Many post-polio patients develop new muscle weakness decades after the initial illness. However, its mechanism and treatment are controversial. The purpose of this study was to test the hypotheses that: (1) after strength training, post-polio patients show strength improvement comparable to that seen in the healthy elderly; (2) such training does not have a deleterious effect on motor unit (MU) survival; and (3) part of the strength improvement is due to an increase in voluntary motor drive. After baseline measures including maximum voluntary contraction force, voluntary activation index, motor unit number estimate, and the tetanic tension of the thumb muscles had been determined, 10 post-polio patients with hand involvement were randomized to either the training or control group. The progressive resistance training program consisted of three sets of eight isometric contractions, three times weekly for 12 weeks. Seven healthy elderly were also randomized and trained in a similar manner. Changes in the baseline parameters were monitored once every 4 weeks throughout the training period. The trained post-polio patients showed a significant improvement in their strength (P < 0.05). The magnitude of gain was greater than that seen in the healthy elderly (mean +/- SE, 41 +/- 16% vs. 29 +/- 8%). The training did not adversely affect MU survival and the improvement was largely attributable to an increase in voluntary motor drive. We therefore conclude that moderate intensity strength training is safe and effective in post-polio patients.