Acute and repeated exposure for 8-13 consecutive days to exercise in humid heat was studied. Twelve fit subjects exercised at 150 W [45% of maximum O2 uptake (V.O2,max)] in ambient conditions of 35 degrees C and 87% relative humidity which resulted in exhaustion after 45 min. Average core temperature reached 39.9 +/- 0.1 degrees C, mean skin temperature (T-sk) was 37.9 +/- 0.1 degrees C and heart rate (HR) 152 +/- 6 beats min-1 at this stage. No effect of the increasing core temperature was seen on cardiac output and leg blood flow (LBF) during acute heat stress. LBF was 5.2 +/- 0.3 l min-1 at 10 min and 5.3 +/- 0.4 l min-1 at exhaustion (n = 6). After acclimation the subjects reached exhaustion after 52 min with a core temperature of 39.9 +/- 0.1 degrees C, T-sk 37.7 +/- 0.2 degrees C, HR 146 +/- 4 beats min-1. Acclimation induced physiological adaptations, as shown by an increased resting plasma volume (3918 +/- 168 to 4256 +/- 270 ml), the lower exercise heart rate at exhaustion, a 26% increase in sweating rate, lower sweat sodium concentration and a 6% reduction in exercise V.O2. Neither in acute exposure nor after acclimation did the rise of core temperature to near 40 degrees C affect metabolism and substrate utilization. The physiological adaptations were similar to those induced by dry heat acclimation. However, in humid heat the effect of acclimation on performance was small due to physical limitations for evaporative heat loss.