This study analyzes a new exercise training procedure, which includes interval exercise training on cycle ergometer (IntCT) (30-s work phases/60-s recovery phases) and on treadmill (60-s work and recovery phases each). Training was applied for 3 wk in 18 patients with severe chronic heart failure (CHF) ((mean +/- SEM) age 52 +/- 2 yr, ejection fraction 21 +/- 1%). Peak VO2 was increased from 12.2 +/- 0.7 to 14.6 +/- 0.7 ml-kg-1 min-1 owing to training (P < 0.001). A specific steep ramp test (work rate increments 25 W.10 s-1) was developed to derive exercise intensity for work phases in IntCT, which was 50% of the maximum work rate achieved. Steep ramp test was performed at the start of the study to determine the initial training work rate, then weekly to readjust it. Since the maximum work rate achieved from this test increased weekly (144 +/- 10 W -->172 +/- 10 W-->200 +/- 11 W; P < 0.001), the training work rate also increased (72 +/- 4 W-->86 +/- 6 W-->100 +/- 7 W; P < 0.001). Physical responses to IntCT were measured. There was no significant change in heart rate, blood pressure, and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) using a Borg Scale between the first and the third week of training (heart rate 88 +/- 3 b.min-1; blood pressure 115 +/- 4/80 +/- 2 mm Hg; leg fatigue 12 +/- 1; dyspnea 10 +/- 1). Mean lactate concentration (1.70 +/- 0.09 mmol-1-1) indicated an overall aerobic range of training intensity. When compared with the commonly used intensity level of 75% peak VO2 from an ordinary ramp test (work rate increments 12.5 W.min-1), the performed training work rate was more than doubled (240%; P < 0.0001) while cardiac stress was lower (86%; P < 0.01). Values of norepinephrine and epinephrine as well as of RPE corresponded to those measured at 75% peak VO2. Interval exercise training is thus recommended for selected patients with CHF as it allows intense exercise stimuli on peripheral muscles with minimal cardiac strain. Using a steep ramp test, training work rate can be determined and readjusted weekly during initial training period.