The effects of an intensive 12-wk training program by 12 national-level swimmers on neutrophil oxidative activity were studied. Eleven sedentary (untrained) subjects (6 males and 5 females) served as environmental controls. Blood samples (10 ml) were taken at rest from an antecubital vein and neutrophils isolated by standard separation techniques. The oxidative burst activity of isolated neutrophils was assessed with an in vitro flow cytometric assay that used the fluorescent probe dihydrorhodamine 123. Two-way ANOVA (repeated measures) showed that oxidative activity was lower (P < 0.05) in the elite swimmers compared with the sedentary control group across the 12-wk period. Analysis of cells from swimmers in training was made: repeated measures ANOVA provided evidence of a significant decline (P < 0.05) in the number of cells responding positively ito in vitro challenge. Despite this decline, there was no significant difference in self-reported upper respiratory tract infection rate between the swimmers and sedentary individuals. These data show that: (i) elite swimmers undertaking intensive training have a significantly lower neutrophil oxidative activity at rest than do age- and sex-matched sedentary individuals; (ii) aspects of oxidative activity in swimmers are further suppressed during periods of strenuous training, and (iii) the extent of the suppression does not appear to be of clinical significance.