A drawback of electrical stimulation for muscle control is that large, fatigable motor units are preferentially recruited before smaller motor units by the lowest-intensity electrical cuff stimulation. This phenomenon limits therapeutic applications because it is precisely the opposite of the normal physiological (orderly) recruitment pattern; therefore, a mechanism to achieve orderly recruitment has been a long-sought goal in physiology, medicine and engineering. Here we demonstrate a technology for reliable orderly recruitment in vivo. We find that under optical control with microbial opsins, recruitment of motor units proceeds in the physiological recruitment sequence, as indicated by multiple independent measures of motor unit recruitment including conduction latency, contraction and relaxation times, stimulation threshold and fatigue. As a result, we observed enhanced performance and reduced fatigue in vivo. These findings point to an unanticipated new modality of neural control with broad implications for nervous system and neuromuscular physiology, disease research and therapeutic innovation.