Aerobic training has been shown to increase work and oxidative capacity in patients with mitochondrial myopathies, but the mechanisms underlying improvement are not known. We evaluated physiological (cycle exercise, 31P-MRS), biochemical (enzyme levels), and genetic (proportion of mutant/wild-type genomes) responses to 14 weeks of bicycle exercise training in 10 patients with heteroplasmic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. Training increased peak work and oxidative capacities (20-30%), systemic arteriovenous O2 difference (20%), and 31P-MRS indices of metabolic recovery (35%), consistent with enhanced muscle oxidative phosphorylation. Mitochondrial volume in vastus lateralis biopsies increased significantly (50%) and increases in deficient respiratory chain enzymes were found in patients with Complex I (36%) and Complex IV (25%) defects, whereas decreases occurred in 2 patients with Complex III defects (approximately 20%). These results suggest that the cellular basis of improved oxygen utilization is related to training-induced mitochondrial proliferation likely resulting in increased levels of functional, wild-type mtDNA. However, genetic analysis indicated the proportion of wild-type mtDNA was unchanged (3/9) or fell (6/9), suggesting a trend toward preferential proliferation of mutant genomes. The long-term implications of training-induced increases in mutant relative to wild-type mtDNA, despite positive physiological and biochemical findings, need to be assessed before aerobic training can be proposed as a general treatment option.