Although rib cage (RC) and abdomen (Ab) motion is believed to reflect intercostal and diaphragm contributions to breathing, systematic investigations have failed to confirm this. We measured inspiratory changes in RC and Ab anterior-posterior diameter (delta RC and delta Ab) both corrected for volume equivalence (isovolume) and not corrected (isodistance, observed), and correlated these with simultaneous changes in gastric (delta Pab) and esophageal (delta Ppl) pressure: delta Pab - delta Ppl = delta Pdi, the change in transdiaphragmatic pressure. The delta Pab/delta Pdi was used as an index of the relative contribution of diaphragm motion to the breathing process. Relative abdomen motion was expressed as delta Ab/(delta Ab + delta RC). Isodistance and isovolume delta Ab/(delta Ab + delta RC) correlated, R = 0.69; observed abdomen motion overestimated abdomen-diaphragm contribution to tidal volume. Isodistance delta Ab/(delta Ab + delta RC) was less for women than men; isovolume delta Ab/(delta Ab + delta RC) was similar for the two sexes. Among individuals, isodistance delta Ab/(delta Ab + delta RC) correlated with delta Pab/delta Pdi (R = 0.73, P less than 0.001). Within a given individual, the mean R for seven subjects for delta Pab/delta Pdi vs delta Ab/(delta Ab + delta RC) was 0.90. We conclude that observed rib cage and abdomen motion reflects intercostal and diaphragm contributions to breathing; the correlation is better within a given subject than among individuals.