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J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Jan 9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002439. [Epub ahead of print]

Abdominal Muscle Activation During Common Modifications of the Trunk Curl-Up Exercise.

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University Health Care Research Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden.
The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


The purpose of this study was to investigate effects of common modifications of trunk curl-up exercise on the involvement of the abdominal muscles, particularly the deepest muscle layer, transversus abdominis (TrA). Ten healthy females performed five different variations of the trunk curl-up at a standardized speed, varying the exercise by assuming three different arm positions and applying left and right twist. Indwelling fine-wire electromyography (EMG) electrodes were used to record from TrA, obliquus internus (OI), obliquus externus (OE) and rectus abdominis (RA) unilaterally on the right side. Increasing the load by changing the arm position during a straight trunk curl-up increased the EMG of all abdominal muscles. OI and TrA showed higher activation during right twist compared to left twist whereas OE displayed the opposite pattern. RA did not show any change in activation level between twisting directions. The apparent load dependency on the activation level of all muscles and the twisting direction dependency of all muscles except RA are in keeping with the fiber orientation of the muscles. Notably, also TrA, with a less obvious mechanical role with regards to fiber orientation, increased activation with load during the straight trunk curl-up. However, the highest activation level of TrA during the trunk curl-up was only 40 % of a maximum contraction, thus it might not be the most suitable strength training exercise for this muscle.

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