Do you have an injury to one side of your body? Did you know that training your non-injured side can still have benefits to your injured side?
The cross-education effect, also known as cross-transfer effect or cross-training effect, refers to the phenomenon where training one limb or side of the body can lead to improvements in strength, skill, or performance in the opposite untrained limb or side. In other words, engaging in unilateral training can result in bilateral gains.
This effect has been observed in various forms of physical training, such as strength training, skill acquisition, and rehabilitation. For example, if an individual performs strength exercises exclusively on their right arm, they may experience improvements in strength and muscle size not only in the trained right arm but also in the untrained left arm.
The cross-education effect is thought to be mediated by neural adaptations in the central nervous system. When one limb is trained, neural pathways are activated and strengthened, leading to improvements in motor control, muscle recruitment, and coordination. Some proposed mechanisms include increased neural drive from the brain to the untrained limb and changes in the excitability of the motor cortex. Other mechanisms that need further exploration include the contribution of peripheral factors, such as the release of anabolic hormone and myokines. Enhancing the anabolic environment may result in muscle adaptation at the whole body level. TNF and interleukins may play a role hypertrophic adaptations.
The cross-education effect has practical implications in sports training and injury rehabilitation. Athletes can utilize cross-training to enhance overall performance and address muscular imbalances. In rehabilitation settings, it can be used to promote recovery and regain strength after an injury, particularly when the injured limb cannot be fully utilized.
It's important to note that the magnitude of the cross-education effect may vary between individuals and depends on factors such as the type of training, duration, intensity, and frequency. Additionally, while the cross-education effect primarily occurs between limbs on the same side of the body, there is some evidence to suggest that it can extend to the opposite side as well, although to a lesser extent.
Overall, the cross-education effect highlights the interconnectedness of the nervous system and demonstrates the potential for training one side of the body to induce adaptations in the untrained side. For further information, the following review goes into more depth about this interesting and useful concept: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00297/full