1. The gastrocnemius muscle of seven patients with mild to moderate chronic heart failure and of five healthy control subjects was studied using 31P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Spectra were collected at rest and during an incremental, symptom-limited, exercise protocol. Blood flow was measured in the same study during brief interruptions to exercise. 2. The phosphocreatine/(phosphocreatine plus inorganic phosphate) ratio was lower in patients with heart failure than in control subjects at an exercise rate of 1.5 W, although intracellular pH and blood flow were similar. 3. The cytosolic free adenosine 5'-diphosphate concentration was markedly increased in patients with heart failure exercising at 1.5 W compared with control subjects exercising at the same workload. 4. Although the maximum workload achieved by patients with heart failure was less than half of that reached by control subjects, the pH and the phosphocreatine/(phosphocreatine plus inorganic phosphate) ratio were lower in patients with heart failure at maximal load. Blood flow was less at maximal exercise in patients with heart failure than in control subjects in keeping with the reduced work load. 5. The phosphocreatine depletion induced in the gastrocnemius muscle by exercise was more severe than previously described in the forearm of patients with heart failure. 6. Metabolic abnormalities in skeletal muscle may contribute to exercise intolerance in heart failure, particularly during submaximal exercise.