Activity of deep abdominal muscles increases during submaximal flexion and extension efforts but antagonist co-contraction remains unchanged

J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2009 Oct;19(5):754-62. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2007.11.002. Epub 2007 Dec 21.


Lumbo-pelvic stability relies, amongst other factors, on co-contraction of the lumbo-pelvic muscles. However, during submaximal trunk flexion and extension efforts, co-contraction of antagonist muscles is limited. It was predicted that activity of the deeper lumbo-pelvic muscles that are often excluded from analysis (transversus abdominis (TrA) and the deep fascicles of multifidus (DM)), would increase with load in each direction. In eleven healthy subjects, electromyographic activity (EMG) was recorded from eight trunk muscles using surface and fine-wire electrodes. Subjects performed isometric flexion and extension efforts to submaximal loads of 50, 100, 150 and 200 N and a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC). Loading tasks were then repeated in trials in which subjects knew that the load would release at an unpredictable time. Compared to the starting position, EMG of all muscles, except DM, increased during MVC efforts in both directions. During the flexion and extension submaximal tasks, there was no increased co-contraction of antagonist muscles. However, TrA EMG increased in both directions. In the unpredictable trials, EMG of all lumbo-pelvic muscles except TrA was decreased. These findings provide further support for a contribution of TrA to lumbo-pelvic stability. In submaximal tasks, TrA activation may enhance stability as a strategy to improve trunk stiffness without requiring a concurrent increase in activity of the larger torque producing trunk muscles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Muscles / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiology*
  • Male
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology