Trade-offs between reproduction and survival are important determinants of life-history characteristics of lizards. Organisms cannot increase the allocation of limited resources to reproduction without diverting a proportional amount of energy from another trait. Locomotor performance is an ecologically relevant trait that potentially influences survival by affecting the ability to escape from predators. Most studies have used female lizards as subjects because pregnancy is known to reduce their locomotor abilities, whereas little is known on costs of reproduction in males. In this study we suggest that in males of the lizard Lacerta monticola reproductive investment in morphological traits that confer dominance (i.e. head size) might lead to a low probability of survival by decreasing investment in other traits that affect locomotor performance (i.e. limb symmetry). We staged laboratory agonistic encounters between males and measured their morphology and burst speed on a race track to examine possible relationships between morphology, social dominance and locomotor capacity. Our results indicate that social dominance was positively related to relative head height, and that escape speed was negatively related to levels of fluctuating asymmetry in femur length, but also negatively related to relative head height. Males with greater relative head height also had more asymmetrical femurs, thus dominant males suffered a decrease in locomotor performance. Males with higher heads tend to dominate male–male interactions and hence may gain access to reproductive females, thus increasing their current reproduction success. However, this might occur at the expense of future survivorship mediated by a decrease in escape speed. Therefore, in male L. monticola there might be a trade-off between current reproductive success and survival. © 2002 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2002; 77, 201–209.