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Rugby Union at both elite (professional) and sub-elite (Energia AIL) level has shown an increase in the physical capacity and performance of the players in recent years.

This development has resulted in players spending more time following structured athletic performance programs in order to excel at their respective level of competition and in their individual positions.

As with players, there is now an increased expectation on referees to possess a high level of physical ability in order to perform at their best.

In fact, as in most team sports the ability of the referee to maintain composure and think critically throughout a game may have a direct result on the game outcome. It is therefore crucial for the referee to be conditioned to such a level that physical capacity allows he or she to perform optimally for 80 minutes or more.

A study of referee movements in 27 games in Division 1 of the All Ireland League has shown that referees cover approximately 6500m in 80 minutes or an equivalent of approximately 75 metres per minute (Igoe & Browne, 2019). This is less than reported for elite referees who have been shown to cover up to 8000m in 80 minutes and often work at a rate of 83 metres per minute. Elite referees also spend more time at higher intensities (above 4.1 metres per second) compared to sub elite referees (27% vs 19%).

These activity profiles show refereeing rugby union at both elite and sub elite level to be intermittent in nature with time spent at both high and low intensities. While an average heart rate of >80% shows a large requirement for aerobic fitness (Blair et al, 2019), it is also suggested that referees require high levels of repeat sprint ability in order to keep up with more intense phases of play.

There are many factors which can impact the demands of an individual game including weather, team strategies and physical fatigue however it is the responsibility of the referee to be prepared for the “worst case scenario” in every game and therefore the referee must maintain a high level of physical fitness at all times.

In order maintain a high level of physical fitness referees should undertake a number of field based conditioning sessions each week. The following sessions are examples which focus on both aerobic capacity and repeat high intensity efforts.

Before undertaking any of this activity, please note the following:

  • Match your level of effort to your level of fitness. Only be as active as you are able to be.
  • Take the time to warm up fully before any exercise.
  • Warming down after exercise will kick start your recovery and allow you to train safely more often.
  • Quality is much more important than quantity in repetitive exercise – control is the goal!

Consider your overall training plan if using these exercises.

Session 1 – Tempo Running – Aerobic Capacity


  • Complete a full dynamic warm up prior to starting the session. A full warm up will prepare the body and mind for the task ahead, improving performance and reducing injury risk.
  • Complete runs at a steady pace of 60-70% effort. Times to complete each repetition should be consistent throughout the session.
  • The focus of this session is to develop your aerobic capacity. An increased aerobic capacity will allow you to work for longer and recover quicker between high intensity efforts.

Session 2 – Repeat High Intensity Efforts


  • Complete a full dynamic warm up prior to starting the session. A full warm up will prepare the body and mind for the task ahead, improving performance and reducing injury risk.
  • The goal of this session to be able to repeat high intensity efforts with minimal fatigue. Take rest as prescribed and work hard on each repetition.


Structuring the week

The addition of these type of training sessions to your week means the referee must plan their training load appropriately, including their fitness training alongside strength work and game reviews and previews all while ensuring they are adequately rested for each weeks game. The below is an example of how one may structure their week in order to maintain high levels of physical fitness without negatively impacting game performance each week.

This is an example only and may be adjusted based on individuals schedules each week. Other training means such as off feet conditioning modalities including Watt Bike and rowing may be used to achieve similar outcome goals when on feet conditioning is not an option.

A consistent adherence to this type of training regime will help in developing a high level of physical fitness resulting in increased aerobic capacity, aiding cognitive function and decision making, reducing injury risk and allowing the referee to perform to a higher standard in games.


Igoe, B. A., & Browne, D. (2019) Game Demands Of Sub Elite Rugby Union Referees In Domestic Club Rugby. International Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.

Blair, M. R., Cronin, J. B., Rehrer, N. J., et al. (2019) Contextual Review of Physical Requirements Of Refereeing Rugby Union At An Elite Level.  Strength and Conditioning Journal.

Bester, C., Coetzee, D., Schall, R. & Blair, M. (2019) Physical Demands On Elite Lead Rugby Union Referees, International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport