1. beta 2-Adrenoceptor agonists have been shown to increase rapidly lean body mass and reverse muscle wasting in several animal models of human illness. However, no published information is available for humans. In the present study, we investigated the effects of a slow-release preparation of salbutamol or a placebo on skeletal muscle functional capacity in 12 healthy men. The strength of different muscle groups was measured on two occasions before and after 14 and 21 days of treatment. 2. No significant changes in muscle strength were observed with placebo during the trial. In contrast, the strength of both quadriceps muscles increased significantly (12 +/- 3%) after 14 days on salbutamol, and remained elevated at 21 days. Whereas the strength of the hamstring muscles of the dominant leg significantly increased after 21 days on salbutamol (22 +/- 6%), the strength of the non-dominant hamstring muscles returned to baseline values. 3. There was no significant change in the grip strength of either hand in these subjects during the trial. The maximal static inspiratory mouth pressure increased significantly (7 +/- 2%) after 14 days on salbutamol, and increased further after 21 days (15 +/- 4%); the expiratory mouth pressure remained constant. No significant changes in body weight, skinfold thickness, lean body mass or limb circumferences were measured in either group. 4. These data demonstrate that short-term administration of salbutamol increases voluntary muscle strength in man. However, the magnitude and duration of this effect vary between muscle groups. This study implies that the beta 2-adrenoceptor agonists may be of therapeutic potential in altering skeletal muscle function in humans.