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J Neurophysiol. 2018 Aug 1;120(2):468-479. doi: 10.1152/jn.00116.2018. Epub 2018 Apr 18.

The cross education of strength and skill following unilateral strength training in the upper and lower limbs.

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Department of Kinesiology, Brock University , St. Catharines, Ontario , Canada.


Cross education is the strength gain or skill improvement transferred to the contralateral limb following unilateral training or practice. The present study examined the transfer of both strength and skill following a strength training program. Forty participants (20M, 20F) completed a 6-wk unilateral training program of dominant wrist flexion or dorsiflexion. Strength, force variability, and muscle activity were assessed pretraining, posttraining, and following 6 wk of detraining (retention). Analyses of covariance compared the experimental limb (trained or untrained) to the control (dominant or nondominant). There were no sex differences in the training response. Cross education of strength at posttraining was 6% ( P < 0.01) in the untrained arm and 13% ( P < 0.01) in the untrained leg. Contralateral strength continued to increase following detraining to 15% in the arm ( P < 0.01) and 14% in the leg ( P < 0.01). There was no difference in strength gains between upper and lower limbs ( P > 0.05). Cross education of skill (force variability) demonstrated greater improvements in the untrained limbs compared with the control limbs during contractions performed without concurrent feedback. Significant increases in V-wave amplitude ( P = 0.02) and central activation ( P < 0.01) were highly correlated with contralateral strength gains. There was no change in agonist amplitude or motor unit firing rates in the untrained limbs ( P > 0.05). The neuromuscular mechanisms mirrored the force increases at posttraining and retention supporting central drive adaptations of cross education. The continued strength increases at retention identified the presence of motor learning in cross education, as confirmed by force variability.


We examined cross education of strength and skill following 6 wk of unilateral training and 6 wk of detraining. A novel finding was the continued increase in contralateral strength following both training and detraining. Neuromuscular adaptations were highly correlated with strength gains in the trained and contralateral limbs. Motor learning was evident in the trained and contralateral limbs during contractions performed without concurrent feedback.


cross education; cross-body transfer; electromyography; motor learning; unilateral training

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