Metabolic fatigue is a characteristic muscle response to intense exercise that has outstripped the rate of ATP replacement. The accumulation of metabolic by-products, namely hydrogen ions and diprotonated phosphate, interferes with actin-myosin interaction, effectively preserving muscle ATP levels by preventing further ATP hydrolysis. Muscle force and metabolite concentrations return to normal in about 5 minutes. Less intense exercise causes a more subtle, non-metabolic fatigue due to a still-undefined disturbance of excitation-contraction coupling, which can last for several hours. In this type of fatigue, greater effort is required to generate submaximal forces. Endurance exercise is mainly limited by the size of muscle glycogen stores and how efficiently they are used. Endurance training permits an athlete to work aerobically at high rates, consuming a mixture of lipid and carbohydrate fuels. When muscle glycogen is used up, exercise can only continue at the relatively low rate supportable by lipid metabolism. Anaerobic exercise is also limited by subjective factors such as dyspnoea and muscle pain, which have objective determinants. Extremely prolonged exercise can lead to general collapse because of dehydration, hyperthermia, or hypoglycaemia. None of these factors explains the phenomenon of asthenia, a subjective sense of exhaustion that produces no objective impairment of physical performance. The metabolic myopathies are experiments of nature that promise to shed new light on the biochemical basis of muscle fatigue. This will require quantitative studies of the kind provided by topical magnetic resonance spectroscopy, correlating physiology and metabolism in vivo.