The aim of this study was to determine the effects of frequency of verbal encouragement during maximal exercise testing. Twenty-eight participants (12 males, 16 females) aged 20.9 +/- 1.5 years (mean +/- s) performed a maximal exercise test (VO2max) on a treadmill without any verbal encouragement. The participants were matched according to their pre-test VO2max and placed into either a control group or one of three experimental groups. They performed a second exercise test (post-test) 1 week later. During the second test, the control group received no verbal encouragement; the 20 s (20E), 60 s (60E) and 180 s (180E) encouragement groups received verbal encouragement every 20, 60 and 180 s, respectively, beginning with stage 3 of the exercise test. Relative VO2max, exercise time, blood lactate concentration, respiratory exchange ratio (RER) and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were not significantly different from the first test to the second test for the control group without verbal encouragement and the 180E group that received infrequent encouragement. Post-test values were significantly higher than pre-test values for the 20E and 60E groups. The post-test values of the 20E group were significantly higher than their pre-test values for relative VO2max (P < 0.001), exercise time (P < 0.0001), blood lactate concentration (P < 0.05), RER (P < 0.01) and RPE (P < 0.0001); this was also the case for the 60E group for relative VO2max (P < 0.01), blood lactate concentration (P < 0.05), RER (P < 0.05) and RPE (P < 0.05). The results suggest that frequent verbal encouragement (every 20 s and 60 s in the present study) leads to significantly greater maximum effort in a treadmill test than when no encouragement is given or when the encouragement is infrequent (i.e. every 180 s).