Electromyographical comparison of plank variations performed with and without instability devices

J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Nov;28(11):3298-305. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000521.


Although there are multiple studies involving abdominal musculature activation and instability devices (e.g., Swiss balls), there is minimal research comparing them with a suspension device (e.g., TRX). The purpose of this investigation was to measure the electromyographical (EMG) activity of the rectus abdominis (RA), external oblique (EO), and erector spinae while performing planks with and without multiple instability devices. Twelve apparently healthy men (n = 6; age = 23.92 ± 3.64 years) and women (n = 6; age = 22.57 ± 1.87 years) volunteered to participate in this study. All participants performed 2 isometric contractions of 5 different plank variations, with or without an instability device, where the order of the exercises was randomized. Mean peak and normalized EMG of the RA, EO, and erector spinae musculature were compared across the 5 exercises. Results indicated that planks performed with the instability devices increased EMG activity in the superficial musculature when compared with traditional stable planks. Therefore, a traditional plank performed on a labile device may be considered an advanced variation and appropriate for use when a greater challenge is warranted. However, caution should be taken for those individuals with a history or weakness in the lumbar region due to the increases in erector spinae activation during instability planks.

Publication types

  • Clinical Study
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Muscles / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test / instrumentation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Lumbosacral Region / physiology
  • Male
  • Random Allocation
  • Rectus Abdominis / physiology*
  • Young Adult