Contralateral effects of unilateral training: sparing of muscle strength and size after immobilization

Justin W Andrushko, Layla A Gould, Jonathan P Farthing*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The contralateral effects of unilateral strength training, known as cross-education of strength, date back well over a century. In the last decade, a limited number of studies have emerged demonstrating the preservation or "sparing" effects of cross-education during immobilization. Recently published evidence reveals that the sparing effects of cross-education show muscle site specificity and involve preservation of muscle cross-sectional area. The new research also demonstrates utility of training with eccentric contractions as a potent stimulus to preserve immobilized limb strength across multiple modes of contraction. The cumulative data in nonclinical settings suggest that cross-education can completely abolish expected declines in strength and muscle size in the range of ∼13% and ∼4%, respectively, after 3-4 weeks of immobilization of a healthy arm. The evidence hints towards the possibility that unique mechanisms may be involved in preservation effects of cross-education, as compared with those that lead to functional improvements under normal conditions. Cross-education effects after strength training appear to be larger in clinical settings, but there is still only 1 randomized clinical trial demonstrating the potential utility of cross-education in addition to standard treatment. More work is necessary in both controlled and clinical settings to understand the potential interaction of neural and muscle adaptations involved in the observed sparing effects, but there is growing evidence to advocate for the clinical utility of cross-education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1139
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

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