The response to strength training varies widely between individuals and is considerably influenced by genetic variables, which until now, have remained unidentified. The deletion (D), rather than the insertion (I), variant of the human angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) genotype is an important factor in the hypertrophic response of cardiac muscle to exercise and could also be involved in skeletal muscle hypertrophy - an important factor in the response to functional overload. Subjects were 33 healthy male volunteers with no experience of strength training. We examined the effect of ACE genotype upon changes in strength of quadriceps muscles in response to 9 weeks of specific strength training (isometric or dynamic). There was a significant interaction between ACE genotype and isometric training with greater strength gains shown by subjects with the D allele (mean +/- S.E.M.: II, 9.0+/-1.7 %; ID, 17.6 +/-2.2 %; DD, 14.9+/-1.3 %, ANOVA, P 0.05). A consistent genotype and training interaction (ID DD II) was observed across all of the strength measures, and both types of training. ACE genotype is the first genetic factor to be identified in the response of skeletal muscle to strength training. The association of the ACE I/D polymorphism with the responses of cardiac and skeletal muscle to functional overload indicates that they may share a common mechanism. These findings suggest a novel mechanism, involving the renin-angiotensin system, in the response of skeletal muscle to functional overload and may have implications for the management of conditions such as muscle wasting disorders, prolonged bed rest, ageing and rehabilitation, where muscle weakness may limit function.