Inspiratory capacity (IC) was evaluated in 60 patients during the following four respiratory maneuvers: (1) coached unassisted inspiration; (2) inspiratory positive-pressure breathing (IPPB) at 15 cm H2O with the patient passively inspiring; (3) IPPB at 15 cm H2O with the patient coached to actively inspire; and (4) IPPB at a peak pressure adjusted according to the judgment of the respiratory therapist, with the patient coached to actively inspire. The IC attained with these maneuvers were, respectively, as follows: (1) 1.29 +/- 0.75 L; (2) 1.13 +/- 0.52 L; (3) 1.77 +/- 0.11 L; and (4) 2.27 +/- 0.11 L (mean +/- SE). The peak ventilator pressure for maneuver 4 averaged 30 +/- 7 cm H2O (mean +/- SD), and no patient experienced harmful side effects from these peak pressures. These data indicate that the method of treatment with IPPB has profound effects upon the degree of pulmonary expansion. All research on therapy with IPPB should be carefully controlled for the method of administering IPPB, and the volumes obtained during the treatment should be carefully documented before general conclusions are drawn concerning the effects of IPPB on morbidity. For the present, we suggest that IPPB, when administered clinically, be given as described in method 4.