Unaccustomed exercise (usually of an eccentric nature) is often followed by delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Previous studies have found that prior eccentric activity produces a training effect which reduces DOMS and morphological changes. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of a prior bout of maximal isokinetic eccentric exercise on DOMS, strength loss and plasma creatine kinase (CK) changes following a downhill run. Ten male subjects with a mean (+/- S.D.) age of 22.5 +/- 2.8 years, body mass of 62.67 +/- 0.05 kg and height of 176 +/- 3 cm were allocated to either a treatment group or a control group. The treatment group performed 100 maximal eccentric activations of the knee extensors in the dominant leg at 0.52 rad s-1. Two weeks later, the downhill run was performed on a motor-driven treadmill. This consisted of five bouts of 8 min at a gradient of -10% at a speed corresponding to 80% of the predicted maximal heart rate. The untrained group performed the downhill run as above but without the prior isokinetic session. Tenderness measurements, plasma CK activity and concentric and eccentric isokinetic peak torque measurements of the knee extensors at 0.52 and 2.83 rad s-1 were recorded prior to, immediately following and 2, 4 and 7 days after each protocol. The isokinetic protocol caused an increase (P < 0.01) in CK and tenderness and a decrease (P < 0.05) in concentric and eccentric torque at both speeds in the treatment group. Following the downhill run, a reduction in peak torque (P < 0.01) was observed in the eccentric and concentric modes at both isokinetic speeds in the control group. For the treatment group, the decrease in peak torque occurred only at the faster eccentric speed. With the exception of the faster eccentric speed, the decrement in peak torque was greater in the control group in all post-exercise isokinetic strength tests. There was less tenderness (P < 0.01) in the trained knee extensor muscle group. Peak torque also returned to pre-downhill values earlier for the trained group. Although plasma CK activity increased in both groups after downhill running, it was much lower (P < 0.01) in the trained group. The results suggest that a prior bout of isokinetic eccentric training reduces muscle damage, reduces the amount of strength loss and decreases the sensation of DOMS after downhill running.