Contralateral effects of unilateral resistance training: a meta-analysis

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2004 May;96(5):1861-6. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00541.2003.


It is often claimed that strength training of one limb increases the strength of the contralateral limb, but this has not been demonstrated consistently, particularly in well-controlled studies. The aim was to quantitatively combine the results of other studies on the effects of unilateral training on contralateral strength in humans to provide an answer to this physiological question. We analyzed all randomized controlled studies of voluntary unilateral resistance training that used training intensities of at least 50% of maximal voluntary strength for a minimum of 2 wk. Studies were identified by computerized and hand searches of the literature. Data on changes in strength of contralateral and control limbs were extracted and statistically pooled in a meta-analysis. This approach allows conclusions to be based on a statistically meaningful sample size, which might be difficult to achieve in other ways. Seventeen studies met the inclusion criteria, and 13 provided enough data for statistical pooling. The contralateral effects of strength training reported in individual studies varied from -2.7 to 21.6% of initial strength. The pooled estimate of the effect of unilateral resistance training on the maximal voluntary strength of the contralateral limb was 7.8% (95% confidence interval: 4.1-11.6%). This was 35.1% (95% confidence interval: 20.9-49.3%) of the effect on the trained limb. Pooling of all available data shows that unilateral strength training produces modest increases in contralateral strength.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Extremities / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Weight Lifting* / physiology*