Sports Medicine

, Volume 44, Issue 6, pp 763–775 | Cite as

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
Review Article


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.


Exercise Intensity Pace Strategy Action Capability Circumstantial Factor Information Processing Approach 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no potential conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin L. M. Smits
    • 1
  • Gert-Jan Pepping
    • 1
    • 2
  • Florentina J. Hettinga
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Human Movement SciencesUniversity Medical Center Groningen, University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.School of Exercise SciencesAustralian Catholic UniversityMelbourne, VICAustralia
  3. 3.Centre of Sport and Exercise Sciences, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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