--- - |2+ Key points The vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) responses to acute submaximal exercise and training effects in patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) were investigated. Six patients and six healthy matched controls performed knee‐extensor exercise (KE) at 50% of maximum work rate before and after (only patients) KE training. Muscle biopsies were taken to assess skeletal muscle structure and the angiogenic response. Before training, during this submaximal KE exercise, patients with HFrEF exhibited higher leg vascular resistance and greater noradrenaline spillover. Skeletal muscle structure and VEGF response were generally not different between groups. Following training, resistance was no longer elevated and noradrenaline spillover was curtailed in the patients. Although, in the trained state, VEGF did not respond to acute exercise, capillarity was augmented. Muscle fibre cross‐sectional area and percentage area of type I fibres increased and mitochondrial volume density exceeded that of controls. Structural/functional plasticity and appropriate angiogenic signalling were observed in skeletal muscle of patients with HFrEF. Abstract This study examined the response to acute submaximal exercise and the effect of training in patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF). The acute angiogenic response to submaximal exercise in HFrEF after small muscle mass training is debated. The direct Fick method, with vascular pressures, was performed across the leg during knee‐extensor exercise (KE) at 50% of maximum work rate (WRmax) in patients (n = 6) and controls (n = 6) and then after KE training in patients. Muscle biopsies facilitated the assessment of skeletal muscle structure and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA levels. Prior to training, HFrEF exhibited significantly higher leg vascular resistance (LVR) (≈15%) and significantly greater noradrenaline spillover (≈385%). Apart from mitochondrial volume density, which was significantly lower (≈22%) in HFrEF, initial skeletal muscle structure, including capillarity, was not different between groups. Resting VEGF mRNA levels, and the increase with exercise, was not different between patients and controls. Following training, LVR was no longer elevated and noradrenaline spillover was curtailed. Skeletal muscle capillarity increased with training, as assessed by capillary‐to‐fibre ratio (≈13%) and number of capillaries around a fibre (NCAF) (≈19%). VEGF mRNA was now not significantly increased by acute exercise. Muscle fibre cross‐sectional area and percentage area of type I fibres both increased significantly with training (≈18% and ≈21%, respectively), while the percentage area of type II fibres fell significantly (≈11%), and mitochondrial volume density now exceeded that of controls. These data reveal structural and functional plasticity and appropriate angiogenic signalling in skeletal muscle of HFrEF patients. - 'The Journal of Physiology, Volume 596, Issue 21, Page 5149-5161, 1 November 2018. '