Contractile and morphological properties were measured in the rabbit tibialis anterior muscle 1 h after isometric contraction (IC), passive stretch (PS), or eccentric contraction (EC). Maximal tetanic tension (Po) was reduced after 30 min of PS (P less than 0.001), IC (P less than 0.001), or EC (P less than 0.0001). However, the magnitude of the force deficit was a function of the treatment method. After 30 min of cyclic PS, Po decreased by 13%, whereas after IC or EC, Po decreased by 31 and 69%, respectively. The time course of tension decline in the various groups suggested that the EC-induced injury occurred during the first few minutes of treatment. Although the morphology of samples from the PS and IC groups appeared normal, eccentrically exercised muscles exhibited portions of abnormally large fibers (diam greater than or equal to 110 microns) when viewed in cross section. Examination of 231 such fibers from 6 muscles revealed that all enlarged fibers were exclusively of the fast-twitch glycolytic fiber type. Although no ultrastructural abnormalities were observed in any of the muscles from the IC or PS groups, a significant portion of the fibers in the EC group displayed various degrees of disorganization of the sarcomeric band pattern. Taken together, these studies highlight the importance of fiber oxidative capacity in EC-induced injury, which may be related to the damage mechanism.