Echocardiograms were recorded in 154 active athletes (from various sports) and 21 ex-athletes and compared with those in 40 normal control subjects (non-athletes). Diastolic cavity dimension and posterior wall and septal thickness were measured and left ventricular mass and the ratio of posterior wall thickness to cavity radius and of septum to posterior wall thickness calculated. As a group athletes had a significantly increased diastolic cavity dimension, posterior wall and septal thickness, and left ventricular mass. The ratio of posterior wall thickness to cavity radius was distributed as a single continuous variable with a significantly increased mean, and there was no separate subgroup of shot putters or weight lifters with inappropriate hypertrophy. The mean ratio of septum to posterior wall thickness was normal, but there was a wide range of values up to 2.1:1. Ex-athletes had entirely normal left ventricular dimensions and wall thickness. When athletes are categorised by their standard of competition national standard competitors had a significantly increased posterior wall and septal thickness and left ventricular mass compared with university and non-competitive sportsmen. In conclusion, strenuous activity results in left ventricular hypertrophy which is appropriate to the body size of the athlete and the degree of activity but not to its type.