This study tested the effect of two methods of training, one individualized at the heart rate corresponding to the gas exchange threshold (GET) and the other at the heart rate corresponding to 50% of maximal heart rate reserve, on maximal and submaximal cardiorespiratory response in 24 patients with chronic airway limitation (CAL). The patients were randomly assigned to either the individualized training group (IT; n = 12) or the standardized training group (ST; n = 12). The training programme consisted of 4 weeks of stationary bicycle exercise, 5 days.week-1. Before reconditioning began, the target level based on heart rate was not significantly different between groups (109 +/- 4 versus 110 +/- 3 beats.min-1, in IT and ST, respectively). Post-training, a significant increase in symptom-limited oxygen uptake (V'O2.sl) and maximal O2 pulse was found in IT, whereas ST exhibited no significant change. In each group, GET was statistically increased in much the same way as V'O2,sl, with a higher increase in IT (p < 0.01) than ST (p < 0.05). Nevertheless, IT exhibited a concomitant and gradual decrease in minute ventilation (V'E), carbon dioxide production (V'CO2), and venous lactate concentration ([La]), whereas ST presented no significant change in these parameters (intergroup p < 0.01). Breathing pattern was also altered after IT, at the same metabolic level and at the same ventilation level (intergroup p < 0.05). Cardiac responses were modified in the two groups. At the same metabolic level, a significantly lower cardiac frequency was found both for IT and ST (intragroup p < 0.05 after training). In contrast, the increase in O2 pulse was only significantly higher in It after training. These data show the greater efficiency of an individualized training protocol based on determination of gas exchange threshold as compared to a standardized protocol, in improving exercise performance, when applied to a patient group. Despite an apparently similar target training level, the individualized method clearly optimized the physiological training effects in patients with chronic airway limitation and, more particularly, decreased their ventilatory requirement.