The aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of an interval-based high-intensity inspiratory muscle training (H-IMT) programme on inspiratory muscle function, exercise capacity, dyspnoea and health-related quality of life (QoL) in subjects with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A double-blind randomised controlled trial was performed. Sixteen subjects (11 males, mean forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV(1)) 37.4+/-12.5%) underwent H-IMT performed at the highest tolerable inspiratory threshold load (increasing to 101% of baseline maximum inspiratory pressure). Seventeen subjects (11 males, mean FEV(1 )36.5+/-11.5%) underwent sham inspiratory muscle training (S-IMT) at 10% of maximum inspiratory pressure. Training took place three times a week for 8 weeks and was fully supervised. Pre- and post-training measurements of lung function, maximum inspiratory pressure, maximum threshold pressure, exercise capacity, dyspnoea and QoL (Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire; CRDQ) were obtained. H-IMT increased maximum inspiratory pressure by 29%, maximum threshold pressure by 56%, 6-min walk distance by 27 m, and improved dyspnoea and fatigue (CRDQ) by 1.4 and 0.9 points per item, respectively. These changes were significantly greater than any seen following S-IMT. In conclusion, high-intensity inspiratory muscle training improves inspiratory muscle function in subjects with moderate-to-severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, yielding meaningful reductions in dyspnoea and fatigue.