Purpose: Unilateral strength training strengthens not only the muscles on the trained side but also the homologous muscles on the untrained side; however, the magnitude of this interlimb cross-education is modest. We tested the hypothesis that heightened sensory feedback by mirror viewing the exercising hand would augment cross education by modulating neuronal excitability.
Methods: Healthy adults were randomized into a mirror training group (MG, N = 11) and a no-mirror training group (NMG, N = 12) and performed 640 shortening muscle contractions of the right wrist flexors at 80% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) during 15 sessions for 3 wk. Maximal strength and specific transcranial magnetic stimulation metrics of neuronal excitability, measured in the mirror and no-mirror setup at rest and during unilateral contractions at 60% MVC, were assessed before and after the strength intervention.
Results: Trained wrist flexor MVC increased 72% across groups, whereas cross-education was higher for the MG (61%) than NMG (34%, P = 0.047). The MG showed a reduction (15%-16%) in the contralateral silent period duration measured from the contracting left-untrained flexor carpi radialis, whereas the NMG showed an increase (12%, P ≤ 0.030). Interhemispheric inhibition, measured from the trained to the untrained primary motor cortex, increased in the MG (11%) but decreased in the NMG (15%) when measured in the mirror setup at rest (P = 0.048). Other transcranial magnetic stimulation measures did not change.
Conclusion: Viewing the exercising hand in a mirror can augment the cross-education effect. The use of a mirror in future studies can potentially accelerate functional recovery from unilateral impairment due to stroke or upper limb fracture.