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Materials used in many branches of engineering are of low molecular weight and not flexible. As we develop more sophisticated engineering devices one can look to nature for inspiration and advocate the use of high molecular weight flexible materials. Conducting polymer actuators will soon be used in applications where traditional low molecular weight actuator systems are incapable of mimicking the functionality provided by nature's muscle. To incorporate conducting polymer actuators into engineering systems it is of high importance to not only model and predict the behavior of these actuators but also understand the connection of material properties to performance. In this paper, the importance of fundamental actuation mechanisms and the fundamental material properties of conducting polymer muscles such as ionic diffusion rate, electrochemical operating window, strain to charge ratio, ratio of charge carried by positive versus negative ions, and salt draining are discussed and their effect on performance is demonstrated. The relevance of engineered geometry to the performance of conducting polymer muscles is also shown. Our understanding of what limits the performance of existing conducting polymers actuators provides directions for the improvement of the next generation of conducting polymer actuators.