When work load on the respiratory system is increased the relative increase in blood flow to each of the muscles of breathing provides an index of how the augmented effort of breathing is partitioned among the different muscles. We have used a radio-active microsphere technique to measure blood flow to each of the muscles of respiration in supine dogs during unobstructed respiration and breathing against graded expiratory threshold loads. 79% of the augmented flow went to expiratory muscles; of this increased flow to expiratory muscles 74% went to abdominal wall muscles and 26% to internal intercostals. In our earlier studies of hyperventilation induced by CO(2) rebreathing where expiratory work loads were low, 44% of the increase in flow went to expiratory muscles; of this, only 39% went to abdominal wall muscles and 61% to internal intercostals. During inspiratory resistance which produced small increases in expiratory work, 27% of the increase in blood flow went to expiratory muscles; of this, only 37% went to abdominal wall muscles and 63% to internal intercostals. These results suggest that the internal intercostals are predominantly used for expiration when expiratory work loads are low, whereas the abdominal wall muscles are predominantly used when loads are high. For similar rates of pressure-volume work done on the lung, the total respiratory muscle blood flow is significantly greater during expiratory loads than during unobstructed hyperventilation or inspiratory loads. Thus, the abdominal wall muscles that are utilized for overcoming high pressure expiratory loads are relatively inefficient in converting metabolic energy into pressure-volume work.