Unexpected ventral and dorsal perturbations and expected, self-induced ventral perturbations were delivered to the trunk by suddenly loading a vest strapped to the torso. Six male subjects were measured for intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and intra-muscular electromyography of the transversus abdominis (TrA), obliquus internus abdominis (OI), obliquus externus abdominis (OE) and rectus abdominis (RA) muscles. Erector spinae (ES) activity was recorded using surface electromyography. Displacements of the trunk and head were registered using a video-based system. Unexpected ventral loading produced activity in TrA, OI, OE and RA, and an IAP increase well in advance of activity from ES. Expected ventral loading produced pre-activation of all muscles and an increased IAP prior to the perturbation. The TrA was always the first muscle active in both the unexpected and self-loading conditions. Of the two ventral loading conditions, forward displacement of the trunk was significantly reduced during the self-loading. Unexpected dorsal loading produced coincident activation of TrA, OI, OE, RA and ES. These results indicate a response of the trunk muscles to sudden expected and unexpected ventral loadings other than the anticipated immediate extensor torque production through ES activation. It is suggested that the increase in IAP is a mechanism designed to improve the stability of the trunk through a stiffening of the whole segment.