Electromyographic activity and 6RM strength in bench press on stable and unstable surfaces

J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Apr;27(4):1101-7. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182606d3d.


The purpose of the study was to compare 6-repetition maximum (6RM) loads and muscle activity in bench press on 3 surfaces, namely, stable bench, balance cushion, and Swiss ball. Sixteen healthy, resistance-trained men (age 22.5 ± 2.0 years, stature 1.82 ± 6.6 m, and body mass 82.0 ± 7.8 kg) volunteered for 3 habituation/strength testing sessions and 1 experimental session. In randomized order on the 3 surfaces, 6RM strength and electromyographic activity of pectoralis major, deltoid anterior, biceps brachii, triceps brachii, rectus abdominis, oblique external and erector spinae were assessed. Relative to stable bench, the 6RM strength was approximately 93% for balance cushion (p ≤ 0.001) and approximately 92% for Swiss ball (p = 0.008); the pectoralis major electromyographic (EMG) activity was approximately 90% using the balance cushion (p = 0.080) and approximately 81% using Swiss ball (p = 0.006); the triceps EMG was approximately 79% using the balance cushion (p = 0.028) and approximately 69% using the Swiss ball (p = 0.002). Relative to balance cushion, the EMG activity in pectoralis, triceps, and erector spinae using Swiss ball was approximately 89% (p = 0.016), approximately 88% (p = 0.014) and approximately 80% (p = 0.020), respectively. In rectus abdominis, the EMG activity relative to Swiss ball was approximately 69% using stable bench (p = 0.042) and approximately 65% using the balance cushion (p = 0.046). Similar EMG activities between stable and unstable surfaces were observed for deltoid anterior, biceps brachii, and oblique external. In conclusion, stable bench press had greater 6RM strength and triceps and pectoralis EMG activity compared with the unstable surfaces. These findings have implications for athletic training and rehabilitation, because they demonstrate an inferior effect of unstable surfaces on muscle activation of prime movers and strength in bench press. If an unstable surface in bench press is desirable, a balance cushion should be chosen instead of a Swiss ball.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Deltoid Muscle / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Strength*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pectoralis Muscles / physiology
  • Postural Balance
  • Rectus Abdominis / physiology
  • Sports Equipment*
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*
  • Young Adult