Cellular antioxidant capacity and oxidative stress are postulated to be critical factors in the aging process. The effects of resistance exercise training on the level of skeletal muscle oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity have not previously been examined in older adults. Muscle biopsies from both legs were obtained from the vastus lateralis muscle of 12 men 71 +/- 7 years of age. Subjects then engaged in a progressive resistance exercise-training program with only one leg for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, the nontraining leg underwent an acute bout of exercise (exercise session identical to that of the trained leg at the same relative intensity) at the same time as the last bout of exercise in the training leg. Muscle biopsies were collected from the vastus lateralis of both legs 48 h after the final exercise bout. Electron transport chain enzyme activity was unaffected by resistance training and acute resistance exercise (p < 0.05). Training resulted in a significant increase in CuZnSOD (pre--7.2 +/- 4.2, post--12.6 +/- 5.6 U.mg protein(-1); p = 0.02) and catalase (pre--8.2 +/- 2.3, post--14.9 +/- 7.6 micromol.min(-1).mg protein(-1); p = 0.02) but not MnSOD activity, whereas acute exercise had no effect on the aforementioned antioxidant enzyme activities. Furthermore, basal muscle total protein carbonyl content did not change as a result of exercise training or acute exercise. In conclusion, unilateral resistance exercise training is effective in enhancing the skeletal muscle cellular antioxidant capacity in older adults. The potential long-term benefits of these adaptations remain to be evaluated.