An evaluation of upper-body muscle activation during coupled and uncoupled instability resistance training

J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jul;28(7):1833-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000349.


Recently, there has been a growth in the popularity of resistance exercises performed on unstable surfaces. However, the relationship between unstable surface training and load coupling on muscle activation is unclear. The purpose of this study was to evaluate changes in muscle activation during a barbell (BB) (coupled) and dumbbell (DB) (uncoupled) chest press exercise performed on an unstable surface. The 3 specific chest press conditions included 50% 1 repetition maximum (RM) with BB (50% BB), 50% 1RM with DBs (50% DB), and 25% 1RM with DBs (25% DB). Ten male subjects participated in the study (age, 23.9 ± 2.6 years; body weight, 82.8 ± 10.2 kg). During testing, mean electromyographic activity was assessed for pectoralis major (PM), triceps brachii, anterior deltoid (AD), and rectus abdominis (RA) and was presented as a percent change across the lifting conditions. It was observed that muscle activation increased by 15% in both the PM and RA from the 50% BB condition to the 50% DB condition. Also, the greatest percent difference in muscle activation between the 50 and 25% DB conditions occurred for PM and AD (+54% during 50% DB). These results suggest that demands on the core musculature to provide stability are increased with the use of DBs (uncoupled) as opposed to a BB (coupled). Where instability training provides a sufficient hypertrophy stimulus in prime mover muscle groups, there may be the added benefit of core stability training. Specifically, this type of training may benefit both untrained persons and those engaged in active rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Deltoid Muscle / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pectoralis Muscles / physiology
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Resistance Training / methods*
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*
  • Young Adult