Regular exercise training is recognized as a powerful tool to improve work capacity, endothelial function and the cardiovascular risk profile in obesity, but it is unknown which of high-intensity aerobic exercise, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or strength training is the optimal mode of exercise. In the present study, a total of 40 subjects were randomized to high-intensity interval aerobic training, continuous moderate-intensity aerobic training or maximal strength training programmes for 12 weeks, three times/week. The high-intensity group performed aerobic interval walking/running at 85-95% of maximal heart rate, whereas the moderate-intensity group exercised continuously at 60-70% of maximal heart rate; protocols were isocaloric. The strength training group performed 'high-intensity' leg press, abdominal and back strength training. Maximal oxygen uptake and endothelial function improved in all groups; the greatest improvement was observed after high-intensity training, and an equal improvement was observed after moderate-intensity aerobic training and strength training. High-intensity aerobic training and strength training were associated with increased PGC-1alpha (peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor gamma co-activator 1alpha) levels and improved Ca(2+) transport in the skeletal muscle, whereas only strength training improved antioxidant status. Both strength training and moderate-intensity aerobic training decreased oxidized LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels. Only aerobic training decreased body weight and diastolic blood pressure. In conclusion, high-intensity aerobic interval training was better than moderate-intensity aerobic training in improving aerobic work capacity and endothelial function. An important contribution towards improved aerobic work capacity, endothelial function and cardiovascular health originates from strength training, which may serve as a substitute when whole-body aerobic exercise is contra-indicated or difficult to perform.