Insulin stimulates signaling reactions that include insulin receptor autophosphorylation and tyrosine kinase activation, insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1) tyrosine phosphorylation, and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-kinase) activation. Muscle contraction has metabolic effects similar to insulin, and contraction can increase insulin sensitivity, but little is known about the molecular signals that mediate the effects of contraction. To investigate the effects of muscle contraction on insulin signaling, rats were studied after contraction of hindlimb muscles by electrical stimulation, maximal insulin injection in the absence of contraction, or contraction followed by insulin injection. Insulin increased tyrosine phosphorylation of the insulin receptor and IRS-1, whereas contraction alone had no effect. Contraction before insulin injection decreased the insulin effect on receptor and IRS-1 phosphorylation by 20-25%. Increased tyrosine phosphorylation of other proteins by insulin and/or contraction was not observed. Contraction alone had little effect on PI 3-kinase activity, but contraction markedly blunted the insulin-stimulated activation of IRS-1 and insulin receptor-immunoprecipitable PI 3-kinase. In conclusion, skeletal muscle contractile activity does not result in tyrosine phosphorylation of molecules involved in the initial steps of insulin signaling. Although contractile activity increases insulin sensitivity and responsiveness in skeletal muscle, contraction causes a paradoxical decrease in insulin-stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation and PI 3-kinase activity.