Pacing and decision making in sport and exercise: The roles of perception and action in the regulation of exercise intensity

Benjamin L.M. Smits, Gert Jan Pepping, Florentina J. Hettinga*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

176 Citations (Scopus)


In pursuit of optimal performance, athletes and physical exercisers alike have to make decisions about how and when to invest their energy. The process of pacing has been associated with the goal-directed regulation of exercise intensity across an exercise bout. The current review explores divergent views on understanding underlying mechanisms of decision making in pacing. Current pacing literature provides a wide range of aspects that might be involved in the determination of an athlete's pacing strategy, but lacks in explaining how perception and action are coupled in establishing behaviour. In contrast, decision-making literature rooted in the understanding that perception and action are coupled provides refreshing perspectives on explaining the mechanisms that underlie natural interactive behaviour. Contrary to the assumption of behaviour that is managed by a higher-order governor that passively constructs internal representations of the world, an ecological approach is considered. According to this approach, knowledge is rooted in the direct experience of meaningful environmental objects and events in individual environmental processes. To assist a neuropsychological explanation of decision making in exercise regulation, the relevance of the affordance competition hypothesis is explored. By considering pacing as a behavioural expression of continuous decision making, new insights on underlying mechanisms in pacing and optimal performance can be developed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-775
Number of pages13
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date5 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


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