The problem with normalizing EMG data from patients with painful symptoms (e.g., low back pain) is that such patients may be unwilling or unable to perform maximum exertions. Furthermore, the normalization to a reference signal, obtained from a maximal or sub-maximal task, tends to mask differences that might exist as a result of pathology. Therefore, we presented a novel method (GAIN method) for normalizing trunk EMG data that overcomes both problems. The GAIN method does not require maximal exertions (MVC) and tends to preserve distinct features in the muscle recruitment patterns for various tasks. Ten healthy subjects performed various isometric trunk exertions, while EMG data from 10 muscles were recorded and later normalized using the GAIN and MVC methods. The MVC method resulted in smaller variation between subjects when tasks were executed at the three relative force levels (10%, 20%, and 30% MVC), while the GAIN method resulted in smaller variation between subjects when the tasks were executed at the three absolute force levels (50. N, 100. N, and 145. N). This outcome implies that the MVC method provides a relative measure of muscle effort, while the GAIN-normalized data gives an estimate of the absolute muscle force. Therefore, the GAIN-normalized data tends to preserve the differences between subjects in the way they recruit their muscles to execute various tasks, while the MVC-normalized data will tend to suppress such differences. The appropriate choice of the EMG normalization method will depend on the specific question that an experimenter is attempting to answer. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.