What causes muscle fatigue and how to recover

Working out is tough, there’s no getting around that, and for some, working out can be extremely uncomfortable, and even borderline painful. People often wonder what causes muscle fatigue and how they can recover, and if you’re one of these individuals then we’ve got you covered. It doesn’t matter whether you lift heavy weights, light weights, whether you perform endurance-based workouts, circuits, Crossfit, or anything else for that matter, if you are engaging in physical exercise then your muscles will take a beating, and they will need to recover.

When we begin exercising, providing we warm up beforehand, our muscles feel loose, they feel flexible, and they feel ready to be pushed to their limits. After we finish training, however, well, that’s a different story altogether. Our muscles feel weak, they feel fatigued, and they feel sore and tender, but why is that, and what can we do to reduce it? Well, it is actually known as DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, and it can leave even the biggest and strongest of people with a great deal of pain and discomfort, and it can actually affect their training and their health in general if they aren’t careful.

In this article we’ll be looking at what causes muscle fatigue, also known as DOMS, and what you can do to help prevent it, and to recover from it in the future.

What causes muscle fatigue?

Before we look at the solutions, it is of course wise to begin by looking at the causes, so we’ll take a look at what it is that causes muscle fatigue in the first place. When we exercise, and especially after we exercise, we find that our muscles begin to feel weak, tired, sore, tender, and even painful in some cases. This is known as muscle fatigue, and it is a perfectly normal physiological process associated with physical exertion. It, however, is not just caused by one factor, as there are several that play a role in it. Generally, experts have found that muscle fatigue is caused by a combination of environmental, nutritional, physical, and biochemical factors.

This means that it could be caused due to a problem with your internal functioning and processing, such as a problem with the CNS, or it could be caused simply by over exerting yourself in the gym, or not nourishing your body with enough nutrients required for it to adequately repair itself.

Take bodybuilding for instance. When we lift weights in the gym, contrary to popular belief, we are not building muscle at all, in fact, we are doing the exact opposite, as we are destroying our muscle tissue by ripping and tearing at the fibres. As you can imagine, this would cause a certain degree of pain and discomfort, which is why we feel sore after we train. The idea is that the body rebuilds the damaged and destroyed muscle fibres, building them even bigger and stronger than they were previously. In order to do that, however, it requires the right nutrients, and it requires adequate amounts of rest as well.

How to recover from muscle fatigue

Now that we’ve looked at what causes muscle fatigue, we’ll now look at what we can do to prevent and to recover from it in the first place. A few tried and tested methods include the following:

  • Get enough rest – If you’re looking to transform your body and really improve your physique, then of course you will be looking to hit the gym like a mad man and train frequently. Frequent training is not a problem, as long as you allow your body enough time to recover. If you’re pushing yourself 6, even 7 days per week, and are engaging in some form of exercise or another, your muscles are constantly being worked, they are constantly being placed under stress, and they simply will not have enough time to recover. Even if you lift weights 4 days per week, if on the other 3, you are playing sports, cycling, or engaging in other forms of exercise, your muscles are still being punished, so ideally you want at least two full days where you engage in less strenuous physical activity. Sleep is also essential so make sure you are getting as close to eight hours a night as possible, as that is when your body will do the majority of its repairing. 
  • Compression clothing – Compression clothing is all the rage at the moment, and contrary to popular belief, it is not just there as a way for people to show off their ‘gains’ either. Compression clothing is basically clothing that compresses the muscle fibres on your body, due to the fact that it is so tight. They are designed to speed up the recovery process by reducing muscle movement to help prevent damage to soft tissues. Not only that, compression clothing also boosts circulation, which allows for more oxygen and nutrients to be carried around the body to the cells via the bloodstream. The more oxygen and nutrients that the muscle cells can absorb, the quicker they will recover. 
  • Foam rollingFoam rollers are absolute godsends for when it comes to how to prevent muscle fatigue, and they literally couldn’t be simpler. They are basically just small tubes of hard foam that you use to massage yourself before and after you exercise. Foam rolling helps to assist with flexibility, it massages the deep tissues and helps to break down scar tissue, and it helps disperse lactic acid, which can cause painful muscle cramps. All of this combined helps to speed up the recovery process and assists with pain reduction, making it a very simple yet highly effective post-workout recovery tool. 
  • Consume a post-workout protein shake – Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue, so if you are exercising and damaging your muscles, then of course you are going to need protein to help them re-grow and re-build themselves. A simple whey protein powder, mixed with water, along with added amino acids to stimulate protein synthesis, and a simple sugar such as dextrose will work an absolute treat. The reason why you need to include a simple sugar like dextrose powder in your protein shake, is the fact that it will cause your insulin levels to spike, which will help to shuttle more of the protein nutrients into your muscles. The more they can absorb, the quicker they will recover, and the more effectively, they will be able to recover. It also makes your shake taste even better as well. 
  • Epsom salt baths – If you’ve ever wondered why so many pro bodybuilders tend to take Epsom salt baths after training legs, you’re about to learn why. Not only will a warm bath help to loosen up the muscles, but the magnesium contained naturally within the salts will also be able to be naturally absorbed through the skin into the body. Magnesium has been found to enhance muscle function and to reduce DOMS after physical exertion. Combine this with the fact that circulation will also be improved thanks to the warm water, and you have a recipe for a fantastic post-workout recovery process. 
  • Caffeine in the morning – As if you needed an excuse to drink coffee in the morning, you now have one, and what’s more, in terms of what causes muscle fatigue and how to reduce muscle fatigue, this beverage is ideal because of its high caffeine content. Caffeine not only stimulates the body and mind, it can also assist with DOMS and with pain management associated with DOMS. Studies have found that caffeine blocks pain receptors in the central nervous system, which basically tells your body that you are in less pain than you actually are. Obviously drinking caffeine in the evening would keep you awake, but first thing in the morning it will have you firing on all cylinders in no time at all. 


  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10810767
  2. http://news.rice.edu/2006/11/07/researchers-at-rice-and-harvard-link-metabolism-to-muscle-fatigue-in-the-body/
  3. http://news.rice.edu/2006/11/07/researchers-at-rice-and-harvard-link-metabolism-to-muscle-fatigue-in-the-body/

Author bio

My name is Reda El, Entrepreneur, fitness fanatic, And also BJJ blue Belt. I've dedicated many years to studying the muscle growth process. I've gathered both my experience and the information I've read throughout these years on my website Shredded Physique.

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