Abdominal muscle recruitment strategies in response to a postural perturbation contradict the theory that the deeper abdominal muscles are always recruited in advance of the more superficial muscles. The purpose of this study was to determine whether such contrasting muscle recruitment patterns are due to the postural task or the predictability of a postural task. Participants performed an arm raise task as well as an unpredictable and a predictable balance perturbation task (i.e. support-surface translation) while intramuscular electromyographic (EMG) recordings were obtained from the deep [transversus abdominis (TrA)] and superficial [obliquus externus (OE)] abdominal muscles. The abdominal muscle recruitment order was dependent on the postural task but not on the predictability of a postural perturbation. Whereas arm raises elicited similar EMG onset latencies in TrA and OE, the OE onset latency was 48 ms earlier than the TrA following an unpredictable translation (P = 0.003). The early OE activation persisted when the translation was made predictable to the participant (P = 0.024). These results provide evidence that the abdominal muscle recruitment order varies with the trunk stability requirements specific to each task. Rehabilitation strategies focusing on an early TrA activation to improve postural stability may not be appropriate for all everyday tasks.