This study compared the amount of contralateral activity produced in a homologous muscle by young (18-32 yr) and old (66-80 yr) adults when they performed unilateral isometric and anisometric contractions with a hand muscle. The subjects were not aware that the focus of the study was the contralateral activity. The tasks involved the performance of brief isometric contractions to six target forces, slowly lifting and lowering six inertial loads, and completing a set of 10 repetitions with a heavy load. The unintended force exerted by the contralateral muscle during the isometric contractions increased with target force, but the average force was greater for the old adults (means +/- SD; 12.6 +/- 15.3%) compared with the young adults (6.91 +/- 11.1%). The contralateral activity also increased with load during the anisometric contractions, and the average contralateral force was greater for the old subjects (5.28 +/- 6.29%) compared with the young subjects (2.10 +/- 3.19%). Furthermore, the average contralateral force for both groups of subjects was greater during the eccentric contractions (4.17 +/- 5.24%) compared with the concentric contractions (3.20 +/- 5.20%). The rate of change in contralateral activity during the fatigue task also differed between the two groups of subjects. The results indicate that old subjects have a reduced ability to suppress unintended contralateral activity during the performance of goal-directed, unilateral tasks.