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Muscle mechanical work is an important biomechanical quantity in human movement analyses and has been estimated using different quantities including external, internal and joint work. The goal of this study was to investigate the relationships between these traditionally used estimates of mechanical work in human walking and to assess whether they can be used as accurate estimates of musculotendon and/or muscle fiber work. A muscle-actuated forward dynamics walking simulation was generated to quantify each of the mechanical work measures. Total joint work (i.e. the time integral of absolute joint power over a full gait cycle) was found to underestimate total musculotendon work due to agonist–antagonist co-contractions, despite the effect of biarticular muscle work and passive joint work, which acted to decrease the underestimation. We did find that when the net passive joint work over the gait cycle is negligible, net joint work (i.e. the time integral of net joint power) was comparable to the net musculotendon work (and net muscle fiber work because net tendon work is zero over a complete gait cycle). Thus, during walking conditions when passive joint work is negligible, net joint work may be used as an estimate of net muscle work. Neither total external nor total internal work (nor their sum) provided a reasonable estimate of total musculotendon work. We conclude that joint work is limited in its ability to estimate musculotendon work, and that external and internal work should not be used as an estimation of musculotendon work.

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This document was originally published by Company of Biologists in Journal of Experimental Biology ( Copyright restrictions may apply. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.023267