The present study was undertaken to investigate the respiratory system as an exercise limiting factor. Breathing and cycle endurance (i.e. the time until exhaustion at a given performance level) as well as physical working capacity 170 (i.e. the exercise intensity corresponding to a heart rate of 170 beats.min-1 on a cycle ergometer) were determined in four healthy sedentary subjects. Subsequently, the subjects trained their respiratory system for 4 weeks by breathing daily about 90 l.min-1 for 30 min. Otherwise they continued their sedentary lifestyle. Immediately after the respiratory training and 18 months later, all performance tests carried out at the beginning of the study were repeated. The respiratory training increased breathing endurance from 4.2 (SD 1.9) min to 15.3 (SD 3.8) min. Cycle endurance was improved from 26.8 (SD 5.9) min to 40.2 (SD 9.2) min whereas physical working capacity 170 remained essentially the same. During the endurance cycling test in the respiratory untrained state, the subjects continuously increased their ventilation up to hyperventilation [ventilation at exhaustion = 96.9 (SD 23.6) l.min-1] while after the respiratory training they reached a respiratory steady-state without hyperventilation [ventilation at exhaustion = 63.3 (SD 14.5) l.min-1]. The absence of this marked hyperventilation was the cause of the impressive increase of cycle endurance in normal sedentary subjects after respiratory training. The effects gained by the respiratory training were completely lost after 18 months. Our results indicated that the respiratory system was an exercise limiting factor during an endurance test in normal sedentary subjects.