1. In general, cardiac hypertrophy (an increase in heart mass) is a poor prognostic sign. Cardiac enlargement is a characteristic of most forms of heart failure. Cardiac hypertrophy that occurs in athletes (physiological hypertrophy) is a notable exception. 2. Physiological cardiac hypertrophy in response to exercise training differs in its structural and molecular profile to pathological hypertrophy associated with pressure or volume overload in disease. Physiological hypertrophy is characterized by normal organization of cardiac structure and normal or enhanced cardiac function, whereas pathological hypertrophy is commonly associated with upregulation of fetal genes, fibrosis, cardiac dysfunction and increased mortality. 3. It is now clear that several signalling molecules play unique roles in the regulation of pathological and physiological cardiac hypertrophy. 4. The present review discusses the possibility of targeting cardioprotective signalling pathways and genes activated in the athlete's heart to treat or prevent heart failure.