The pain perception of 30 competitive swimmers was studied using experimentally induced ischaemic pain. The pain thresholds and tolerances of this group were compared with those of 30 club swimmers and 26 non-competitive athletes. While pain thresholds showed little difference between the groups, pain tolerances were considerably different. Pain tolerances of the competitive swimmers varied according to the stage of the training season. The relation between ischaemic pain and that experienced during swimming training was studied using a pain questionnaire composed of several systematically structured verbal categories. Both types of pain were classified along similar dimensions, and it was concluded that the experimentally demonstrated pain tolerances could be generalized to the normal pain perception of the subjects. The origins of the enhanced pain tolerances of the competitive swimmers would seem to lie in their systematic exposure to brief periods of intense pain. These data could have relevance for the treatment of chronic pain in certain diseases.