A meta-analysis including 32 randomised controlled trials on the effects of inspiratory muscle training (IMT) in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients was performed. Overall and subgroup analyses with respect to training modality (strength or endurance training, added to general exercise training) and patient characteristics were performed. Significant improvements were found in maximal inspiratory muscle strength (P(I,max); +13 cmH₂O), endurance time (+261 s), 6- or 12-min walking distance (+32 and +85 m respectively) and quality of life (+3.8 units). Dyspnoea was significantly reduced (Borg score -0.9 point; Transitional Dyspnoea Index +2.8 units). Endurance exercise capacity tended to improve, while no effects on maximal exercise capacity were found. Respiratory muscle endurance training revealed no significant effect on P(I,max), functional exercise capacity and dyspnoea. IMT added to a general exercise programme improved P(I,max) significantly, while functional exercise capacity tended to increase in patients with inspiratory muscle weakness (P(I,max) <60 cmH₂O). IMT improves inspiratory muscle strength and endurance, functional exercise capacity, dyspnoea and quality of life. Inspiratory muscle endurance training was shown to be less effective than respiratory muscle strength training. In patients with inspiratory muscle weakness, the addition of IMT to a general exercise training program improved P(I,max) and tended to improve exercise performance.