The influence of ageing on the capacity to increase muscle oxygen delivery during exercise is unclear. This was investigated by comparing the evolution of Near InfraRed Spectroscopy (NIRS) in 10 old (67 +/- 5 years, Old group) and 13 young subjects (27 +/- 4 years, Young group), during a progressive maximal exercise. The NIRS probe was placed on the vastus lateralis; muscle oxygen saturation - IR-SmO(2) - values were expressed on a scale using an arterial occlusion as the lower reference point and the subsequent reactive hyperaemia as the upper reference point. Resting IR-SmO( 2) was found to be significantly lower in the Old as co mpared to the Young group. During exercise, VO(2) increased similarly as a function of the workload whereas IR-SmO(2) decreased faster in old subjects than in young ones. Conversely, when expressed at the same percentage of VO( 2max), IR-SmO(2) followed a similar evolution in both groups from rest to maximal exercise (27.3 +/- 16.7 vs 24.3 +/- 12.9% decrease, in Old and Young group, respectively, NS). Thus, the initial difference remained constant between the two groups. During recovery, the time to recover the signal variation was not different between the two groups. We concluded that Old subjects demonstrate a systematic lower muscle oxygen saturation than Young ones. This difference could be explained by an age related decrease in muscle blood flow limiting O(2) supply.