The physiological flux of oxygen is extreme in exercising skeletal muscle. Hypoxia is thus a critical parameter in muscle function, influencing production of ATP, utilization of energy-producing substrates, and manufacture of exhaustion-inducing metabolites. Glycolysis is the central source of anaerobic energy in animals, and this metabolic pathway is regulated under low-oxygen conditions by the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor 1alpha (HIF-1alpha). To determine the role of HIF-1alpha in regulating skeletal muscle function, we tissue-specifically deleted the gene encoding the factor in skeletal muscle. Significant exercise-induced changes in expression of genes are decreased or absent in the skeletal-muscle HIF-1alpha knockout mice (HIF-1alpha KOs); changes in activities of glycolytic enzymes are seen as well. There is an increase in activity of rate-limiting enzymes of the mitochondria in the muscles of HIF-1alpha KOs, indicating that the citric acid cycle and increased fatty acid oxidation may be compensating for decreased flow through the glycolytic pathway. This is corroborated by a finding of no significant decreases in muscle ATP, but significantly decreased amounts of lactate in the serum of exercising HIF-1alpha KOs. This metabolic shift away from glycolysis and toward oxidation has the consequence of increasing exercise times in the HIF-1alpha KOs. However, repeated exercise trials give rise to extensive muscle damage in HIF-1alpha KOs, ultimately resulting in greatly reduced exercise times relative to wild-type animals. The muscle damage seen is similar to that detected in humans in diseases caused by deficiencies in skeletal muscle glycogenolysis and glycolysis. Thus, these results demonstrate an important role for the HIF-1 pathway in the metabolic control of muscle function.