Intravenous fluid administration is often used in critical care with the goal of improving haemodynamics and consequently tissue perfusion and oxygen delivery. While inotropic and vasoactive drugs are often necessary to correct haemodynamic instability, resuscitation usually begins with fluid therapy. As fluid challenge can result in clinical deterioration, the ability to predict haemodynamic response is desirable. In this way it might be possible to avoid unnecessary volume replacement in critically ill patients. Cardiac preload is a concept that accounts for the relationship between ventricular filling and stroke volume. It has been challenging to apply this concept to clinical practice. For this reason, the study of fluid responsiveness is of increasing research and clinical interest. The clinical application of predicting fluid responsiveness requires an understanding of relevant physiological principles. Furthermore, an improved understanding of these principles should assist the clinician in appraising published data, which has been characterised by significant methodological differences. This review aims to assist the clinician by detailing the physiological principles that underlie the prediction of fluid responsiveness in the critically ill. In addition, the potential importance of methodological differences in the cutrent literature will be considered.