When a fish swims in water, muscle contraction, controlled by the nervous system, interacts with the body tissues and the surrounding fluid to yield the observed movement pattern of the body. A continuous dynamic beam model describing the bending moment balance on the body for such an interaction during swimming has been established. In the model a linear visco–elastic assumption is made for the passive behaviour of internal tissues, skin and backbone, and the unsteady fluid force acting on the swimming body is calculated by the 3D waving plate theory. The body bending moment distribution due to the various components, in isolation and acting together, is analysed. The analysis is based on the saithe (Pollachius virens), a carangiform swimmer. The fluid reaction needs a bending moment of increasing amplitude towards the tail and near–standing wave behaviour on the rear–half of the body. The inertial movement of the fish results from a wave of bending moment with increasing amplitude along the body and a higher propagation speed than that of body bending. In particular, the fluid reaction, mainly designed for propulsion, can provide a considerable force to balance the local momentum change of the body and thereby reduce the power required from the muscle. The wave of passive visco–elastic bending moment, with an amplitude distribution peaking a little before the mid–point of the fish, travels with a speed close to that of body bending. The calculated muscle bending moment from the whole dynamic system has a wave speed almost the same as that observed for EMG–onset and a starting instant close to that of muscle activation, suggesting a consistent matching between the muscle activation pattern and the dynamic response of the system in steady swimming. A faster wave of muscle activation, with a variable phase relation between the strain and activation cycle, appears to be designed to fit the fluid reaction and, to a lesser extent, the body inertia, and is limited by the passive internal tissues. Higher active stress is required from caudal muscle, as predicted from experimental studies on fish muscle. In general, the active force development by muscle does not coincide with the propulsive force generation on the tail. The stiffer backbone may play a role in transmitting force and deformation to maintain and adjust the movement of the body and tail in water.