1. Nine normal subjects performed 6 min, constant-workload, exercise tests on a bicycle ergometer at either a ‘high workload’ or at a ‘low workload’. During the first ‘high workload’ test their spontaneous breathing pattern was recorded on to magnetic tape. During one subsequent ‘high workload’ test and one ‘low workload’ test they voluntarily copied their recorded breathing pattern. During a second ‘low workload’ test they breathed spontaneously. Isocapnia was maintained by the operator throughout both the copying tests. During the exercise tests ventilation was recorded and subjects indicated the level of their sensation of breathlessness every 30 s.
2. Subjects felt markedly less breathless when a proportion of their ventilation was produced by voluntary effort than when the same total level of ventilation was produced entirely by the stimulus of exercise. Furthermore, voluntary isocapnic hyperventilation during exercise did not increase breathlessness above that normally associated with that level of exercise.
3. These results suggest that it is reflexly driven ventilation, and not simply the level of ventilation itself, which relates to the level of breathlessness during exercise.