OBJECTIVE: To summarize the evidence for the effectiveness of exercise training in promoting recovery of upper extremity function after cervical spinal cord injury. DATA SOURCES: Medline, Cochrane, CINAHL, EMBASE and PEDro were used to search the literature. REVIEW METHODS: Two reviewers independently selected and summarized the included studies. Methodological quality of the selected articles was scored using the Downs and Black checklist. RESULTS: A total of 16 studies were included, representing a total of 426 participants. Overall, the internal validity and reporting of the studies was fair to good, while power and external validity were poor. Interventions included exercise therapy, electrical stimulation, functional electrical stimulation, robotic training and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Most of the studies reported improvements in muscle strength, arm and hand function, activity of daily living or quality of life after intervention. CONCLUSIONS: Training including exercise therapy, electrical stimulation, functional electrical stimulation of the upper limb following cervical spinal cord injury leads to improvements in muscle strength, upper limb function and activity of daily living or quality of life. Further research is needed into the effects of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and robotic training on upper limb function.