During self-paced exercise, the exercise work rate is regulated by the brain based on the integration of numerous signals from various physiological systems. It has been proposed that the brain regulates the degree of muscle activation and thus exercise intensity specifically to prevent harmful physiological disturbances. It is presently proposed how the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is generated as a result of the numerous afferent signals during exercise and serves as a mediator of any subsequent alterations in skeletal muscle activation levels and exercise intensity. A conceptual model for how the RPE mediates feedforward, anticipatory regulation of exercise performance is proposed, and this model is applied to previously described research studies of exercise in various conditions, including heat, hypoxia and reduced energy substrate availability. Finally, the application of this model to recent novel studies that altered pacing strategies and performance is described utilising an RPE clamp design, central nervous system drugs and the provision of inaccurate duration or distance feedback to exercising athletes.
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Competing interests: None.
Funding: Funding for the original research cited in this review was provided by the Medical Research Council of South Africa, the University of Cape Town Harry Crossley and Nellie Atkinson Staff Research Funds, Discovery Health and the National Research Foundation of South Africa through the THRIP initiative.