To investigate the mechanism by which ventilatory (VE) demand is modulated by endurance training, 10 normal subjects performed cycle ergometer exercise of 15 min duration at each of four constant work rates. These work rates represented 90% of the anaerobic threshold (AT) work rate and 25, 50, and 75% of the difference between maximum O2 consumption and AT work rates for that subject (as determined from previous incremental exercise tests). Subjects then underwent 8 wk of strenuous cycle ergometer exercise for 45 min/day. They then repeated the four constant work rate tests at work rates identical to those used before training. During tests before and after training, VE and gas exchange were measured breath by breath and rectal temperature (Tre) was measured continuously. A venous blood sample was drawn at the end of each test and assayed for lactate (La), epinephrine (EPI), and norepinephrine (NE). We found that the VE for below AT work was reduced minimally by training (averaging 3 l/min). For the above AT tests, however, training reduced VE markedly, by an average of 7, 23, and 37 l/min for progressively higher work rates. End-exercise La, NE, EPI, and Tre were all lower for identical work rates after training. Importantly, the magnitude of the reduction in VE was well correlated with the reduction in end-exercise La (r = 0.69) with an average decrease of 5.8 l/min of VE per milliequivalent per liter decrease in La. Correlations of VE with NE, EPI, and Tre were much less strong (r = 0.49, 0.43, and 0.15, respectively).