Obesity can cause a decline in contractile function of skeletal muscle, thereby reducing mobility and promoting obesity-associated health risks. We reviewed the literature to establish the current state-of-knowledge of how obesity affects skeletal muscle contraction and relaxation. At a cellular level, the dominant effects of obesity are disrupted calcium signalling and 5′-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activity. As a result, there is a shift from slow to fast muscle fibre types. Decreased AMPK activity promotes the class II histone deacetylase (HDAC)-mediated inhibition of the myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2). MEF2 promotes slow fibre type expression, and its activity is stimulated by the calcium-dependent phosphatase calcineurin. Obesity-induced attenuation of calcium signalling via its effects on calcineurin, as well as on adiponectin and actinin affects excitation–contraction coupling and excitation–transcription coupling in the myocyte. These molecular changes affect muscle contractile function and phenotype, and thereby in vivo and in vitro muscle performance. In vivo, obesity can increase the absolute force and power produced by increasing the demand on weight-supporting muscle. However, when normalised to body mass, muscle performance of obese individuals is reduced. Isolated muscle preparations show that obesity often leads to a decrease in force produced per muscle cross-sectional area, and power produced per muscle mass. Obesity and ageing have similar physiological consequences. The synergistic effects of obesity and ageing on muscle function may exacerbate morbidity and mortality. Important future research directions include determining: the relationship between time course of weight gain and changes in muscle function; the relative effects of weight gain and high-fat diet feeding per se; the effects of obesity on muscle function during ageing; and if the effects of obesity on muscle function are reversible.