Laboratory rats are sedentary if housed in conditions where activity is limited. Changes in muscle characteristics with chronic inactivity were investigated by comparing sedentary rats with rats undertaking voluntary wheel running for either 6 or 12 weeks. EDL (type II fibers) and soleus (SOL) muscles (predominantly type I fibers) were examined. When measured within 1-2 h post-running, calcium sensitivity of the contractile apparatus was increased, but only in type II fibers. This increase disappeared when fibers were treated with DTT, indicative of oxidative regulation of the contractile apparatus, and was absent in fibers from rats that had ceased running 24 h prior to experiments. Specific force production was ~ 10 to 25% lower in muscle fibers of sedentary compared to active rats, and excitability of skinned fibers was decreased. Muscle glycogen content was ~ 30% lower and glycogen synthase content ~ 50% higher in SOL of sedentary rats, and in EDL glycogenin was 30% lower. Na+, K+-ATPase α1 subunit density was ~ 20% lower in both EDL and SOL in sedentary rats, and GAPDH content in SOL ~ 35% higher. There were no changes in content of the calcium handling proteins calsequestrin and SERCA, but the content of CSQ-like protein was increased in active rats (by ~ 20% in EDL and 60% in SOL). These findings show that voluntary exercise elicits an acute oxidation-induced increase in Ca2+ sensitivity in type II fibers, and also that there are substantial changes in skeletal muscle characteristics and biochemical processes in sedentary rats.