Connected multi–body systems exhibit notoriously complex behaviour when driven by external and internal forces and torques. The problem of reconstructing the internal forces and/or torques from the movements and known external forces is called the ‘inverse dynamics problem’, whereas calculating motion from known internal forces and/or torques and resulting reaction forces is called the ‘forward dynamics problem’. When stepping forward to cross the street, people use muscle forces that generate angular accelerations of their body segments and, by virtue of reaction forces from the street, a forward acceleration of the centre of mass of their body. Inverse dynamics calculations applied to a set of motion data from such an event can teach us how temporal patterns of joint torques were responsible for the observed motion. In forward dynamics calculations we may attempt to create motion from such temporal patterns, which is extremely difficult, because of the complex mechanical linkage along the chains forming the multi–body system.
To understand, predict and sometimes control multi–body systems, we may want to have mathematical expressions for them. The Newton–Euler, Lagrangian and Featherstone approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. The simulation of collisions and the inclusion of muscle forces or other internal forces are discussed. Also, the possibility to perform a mixed inverse and forward dynamics calculation are dealt with. The use and limitations of these approaches form the conclusion.