The higher concentration during exercise at which lactate entry in blood equals its removal is known as 'maximal lactate steady state' (MLSS) and is considered an important indicator of endurance exercise capacity. The aim of the present study was to determine MLSS in rats during swimming exercise. Adult male Wistar rats, which were adapted to water for 3 weeks, were used. After this, the animals were separated at random into groups and submitted once a week to swimming sessions of 20 min, supporting loads of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10% of body wt. for 6 consecutive weeks. Blood lactate was determined every 5 min to find the MLSS. Sedentary animals presented MLSS with overloads of 5 and 6% at 5.5 mmol/l blood lactate. There was a significant (P < 0.05) increase in blood lactate with the other loads. In another set of experiments, rats of the same strain, sex and age were submitted daily to 60 min of swimming with an 8% body wt. overload, 5 days/week, for 9 weeks. The rats were then submitted to a swimming session of 20 min with an 8% body wt. overload and blood lactate was determined before the beginning of the session and after 10 and 20 min of exercise. Sedentary rats submitted to the same acute exercise protocol were used as a control. Physical training did not alter the MLSS value (P < 0.05) but shifted it to a higher exercise intensity (8% body wt. overload). Taken together these results indicate that MLSS measured in rats in the conditions of the present study was reproducible and seemed to be independent of the physical condition of the animals. © 2001 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.