COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), although primarily a disease of the lungs, exhibits secondary systemic manifestations. The skeletal muscles are of particular interest because their function (or dysfunction) not only influences the symptoms that limit exercise, but may contribute directly to poor exercise performance. Furthermore, skeletal muscle weakness is of great clinical importance in COPD as it is recognized to contribute independently to poor health status, increased healthcare utilization and even mortality. The present review describes the current knowledge of the structural and functional abnormalities of skeletal muscles in COPD and the possible aetiological factors. Increasing knowledge of the molecular pathways of muscle wasting will lead to the development of new therapeutic agents and strategies to combat COPD muscle dysfunction.