The purpose of the study was to investigate the role of free radicals in the injury induced by a protocol of repeated pliometric (lengthening) contractions to the extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscle in situ in rats. Previous data have indicated that prior treatment with the antioxidant polyethylene glycol-superoxide dismutase reduced the damage that was apparent at 3 days following this type of exercise. Three hours and 3 days following the protocol, the magnitude of the semiquinone-derived free radical signal observed by electron spin resonance spectroscopy (ESR) was not different for exercised and non-exercised skeletal muscles. A reduction in the protein thiol content of muscle was evident at 3 h, and was still apparent at 3 days. Three hours after the protocol, the total muscle glutathione content and the percentage in the oxidized form were unchanged, but by 3 days the percentage of muscle glutathione present in the oxidized form was elevated. The susceptibility of muscle to lipid peroxidation in vitro was reduced 3 days after the pliometric contractions. These data indicate that oxidation of protein thiols and glutathione may be involved in the secondary damage following pliometric contractions, but provide no evidence that the species involved were derived from mitochondrial semiquinone radicals.