The effects of beta-blockers and calcium-channel blockers on cardiopulmonary response during exercise are not well characterized. Sixteen sedentary patients with essential hypertension underwent a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study comparing atenolol and diltiazem sustained-release 300 mg, each administered during 6 weeks, after a 15-day run-in placebo period. Neither atenolol nor diltiazem significantly affected maximal exercise duration, maximal oxygen uptake, ventilatory threshold, or any of the ventilatory parameters during exercise. With atenolol, the maximal oxygen pulse was significantly increased and compensated for the decrease in heart rate during exercise. Atenolol and diltiazem do not limit maximal exercise tolerance in untrained hypertensive subjects, but the circulatory profile is more preserved with diltiazem.