A mechanical equilibrium is a state in which a momentum coordinate of a particle, rigid body, or dynamical system is conserved. Usually this refers to linear momentum. For instance, a linear mechanical equilibrium would be a state in which the linear momentum of the system is conserved as the net force on the object is zero. In the specific case that the linear momentum is zero and conserved, the system can be said to be in a static equilibrium although for any system in which the linear momentum is conserved, it is possible to shift to a non-inertial reference frame that is stationary with respect to the object.
In a rotational mechanical equilibrium the angular momentum of the object is conserved and the net torque is zero. More generally in conservative systems, equilibrium is established at a point in configuration space where the gradient with respect to the generalized coordinates of the potential energy is zero.
An important property of systems at mechanical equilibrium is their stability. In the terminology of elementary calculus, a system at mechanical equilibrium is at a critical point in potential energy where the first derivative is zero. To determine whether or not the system is stable or unstable, we apply the second derivative test:
When considering more than one dimension, it is possible to get different results in different directions, for example stability with respect to displacements in the x-direction but instability in the y-direction, a case known as a saddle point. Generally an equilibrium is only referred to as stable if it is stable in all directions.
The special case of mechanical equilibrium of a stationary object is static equilibrium. A paperweight on a desk would be in static equilibrium. The minimal number of static equilibria of homogeneous, convex bodies (when resting under gravity on a horizontal surface) is of special interest. In the planar case, the minimal number is 4, while in three dimensions one can build an object with just one stable and one unstable balance point, this is called gomboc. A child sliding down a slide at constant speed would be in mechanical equilibrium, but not in static equilibrium (in the reference frame of the slide).
An example of mechanical equilibrium is a person trying to press a spring. He or she can push it up to a point after which it reaches a state where the force trying to compress it and the resistive force from the spring are equal, so the person cannot further press it. At this state the system will be in mechanical equilibrium. When the pressing force is removed the spring attains its original state.