In ecomorphological and ecophysiological studies, locomotor performance is often considered to be an intermediate step between the form of an organism and its environment. We examined this premise by measuring morphology, physiology and circular track endurance in the closely related group of Australian varanid lizards. Body size, body mass and relative body proportions were poor indicators of endurance. Body mass was not correlated with endurance and size-free lower forelimb length had only a weak relationship with endurance. Instead, maximal metabolic rate was positively correlated with endurance capacity in varanids. A comparison of varanids with other groups of lizards supported this result as varanids showed both elevated maximal metabolic rate and elevated endurance scores when compared with similar sized non-varanid lizards. There was support for a strong association between endurance with foraging mode and climate. Varanid species with higher endurance tended to be widely foraging and from xeric climates, while sit-and-wait and mesic species showed reduced endurance. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 97, 664–676.