Previous studies have established that most of the heterogeneity in exercise capacity seen with sedentariness, aging, or physical training can be accounted for by individual differences in the maximal rate of total body oxygen consumption (VO2 max) during dynamic exercise. However, the factors that limit VO2 max in normal subjects remain disputed. To test the hypothesis that differences in left ventricular diastolic performance contribute to the heterogeneity of VO2 max seen in healthy subjects, 57 normal sedentary volunteers (36 +/- 13 yr, range 20–76 yr) and 9 endurance athletes (37 +/- 8 yr, range 26–51 yr) were studied. Aerobic capacity was estimated as VO2 max during a multistage dynamic cycle exercise protocol, whereas resting left ventricular systolic and diastolic function was assessed by two-dimensional and Doppler echocardiography. The relationship of the left ventricular functional indexes with VO2 max was investigated by stepwise multiple regression analysis. VO2 max ranged from 25 to 58 ml.kg-1 x min-1 in sedentary subjects and from 44 to 60 ml.kg-1 x min-1 in athletes. With univariate analysis, significant correlations were observed between VO2 max and age (r = -0.60), maximal heart rate (r = 0.48), maximal work load (r = 0.80), left ventricular volumes at both end diastole (r = 0.51) and end systole (r = 0.62), peak early transmitral filling velocities (r = 0.80), and the ratio of early to late transmitral filling velocities (r = 0.87).