Pacing behaviour development and acquisition: a systematic review

Stein Gerrit Paul Menting, Andrew Mark Edwards, Florentina Hettinga*, Marije Titia Elferink-Gemser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Background: the goal-directed decision-making process of effort distribution (i.e. pacing) allows individuals to efficiently use energy resources as well as to manage the impact of fatigue on performance during exercise. Given the shared characteristics between pacing behaviour and other skilled behaviour, it was hypothesized that pacing behaviour would adhere to the same processes associated with skill acquisition and development.

Methods: the Pubmed, Web of Science and PsychINFO databases between January 1995 and 2022 were searched for articles relating to the pacing behaviour of individuals 1) younger than 18 years of age, or 2) repeatedly performing the same exercise task, or 3) with different levels of experience.

Results: The search resulted in 64 articles reporting on the effect of age (n=33), repeated task exposure (n=29) or differing levels of experience (n=13) on pacing behaviour. Empirical evidence identifies the development of pacing behaviour starts during childhood (~10 years old) and continues throughout adolescence. This development is characterized by an increasingly better fit to the task demands, encompassing the task characteristics (e.g. duration) and environment factors (e.g. opponents). Gaining task experience leads to an increased capability to attain a predetermined pace and results in pacing behaviour that better fits task demands.

Conclusions: Similar to skilled behaviour, physical maturation and cognitive development likely drive the development of pacing behaviour. Pacing behaviour follows established processes of skill acquisition, as repeated task execution improves the match between stimuli (e.g. task demands and afferent signals) and actions (i.e. continuing, increasing or decreasing the exerted effort) with the resulting exercise task performance. Furthermore, with increased task experience attentional capacity is freed for secondary tasks (e.g. incorporating opponents) and the goal selection is changed from achieving task completion to optimizing task performance. As the development and acquisition of pacing resemble that of other skills, established concepts in the literature (e.g. intervention induced variability and augmented feedback) could enrich pacing research and be the basis for practical applications in physical education, healthcare, and sports.
Original languageEnglish
Article number143
Number of pages17
JournalSports Medicine - Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2022


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