The Anatomy of the Referee

May 24, 2017

The referee is an important aspect of any game; because, put simply, without one no game at any level can take place. Despite this, referees get little attention in terms of how they can maintain match fitness (people forget they do a hell of a lot of running) and remain in great condition so to match the fast pace of rugby matches, from elite level down to the grassroots of the sport.

Referees need to maintain optimum fitness levels to ensure they are in the right place at the right time to make those all-important calls.

Over the past few months the RFU has documented the pathway of their referees. A key area of focus of the RFU's match officials’ academy has been ensuring referees are in peak physical condition.

So what key aspects make up a referee in terms on physical attributes?

During a match, a referee will be stationary, walk, Jog and sprint as well as moving in directions such as laterally, forwards and backwards.

Explosive strength is necessary to keep up with those breakaway tries, as well as muscle endurance. Mental and physical stamina are vital to relinquish fatigue in order to keep going for a full 80 minutes and muscle flexibility is also key to reduce the risk of injury.

Explosive strength

Explosive resistance exercises such as barbell squats, plyometric squats, lunges, power cleans, deadlifts and bench press are great. Use a rep range of 6-10 and perform these alongside a sprint session.


Change of direction exercises such as speed ladder sessions, agility runs and plyometric work will enhance your suppleness.


Long distance runs, light weights with high reps performing isolation/ bodyweight exercises such as bicep curls, triceps extensions press ups, leg extension and leg curl.

Add in some farklet (Swedish term meaning ‘speed play’) training to diversify your workouts:

  • Mark out half a pitch using the try line, 2 touch lines and halfway line.
  • Jog along the try line at 50% effort, sprint the first touchline, jog the half way line at 30% effort and then walk the other touchline for an active rest.
  • As your fitness improves you can play around the intensity. This type of training is great as it directly resembles a referee’s movements within a game!

See below an example training split for the average grassroots referee up to semi-professional level:

Monday – Endurance resistance session followed by long distance run/swim

Tuesday – Agility ladder/ plyometric and flexibilty training session

Wednesday – Explosive session followed by 30 metre sprints x 10 with walk back recovery.

Thursday – Bodyweight/ flexibility workout followed by 20 minutes farklet training

Friday – Recovery

Saturday/Sunday: Game & recovery 

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