It is well known that muscle strength increases in both the untrained and trained limb after a period of unilateral strength training. However, it is not known how this so called cross-education effect (CE-effect) is affected by a long period of detraining, and if there are any sex differences. Also, there are conflicting results regarding the effect of unilateral training on muscle mass in the untrained limb.
The primary objective was to study the CE-effect in men and women after a period of unilateral strength training and detraining. The secondary objective was to study if training one limb would affect the muscle mass of the homologous opposite limb.
Sixteen untrained individuals, 9 females and 7 males, completed the study. The training intervention was 10 weeks (34 sessions) of unilateral strength training (leg press (LP) and leg extension (LE) exercise). 1RM and muscle thickness (vastus lateralis) were measured pre-, post- and 20 weeks post-training.
Strength (1RM) in the trained leg increased for both men and woman (LP: ~60%, LE ~20%, p<0.01), with no sex differences. However, only the men had a strength increase in the untrained leg (LP: 26%, LE: 10%, p<0.05) and the non-significant increase observed for the woman (LP: 10%, LE: 3%) was significantly smaller than the increase in the men (p<0.05). Muscle thickness increased similarly for both men and women (trained leg: ~14%, p<0.01; untrained leg: ~4%, p<0.05). The detraining period did not affect strength, but muscle thickness was reduced close to pre-training values in both men and women.
The results of the present study show that the CE-effect is larger in men than women, and that it is long lasting (at least 20 weeks). Further, strength training of one leg can increase the muscle mass of the homologous opposite leg.