To evaluate the combined effects of cardiac overload imposed by hypertension and chronic swim training on coronary vascularity, female rats were made hypertensive by unilateral renal artery stenoses and were exercised in an 8- to 10-wk swimming program. Maximal coronary flow was assessed in isolated retrograde buffer-perfused hearts under conditions of minimal coronary resistance (15 microM adenosine or anoxia). Sedentary normotensive animals, sedentary hypertensive animals, and normotensive animals exposed to a swimming program were also studied. Swimming was associated with an 18% increase in heart weight and with increases in both absolute (ml/min) and relative (ml X g-1 X min-1) maximal coronary flow. Hypertension was associated with a 32% increase in heart weight but with a decrease in absolute and relative coronary flow compared with controls. The combined stimuli resulted in a 63% myocardial hypertrophy and a 19% increase in absolute flow. Relative coronary flow (g tissue-1) was similar in hearts from hypertensive sedentary animals and hypertensive swimmers. These data indicate that the coronary vascular deficit that accompanies the cardiac hypertrophy of hypertension is not worsened by the superimposition of an exercise load that exaggerates the hypertrophy.