Quantitative descriptions of muscle architecture are needed to characterize the force-generating capabilities of muscles. This study reports the architecture of three major trunk muscles: the rectus abdominis, quadratus lumborum, and three columns of the erector spinae (spinalis thoracis, longissimus thoracis and iliocostalis lumborum). Musculotendon lengths, muscle lengths, fascicle lengths, sarcomere lengths, pennation angles, and muscle masses were measured in five cadavers. Optimal fascicle lengths (the fascicle length at which the muscle generates maximum force) and physiologic cross-sectional areas (the ratio of muscle volume to optimal fascicle length) were computed from these measurements. The rectus abdominis had the longest fascicles of the muscles studied, with a mean (S.D.) optimal fascicle length of 28.3 (4.2)cm. The three columns of the erector spinae had mean optimal fascicle lengths that ranged from 6.4 (0.6)cm in the spinalis thoracis to 14.2 (2.1)cm in the iliocostalis lumborum. The proximal portion of the quadratus lumborum had a mean optimal fascicle length of 8.5 (1.5)cm and the distal segment of this muscle had a mean optimal fascicle length of 5.6 (0.9)cm. The physiologic cross-sectional area of the rectus abdominis was 2.6 (0.9)cm(2), the combined physiologic cross-sectional area of the erector spinae was 11.6 (1.8)cm(2), and the physiologic cross-sectional area of the quadratus lumborum was 2.8 (0.5)cm(2). These data provide the basis for estimation of the force-generating potential of these muscles.