The role of information processing between the brain and peripheral physiological systems in pacing and perception of effort

Sports Med. 2006;36(8):705-22. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200636080-00006.


This article examines how pacing strategies during exercise are controlled by information processing between the brain and peripheral physiological systems. It is suggested that, although several different pacing strategies can be used by athletes for events of different distance or duration, the underlying principle of how these different overall pacing strategies are controlled is similar. Perhaps the most important factor allowing the establishment of a pacing strategy is knowledge of the endpoint of a particular event. The brain centre controlling pace incorporates knowledge of the endpoint into an algorithm, together with memory of prior events of similar distance or duration, and knowledge of external (environmental) and internal (metabolic) conditions to set a particular optimal pacing strategy for a particular exercise bout. It is proposed that an internal clock, which appears to use scalar rather than absolute time scales, is used by the brain to generate knowledge of the duration or distance still to be covered, so that power output and metabolic rate can be altered appropriately throughout an event of a particular duration or distance. Although the initial pace is set at the beginning of an event in a feedforward manner, no event or internal physiological state will be identical to what has occurred previously. Therefore, continuous adjustments to the power output in the context of the overall pacing strategy occur throughout the exercise bout using feedback information from internal and external receptors. These continuous adjustments in power output require a specific length of time for afferent information to be assessed by the brain's pace control algorithm, and for efferent neural commands to be generated, and we suggest that it is this time lag that crates the fluctuations in power output that occur during an exercise bout. These non-monotonic changes in power output during exercise, associated with information processing between the brain and peripheral physiological systems, are crucial to maintain the overall pacing strategy chosen by the brain algorithm of each athlete at the start of the exercise bout.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Biofeedback, Psychology
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Perception*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiology
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Sports