Axial swimming in fish varies across a range of body forms and swimming modes. Swimming by eels, tunas, mackerels, scup, rainbow trout and bass span this range from high curvature anguilliform swimmers to rigid body thunniform swimmers. Recent work on these and other species has elucidated an impressive array of solutions to the problem of how to use the red (aerobic, slow-twitch) muscle to power steady or sustained swimming. This review will use a comparative approach to understand the generalities of aerobic muscle function during steady swimming in fish and determine possible rules for the relationships between muscle contractile kinetics, in vivo muscle activity and power output during swimming. Beyond an exploration of the diversity in muscle activity and swimming kinematics, I suggest that analysis of the molecular basis for longitudinal variations in muscle function is needed to complement morphological and physiological research on fish muscle. This will permit both a general understanding of the integrative function of the fish myotome and, perhaps, predictive tools for muscle activity and swimming performance in fish.