Cross-Education of Muscle Strength Is Greater with Stimulated than Voluntary Contractions

in Motor Control
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Cross-education enhances the performance of muscles not directly involved in the chronic conditioning of the muscles in a remote limb. Substantial cross-education occurs after training with eccentric contractions or with contractions evoked by electromyostimulation (EMS). Since during EMS and eccentric contractions, skin and muscle afferents are activated that have excitatory effects on contralateral homologous muscles, it was hypothesized that exercise training with stimulated vs. voluntary eccentric contractions would lead to greater cross-education. Thirty-two women were randomly assigned to a voluntary (Vol), an EMS, or a remote EMS (rEMS) exercise group and performed 840 voluntary or stimulated eccentric contractions over 6 weeks. All subjects, including nonexercising controls (Con), were tested pre- and posttraining for maximal voluntary and stimulated isometric and eccentric quadriceps strength. Ipsilateral voluntary and stimulated forces increased in all groups. Changes in EMG activity paralleled those in voluntary force in each limb. No changes occurred in grip strength. The greater contra- and ipsilateral strength gains after EMS training were most likely related to an additive effect of EMS and muscle lengthening.

T. Hortobágyi and K. Scott are with the Biomechanics Laboratory, and G. Hamilton and J. Tracy are with the Dept. of Physical Therapy, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, J. Lambert is with Therapeutic Innovations, Inc., Greenville, NC 27858.