Different modalities of assisted ventilation improve breathlessness and exercise tolerance in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of the addition of assisted ventilation during exercise training on the outcome of a structured pulmonary rehabilitation programme (PRP) in COPD patients. Thirty-three male patients with stable COPD (mean (SD) forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) 44 (16) % pred), without chronic ventilatory failure, undergoing a 6-week multidisciplinary outpatient PRP including exercise training, were randomised to training during either mask proportional assist ventilation (PAV: 18 patients) or spontaneous breathing (SB: 15 patients). Assessment included exercise tolerance, dyspnoea, leg fatigue, and health-related quality of life (HRQL). Five out of 18 patients (28%) in the PAV group dropped out due to lack of compliance with the equipment. Both groups showed significant post-PRP improvements in exercise tolerance (peak work rate difference: 20 (95% Cl 2.4-37.6) and 14 (3.8% CI to 24.2) W in PAV and SB group, respectively), dyspnoea and leg fatigue, but not in HRQL, without any significant difference between groups. It is concluded that with the modality and in the patients assessed in this study assisted ventilation during training sessions included in a multidisciplinary PRP was not well tolerated by all patients and gave no additional physiological benefit in comparison with exercise training alone.