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The regulation of the pacing strategy remains poorly understood, because much of classic physiology has focused on the factors that ultimately limit, rather than regulate, exercise performance. When exercise is self-paced and work rate is free to vary in response to external and internal physiological cues, then a complex system is proposed to be responsible for alterations in exercise intensity, possibly through altered activation of skeletal muscle motor units. The present review evaluates the evidence for such a complex system by investigating studies in which interventions such as elevated temperature, altered oxygen content of the air, reduced fuel availability and misinformation about distance covered have resulted in alterations to the pacing strategy. The review further investigates how such a pacing strategy might be regulated for optimal performance, while ensuring that irreversible physiological damage is not incurred.