Corticospinal adaptations and strength maintenance in the immobilized arm following 3 weeks unilateral strength training

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Dec;23(6):740-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01453.x. Epub 2012 Mar 19.


Cross-education strength training has being shown to retain strength and muscle thickness in the immobilized contralateral limb. Corticospinal mechanisms have been proposed to underpin this phenomenon; however, no transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) data has yet been presented. This study used TMS to measure corticospinal responses following 3 weeks of unilateral arm training on the contralateral, immobilize arm. Participants (n = 28) were randomly divided into either immobilized strength training (Immob + train) immobilized no training (Immob) or control. Participants in the immobilized groups had their nondominant arm rested in a sling, 15 h/day for 3 weeks. The Immob + train group completed unilateral arm curl strength training, while the Immob and control groups did not undertake training. All participants were tested for corticospinal excitability, strength, and muscle thickness of both arms. Immobilization resulted in a group x time significant reduction in strength, muscle thickness and corticospinal excitability for the untrained limb of the Immob group. Conversely, no significant change in strength, muscle thickness, or corticospinal excitability occurred in the untrained limb of the Immob + train group. These results provide the first evidence of corticospinal mechanisms, assessed by TMS, underpinning the use of unilateral strength training to retain strength and muscle thickness following immobilization of the contralateral limb.

Keywords: cross education; exercise; neuroplasticity; transcranial magnetic stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arm / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immobilization*
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Organ Size
  • Resistance Training*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Ultrasonography
  • Young Adult