Muscles Feel Like Jelly After a Workout

If you've ever had a really intense workout, you may have experienced extreme weakness or fatigue in your muscles afterward. Maybe a really tough arm workout made it hard for you to lift your arms to wash your hair when you got home from the gym. Or perhaps a few sets of heavy barbell squats left your legs feeling weak and sore days later. These types of muscle fatigue, which sometimes cause your muscles to feel like "jelly," are normal and have two distinct causes.

Lactic Acid Buildup

If the sensation of "jelly muscles" occurs during or right after a workout, the cause is probably lactic acid buildup. During anaerobic exercise, energy is produced through a process caused glycolysis. The product of glycolysis is a substance called pyruvate. When pyruvate is unable to be utilized for further energy because of inadequate oxygen, it is converted into lactate. This causes increased acidity in muscle cells which causes pain and weakness. This response is actually a defense mechanism of the body to encourage you to stop performing an activity that could injure you.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

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If you experience "jelly muscles" 24 to 72 hours after exercise, the culprit is most likely Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. DOMS is a side effect of the repair process that occurs after muscles have been damaged during intense workouts. The symptoms of DOMS usually last three to five days. In addition to "jelly muscles," you may also experience swelling, stiffness, tenderness and a reduction in strength.


Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to prevent the effects of lactic acid buildup. Ingestion of sodium bicarbonate or caffeine may ease the symptoms during exercise. The most effective management of lactic acid side effects are the endorphins your body naturally produces in response to exercise, helping you continue through the weakness or pain if you choose. The best way to prevent DOMS is to ease into a program and allow your body to adapt. You should also allow your muscles three to five days to fully recover before training them again. Warming up and stretching provide additional prevention.

Precautions and Tips

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Consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. While muscle fatigue is normal, it's important to listen to your body's cues. If the weakness during a workout is accompanied by pain beyond the normal burning sensation, you should stop. If you experience debilitating pain, major swelling of limbs or darkened urine that you believe is due to DOMS, seek medical attention.