Studying the inspiratory recruitment of the scalenes is clinically relevant, but the interpretation of surface electromyographic (EMG) recordings is difficult. The aim of this study was to optimize an averaging method to analyze the surface EMG activity of the scalenes. Ten healthy subjects were studied. Nasal flow and surface EMG of the right scalene were recorded during 15 min epochs of quiet breathing. In four subjects, needle scalene EMG was also recorded. The flow signal was used to trigger the ensemble averaging of the ventilatory wave forms from 80 consecutive breaths. In eight cases, this evidenced a phasic inspiratory activation of the scalenes and permitted the determination of the electromechanical inspiratory delay (134+/-55 ms) and post-inspiratory activity (811+/-233 ms). When simultaneously available, surface and intramuscular recordings provided identical results. An averaging method triggered from a respiratory flow signal can identify and characterize a low phasic inspiratory activity of the scalenes within a noisy surface signal.