A well-documented observation after eccentric exercise is a reduction in maximal voluntary force. However, little is known about the ability to maintain maximal isometric force or generate and maintain dynamic peak power. These aspects of muscle function were studied in seven participants (5 males, 2 females). Knee extensor isometric strength and rate of fatigue were assessed by a sustained 60 s maximal voluntary contraction at 80 degrees and 40 degrees knee flexion, corresponding to an optimal and a shortened muscle length, respectively. Dynamic peak power and rate of fatigue were assessed during a 30 s Wingate cycle test. Plasma creatine kinase was measured from a fingertip blood sample. These variables were measured before, 1 h after and 1, 2, 3 and 7 days after 100 repetitions of the eccentric phase of the barbell squat exercise (10 sets x 10 reps at 80% concentric one-repetition maximum). Eccentric exercise resulted in elevations in creatine kinase activity above baseline (274+/-109 U x l(-1); mean +/- s(x)) after 1 h (506+/-116 U x l(-1), P < 0.05) and 1 day (808+/-117 U x l(-1), P < 0.05). Isometric strength was reduced (P < 0.05) for 7 days (35% at 1 h, 5% at day 7) and the rate of fatigue was lower (P < 0.05) for 3 days at 80 degrees and for 1 day at 40 degrees. Wingate peak power was reduced to a lesser extent (P < 0.05) than isometric strength at 1 h (13%) and, although the time course of recovery was equal, the two variables differed in their pattern of recovery. Eccentrically exercised muscle was characterized by an inability to generate high force and power, but an improved ability to maintain force and power. Such functional outcomes are consistent with the proposition that type II fibres are selectively recruited or damaged during eccentric exercise.