Human Movement Terminology Cheatsheet

Expanding on our earlier discussion of human planes of motion, let’s take a look at a few other common movement terms that are a touch out of range of many of us. We’ll keep it as brief and simple as possible so you’ll have a cheatsheet for reading some of the more advanced corrective exercise articles found on the ‘net, stuff that might turn around that aggressive aging process.

Prone vs supine
Prone is lying face down; supine is face up.

Superior vs inferior
Superior means closer to the head; inferior means closer to the feet.

Medial vs lateral
Medial refers to nearer to the center; lateral refers to farther from the center.

Posterior vs anterior
Posterior is toward the back; anterior is toward the front.

Distal vs proximal
Distal means further from the torso; proximal means closer to the trunk.

Extension vs flexion
Extension straightens a joint; flexion bends the joint.

Supination vs pronation
Supination and pronation are used to describe action at the feet or forearm. In the feet, supination refers to excessive outward action; pronation refers to the ankle turning in. With the forearm, supination refers to turning the palm up; pronation refers to turning the palm down.

Medial vs lateral rotation
Medial rotation turns toward the center of the body as in internal rotation; lateral rotation turns away from the body externally.

Inversion vs eversion
Inversion turns the foot in; eversion turns the foot out.

Elevation vs depression
Elevation means upward; depression means downward. These terms are most often used to describe faulty scapula position, too high or too low.

Protraction vs retraction

Protraction moves a joint forward; retraction moves it backward.

Adduction vs abduction
Adduction brings the limb in toward the body; abduction moves it away.

Dorsiflexion vs plantar flexion
Dorsiflexion at the ankle is to bring the toes toward the shin; plantar flexion points the toes away.

Joint mobility vs flexibility
Joint mobility encompasses the ability of the joint to move through its full range of motion; flexibility is about muscles, not joints, and is about lengthening to optimum.

Stability vs mobility
Stability is the muscle, tendon and ligament action needed to hold a joint in position; mobility requires the correct muscle action on one side of a joint and the necessary muscular flexibility on the other to produce full movement through a joint’s range of motion.

Activation vs dormant
Activation means an action to trigger a muscle that’s not firing well; dormant refers to an inactive muscle group, at varying levels from fully inactive to fully engaged.

Tendons vs ligaments vs fascia vs myofascia
Tendons connect muscles to bones; ligaments connect bone to bone; fascia is connective tissue that covers soft tissue from head to toe, superficial to deep; myofascia is fascia covering muscle

Lordotic vs kyphotic vs lordosis vs kyphosis
Lordotic is the curve of the spine bending to the front; kyphotic bends toward the rear; lordosis describes too much lumbar curve (toward the front); kyphosis describes too much bend at the thoracic spine (to the rear)

Bilateral vs unilateral
Bilateral refers to both sides of the body working together; unilateral is one side alone

Concentric vs eccentric
Concentric shortens the muscle; eccentric lengthens, ie in biceps curls the concentric action brings the wrist toward the shoulder; eccentric returns the weight to the side

Isometric vs isotonic
Isometric changes the muscle tension without changing the length; isotonic changes the muscle tension while changing the length

Origin vs insertion
Origin of a muscle is the stationary attachment site of muscle to bone; insertion is the mobile attachment end site

Primer mover vs synergist vs antagonist
Prime mover is the main muscle that carries out an action; synergist assists the prime mover; antagonist performs the opposite action

Planes of movement — Sagittal vs frontal vs transverse
Sagittal refers to forward or backward; frontal (aka coronal) refers to side to side; transverse refers to rotational — more on planes of motion here.

There ya go: the simplest movement cheatsheet on the ‘net. While you’re here, this is a short human anatomy FAQ, and you should take a look at our complete list of corrective exercise lectures, books and videos.

For much more on anatomy, check out this fabulous new way of learning anatomy using body painting.

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