The mechanisms involved in unloading-induced skeletal muscle loss may be age-specific, and the evidence for exercise preconditioning-induced protection against disuse muscle atrophy in aged rats is limited. Therefore, in this study, we investigated age-related differences in the activation of the HDAC4/Gadd45α pathway following hindlimb unloading (HU). We also assessed the protective effect of preconditioning exercise on this pathway in young and old rat gastrocnemius muscle. Three-month-old (young, n = 18) and 24-month-old (old, n = 18) male Wistar rats were assigned to the following groups: control group (n = 6), seven days of HU group (n = 6), and a bout of exercise preconditioning prior to HU (Ex+HU) group (n = 6). Rats of both ages in the Ex + HU group ran continuously on a motor-driven treadmill (0° slope, 20 m/min, 15 min) prior to HU. The gastrocnemius muscles were removed after 7 days of HU and analyzed for protein content and mRNA expression. Gastrocnemius muscle weight was significantly higher in the Ex+HU group than in the HU group of old rats, but not in young rats. Levels of HDAC4 protein and mRNA were significantly increased in the old HU group. However, the increase was significantly suppressed in the old Ex+HU group. Moreover, the protective effect of exercise preconditioning had a positive effect on Gadd45α mRNA and protein levels only in the old Ex+HU group. No exercise preconditioning-related protection was observed in the young rats. Our data indicated that a single bout of preconditioning exercise prior to HU may exert a protective effect in disuse muscle atrophy in old rats and that these effects may be partially mediated by the HDAC4/Gadd45α axis.