Strenuous exercise activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Several reports showed that physical training is associated with a decreased efficiency of the feedback control of HPA axis. The aims of the present study were: 1) to evaluate the differences in the mechanical, hormonal, and lactate responses to a high-intensity isokinetic exercise among different groups of competitive athletes (CA, no.=20) of power and endurance disciplines and sedentary controls (SED, no.=10); 2) to determine the effects of the training status on the HPA axis responsiveness following exercise, as indirectly evaluated by the rates of ACTH, cortisol, and DHEA recovery after exercise. CA and SED fulfilled eight sets of twenty concentric contractions of the knee extensors at 180 degrees/sec angular velocity throughout a constant range of motion (100 degrees). There was a rest period of 30 sec between each set and a 3-min rest period between the two legs. Before, immediately after the isokinetic exercise and at different times in the subsequent 120 min of recovery, blood and saliva were sampled to determine plasma ACTH, salivary cortisol, serum DHEA, and serum lactate concentrations. CA showed a higher cortisol response to exercise than SED, whereas no differences were found in the responses of ACTH, DHEA and lactate. In the athlete group the exercise-induced increases of ACTH, cortisol, and lactate were higher in power athletes with respect to endurance athletes. No differences were observed between athletes and SED in the rates of hormonal recovery after exercise: this finding does not support the concept that a reduced feedback control of HPA axis can represent a feature of trained individuals.