Physical training is associated with a reduction of intrinsic sinoatrial activity; the present study examined the role of the parasympathetic nervous system in this reduction. Six groups of rats were studied for 10 weeks: inactive control; treadmill exercised; parasympathetic receptor blockade with atropine; exercise plus atropine; parasympathetic receptor stimulation with carbachol; and exercise plus carbachol. In vivo ISF (cardiac frequency 20 min after injection of propranolol and atropine) was measured at 3-week intervals. At the end of 10 weeks the right atrium was excised, in vitro measurements were made of ISF, and chronotropic dose–response curves to acetylcholine and norepinephrine were established. In vivo, ISF was reduced with time, the greatest reduction being found in the exercise plus atropine group; the treadmill-exercised and the atropine-treated groups also had a greater reduction than the control group. In vitro, no differences were observed in acetylcholine responses. The maximum norepinephrine chronotropic response was reduced in the treadmill-exercised and the exercise plus atropine groups. The maximum norepinephrine-induced frequency correlated with the in vitro ISF (r = 0.75). Thus, ISF was reduced with training, but this effect was independent of parasympathetic activity. The properties of the sinoatrial node which set ISF also influenced the maximum norepinephrine response.