, driving or watching TV – so why lie on the floor when attempting to strengthen the core? It is antiquated and does not help strength gain. Consider how the body responds to gravity: when lying on the floor extending the legs, gravity pulls them down and the hip flexors are worked overtime as they try to stop the limbs from crashing to the ground!

A logical approach to training is to look at daily activities other than sitting. We reach, bend and twist in all three planes, so if we don’t train participants for function, we are setting them up for injury. I speak from first-hand experience: I trained the wrong way in my early career, and my knees and back suffered for it. Now I choose to look at the logic of movement, starting from the ground up.

  1. Tight calves can lead to lack of dorsi flexion, knee and hip extension, which is directly related to the anterior abdominal wall. When someone walks around all day in high heels, they may suffer low back pain due to poor movement quality stemming from these issues. To address this issue, the calves should be lengthened in the sagittal plane – and by using the Chi Bolster tool, immediate bio-feedback can also be given to the feet.
  2. For anyone who sits for substantial periods of time, i.e. nearly everyone, it is also necessary for the hip flexor complex to be lengthened in all three planes.
  3. If you do insist on performing flexion exercises while lying in a supine position, protect the back with a small soft ball like the Chi Ball. Performing flexion with a small ball behind the lower back will help deactivate the hip flexors and, above all, protect the back and train the anterior chain.

Strategies for a pain-free life

  1. Lengthen the calves by placing one foot behind you, making sure feet are parallel, and reach the arms forward until you feel the calf lengthen (photos 1 & 2). Perform on both sides. It is likely that a foot that pronates will have a tighter calf.
  2. Lengthen the hip flexors by reaching to the ceiling with the same foot placement and drive the anterior hip forward. Side and circle. As a variation, laterally flex to the side of the posterior leg and rotate towards the front leg to open the thoracic spine (photos 3, 4 & 5).
  3. Sit with knees bent and Chi Ball behind the low back, and lower and flex the back into the ball. Slowly raise the arms until you feel the core activate (photos 6, 7 & 8).


Leslee Bender
A 2010 finalist for IDEA Instructor of the Year, Leslee has 25 years of experience presenting to the international fitness industry. She is a graduate of The Gray Institute of Applied Functional Science and creator of the first bio-mechanically safe method of Pilates with a mini ball. The founder of The Bender Method, she has created over 25 DVDs and authored several publications.