The aim of this study was to assess peripheral muscle strength in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) using a simple test and to look for correlation with function variables, physiological strength variables and quality of life parameters. Twenty-three COPD patients with moderate to severe air-flow limitation (FEV1 = 39 +/- 12%) in stable phase but displaying inability to carry out daily tasks were enrolled. Peripheral muscle strength was assessed in all patients by measuring the maximum load in a single repetition of five simple upper and lower extremity exercises performed at a multi-gymnastics station. Results were compared to respiratory function variables (FVC, FEV1, FEV1/FVC and gasometry), to results of an exercise test on a cycle ergometer with monitoring of respiratory gases (VEmax, VO2max and Wmax), to endurance (minutes) to dyspnea (Mahler's scale) and to quality of life (Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire-CRDQ). No relation between functional parameters and endurance in minutes was found. Minute ventilation (VE) proved to be significantly related to oxygen intake (VO) and maximum work in the stress test. Dyspnea on Mahler's scale was unrelated, but fatigue variables and emotional function variables on the CRDQ were related. We conclude that peripheral muscle strength is unrelated to level of flow limitation or exercise tolerance in COPD patients. Peripheral muscle strength is related, however, to maximum work load and some aspects of quality of life.