Supraphysiological levels of clenbuterol (CL) reduce muscle degradation in both young and old animals; however, these pharmacological levels induce side effects that are unacceptable in the elderly. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that a "physiological" dose of CL (10 microg. kg(-1). day(-1)) would attenuate the loss of in situ isometric force and mass in muscles of senescent rats during hindlimb suspension (HS). Adult (3 mo) and senescent (38 mo) Fischer 344 x Brown Norway rats received CL or a placebo during 21 days of normal-weight-bearing or HS conditions (8 rats/age group). HS reduced soleus muscle weight-to-body weight ratio by 31%, muscle cross-sectional area by 37%, and maximal isometric tetanic force (P(o)) by 76% in senescent rats. CL attenuated the loss of P(o) and muscle weight by 17 and 8%, respectively, in the soleus of senescent rats relative to HS+placebo conditions, but it did not improve muscle weight normalized for body weight. CL did not reduce the decrease in soleus P(o) or mass after HS in adult rats. CL failed to reduce the loss of plantaris weight (-20%) and P(o) (-46%) in senescent rats after HS. Our data support the conclusion that physiological levels of CL do not improve fast muscle atrophy and only modestly reduce slow muscle atrophy, and, therefore, it is largely an ineffective countermeasure for preventing muscle wasting from HS in senescent rats.