An electromyographic analysis of commercial and common abdominal exercises: implications for rehabilitation and training

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2006 Feb;36(2):45-57. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2006.36.2.45.


Study design: A repeated-measures, counterbalanced design.

Objectives: To test the effectiveness of 7 commercial abdominal machines (Ab Slide, Ab Twister, Ab Rocker, Ab Roller, Ab Doer, Torso Track, SAM) and 2 common abdominal exercises (crunch, bent-knee sit-up) on activating abdominal and extraneous (nonabdominal) musculature.

Background: Numerous abdominal machine exercises are believed to be effective in activating abdominal musculature and minimizing low back stress, but there are minimal data to substantiate these claims. Many of these exercises also activate nonabdominal musculature, which may or may not be beneficial.

Methods and measures: A convenience sample of 14 subjects performed 5 repetitions for each exercise. Electromyographic (EMG) data were recorded for upper and lower rectus abdominis, external and internal oblique, pectoralis major, triceps brachii, latissimus dorsi, lumbar paraspinals, and rectus femoris, and then normalized by maximum muscle contractions.

Results: Upper and lower rectus abdominis EMG activities were greatest for the Ab Slide, Torso Track, crunch, and Ab Roller, while external and internal oblique EMG activities were greatest for the Ab Slide, Torso Track, crunch, and bent-knee sit-up. Pectoralis major, triceps brachii, and latissimus dorsi EMG activities were greatest for the Ab Slide and Torso Track. Lumbar paraspinal EMG activities were greatest for the Ab Doer, while rectus femoris EMG activities were greatest for the bent-knee sit-up, SAM, Ab Twister, Ab Rocker, and Ab Doer.

Conclusions: The Ab Slide and Torso Track were the most effective exercises in activating abdominal and upper extremity muscles while minimizing low back and rectus femoris (hip flexion) activity. The Ab Doer, Ab Twister, Ab Rocker, SAM, and bent-knee sit-up may be problematic for individuals with low back pathologies due to relatively high rectus femoris activity.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Muscles / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Therapy Specialty
  • United States