The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that the properties of the mechanical system, especially muscle elasticity and limb mass, to a large degree determine force output and movement. This makes the control demands of the central nervous system simpler and more robust. In human triceps surae, a muscle with short fibres and a long tendon, the time courses of the total muscle+tendon length and of the length of the contractile component (CC) alone in running are completely different. The muscle tendon complex shows first an eccentric phase with negative work, followed by a concentric phase. The CC, on the other hand, is concentric all the time. Moreover, the work that is done, is done at a speed that guarantees a high energetic efficiency. It is argued that this high efficiency is an in-built property of the muscle mechanics for muscles with a compliant tendon and a low nu(max). When a muscle, or a set of muscles, moves a mass, and the duration of the action is short with respect to the isometric time constant of the muscle, we may call it an 'elastic bounce contraction'. In such a case the mass-spring interaction largely determines the time course of the force, and the efficiency of muscle contraction is most of the time close to optimum. In a similar way, whole limbs can be modelled as springs, with a stiffness that can be modulated by flexing the joints more or less. The motor control task of the central nervous system is simple for such elastic bounce contractions: a block-like activation is sufficient, in which timing is critical, but activation level is not. It seems possible that a whole class of actions can be generated by an identical timing sequence, with only a modulation in activation amplitude. An example is walking or running at different speeds. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.