Does this story sound familiar?
You realize you’re out of shape. You sign up to the local gym and get ready to train hard. On the first day of your new fitness regimen, you run on the treadmill until you feel exhausted. Afterwards, your legs feel as though they’ve turned to jelly. You doubt you’ll ever be able to walk again. The next day, your muscles are so sore you can barely move.

Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer in the name of getting it! In this guide, you’ll learn how to treat and prevent muscle fatigue.

What is muscle fatigue?

When your muscles start feeling tired and weak during exercise or general exertion, you are experiencing muscle fatigue. Runners experiencing sudden muscle fatigue during the middle of a run often say that they have “hit the wall.” Anyone can experience it, regardless of their fitness level or sport.

If one or more of your muscles are fatigued, they won’t work properly even when you change your action. For instance, if you are swimming and experience fatigue in your arms, changing your stroke won’t help.

What causes muscle fatigue?

When you exercise, your muscles need a steady supply of oxygen to function. During the initial phases of a workout, the muscle cells will be “fed” with oxygen. This is known as aerobic respiration. It is a cell’s default mode of operation.

However, if you work out at a high intensity, your cells will burn through their immediate oxygen supply. They will start to rely on anaerobic rather than aerobic respiration, which produces lactic acid. Lactic acid is then converted to lactate, which in turn causes soreness and fatigue.

Muscles also need a steady supply of key nutrients and water to work properly. If you have a poor diet or don’t drink enough water, your performance will suffer. Failing to stretch before and after a workout also increases your risk of injury. This is because muscles need to “warm up” before strenuous activity. Subjecting them to sudden activity leads to small muscle tears.

How to make your muscles feel better

Here’s a simple six-step process you can use to recover from muscle fatigue after exercise:

1. Stretch all your major muscle groups: Stretching promotes good blood flow, flexibility, and the dispersal of lactate. Breathe deeply to maximize your oxygen intake. Be sure to stretch both sides of your body.

2. Ensure you are properly hydrated: Water and sports drinks high in electrolytes help your muscles relax and heal. Registered dietitian Renee Melton advises that dehydration leads to cramps, soreness, and dizziness. She recommends drinking 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes during a strenuous workout. You may need even more in hot conditions.

3. Eat a muscle-friendly meal or snack shortly after your workout: Foods containing branched-chain amino acids prevent muscle damage. These amino acids are found in legumes, dairy products, and meat.

4. Rest your muscles for at least 24 hours: Fatigue is usually a warning sign that you have pushed your body too far. To reduce further damage, give your muscles a chance to recover before your next workout.

5. Use heat and ice: Certified personal trainer Ashley Farley advises using icepacks during the first 48 hours after exercise, then switching to hot compresses. Ice is soothing, and heat encourages muscle fibers to relax.

6. Do low-impact exercise: After resting your muscles, you can then use light exercise until they have recovered completely. Yoga, and walking are good choices.

How massage can help with muscle fatigue

Getting a massage can also help reduce inflammation and improve flexibility. Massaging cells decreases the number of cytokines – compounds that cause inflammation – and reduce pain. Professor of medicine Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky advises that massage also stimulates the cells’ mitochondria, which in turn produce energy. This speeds up muscle recovery time.

Basic sports massage is relatively easy to learn from reputable books and YouTube sources. Ask a relative or friend to give you a massage if possible. However, if you can afford it, visit a professional masseuse for better results. You can also massage yourself using foam rollers which are widely available from sports shops.

In the video below, you can learn a simple upper arm massage technique you can use on yourself:

What can you do to prevent muscle fatigue?

According to the Hospital for Special Surgery New York, you can stop muscle fatigue by following these steps:

1. Make sure you eat approximately two hours prior to working out and eat within an hour afterwards.

2. Be sure to stay hydrated at all times.

3. Never skip your warmups or post-workout stretches: You should stretch for at least 5-10 minutes before and after exercise. Allow yourself to catch your breath between sets.

4. Build your endurance slowly: It can be tempting to push yourself hard during a workout, but you risk damaging your muscles and overtraining. Set yourself sensible goals. If you aren’t sure how to do this, consult a personal trainer.

If you can improve your aerobic endurance, you can delay anaerobic respiration and the buildup of lactic acid: There are two ways to improve this endurance. You can try interval training, which consists of alternating periods of high and low-intensity aerobic activity. For example, if you are a runner, you might run at high then low speed for three minutes per spurt.

5. Check your diet: In order to work properly, your muscles need a sufficient supply of calcium, magnesium, and potassium. If you are not eating a balanced diet, take a daily supplement. Good nutrition improves circulation, decreases lactate buildup, and promotes the production of healthy blood cells.

If your muscles seem unusually tired or sore, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor for a checkup. Extreme fatigue may be a sign of an underlying health condition such as fibromyalgia or a vitamin deficiency. However, for most people, muscle fatigue is just a nuisance. Fortunately, you can learn how to overcome it and boost your athletic performance with just a few simple steps.


Carmen is an entrepreneur and content marketer. In a former life, as a corporate business executive, she relied on yoga, reflexology and other alternative practices to fight stress, anxiety and find balance. She’s on a mission to build healthy habits for a balanced, healthy life, connecting body, mind and spirit.