OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the neuromuscular activation profiles of trunk muscles in commonly used gymnastic strength exercises with a polymyographic set-up and to describe the training effects of each exercise. DESIGN AND SETTING: Subjects performed 9 repetitions of each of 12 gymnastic exercises. Variations of 5 trunk flexions, 5 extensions, and 2 lateral-flexion movements were performed under standardized test conditions. SUBJECTS: Ten healthy subjects (men and women) who were familiar with the exercises participated in the study. MEASUREMENTS: We recorded surface electromyograms (EMGs) from the rectus abdominis, external oblique, rectus femoris, middle trapezius, erector spinae at T12 and L3, gluteus maximus, and semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles. Recording of each repetition cycle was triggered by a flexible electronic goniometer attached to the trunk. The raw EMG signals were rectified, smoothed, amplitude normalized to maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), and averaged for the last 8 repetitions. RESULTS: Pure spine-flexion exercises, such as a curl-up, produced sufficient and isolated activation (greater than 50% MVC) of the abdominal muscles. When flexion of the spine was combined with hip flexion (sit-up), the peak activation was increased. Lateral-flexion tasks targeted primarily the external oblique muscle, which demonstrated high activity in side-lying flexion tasks. Back- and hip-extension exercises, such as bridging and diagonal hip and shoulder extension, produced only moderate mean activities (less than 35% MVC) in the trunk-extensor muscles. Trunk-extension exercises with combined hip extension increased the EMG activity to 50% MVC but only at the end of the extension. CONCLUSIONS: Individual responses to each exercise varied markedly, which complicated the classification of exercise effects. However, within the limitations of the study, we found that the chosen abdominal exercises provided an effective training stimulus for the trunk-flexor muscles, whereas in the back- and hip-extension exercises, the neuromuscular activation tended to be too low or unspecific to qualify as muscle-specific training.