To determine if regional differences exist in the activity of abdominal muscles during respiratory and nonrespiratory maneuvers, we studied four healthy subjects by comparing electromyographic (EMG) activity from surface electrodes placed lateral to rectus muscle, one pair on the upper abdomen and the other on the lower abdomen. In one subject EMG recordings were made from wires placed in various layers of the abdominal wall. Relative positions and changes in size of anatomic structures during maneuvers were determined from real-time ultrasonography of the abdominal wall. Expulsive or valsalva maneuvers evoked the same relative EMG activity in the upper and lower abdomen. In the resting supine posture no EMG activity was detectable; however, in the standing posture greater tonic EMG activity appeared in the lower abdomen. During rebreathing, phasic EMG activity during expiration was greater in the upper than in the lower abdomen in all subjects. Observations from ultrasonographic and electromyographic evaluations suggest that the control of abdominal muscles and their influence on respiratory mechanics are potentially more complex than has been suggested by previous reports.