The purpose of this study was to describe trunk strength and lumbar paraspinal muscle activity across five angles of flexion during isometric exercise and rest in chronic low-back pain patients and control subjects. High muscle tension as measured by surface integrated electromyography is predicted by a muscle spasm model, and low muscle tension is predicted by a muscle deficiency model. Prior lumbar surgery had no affect on peak torque or maximum surface integrated electromyography data. Both groups produced greater torque and less surface integrated electromyography in more flexed positions. Chronic low-back pain patients exhibited lower peak torque and lower maximum surface integrated electromyography bilaterally during isometric extension effort across all angles. A muscle deficiency model of chronic low back pain was supported by these data and a muscle spasm model was not supported. Discriminant analyses indicated that monitoring maximum surface integrated electromyography of lumbar muscles during isometric effort facilitates classification of chronic low-back pain patients. Future directions are discussed in terms of applying psychophysiologic methods to pain rehabilitation.