Physical Preparation for Football Referees

Physical Preparation for Football Referees

Football referees have to pass a series of physical tests to certify that their physical performance can meet the demands of the sport.

Football referees

Football is an group sport of an intermittent nature that demands periods of activity that vary in:

  • Intensity;
  • Duration; and
  • Recovery time (Drust, Atkinson & Reilly, 2007; Campos, 2015).


As a result, being directly responsible for the implementation of the rules of the sport, referees must have a fitness level that allows them to be correctly positioned, to interact with players on the field, and help them in their decision making. (Castillo, Cámara y Yanci, 2015; Castillo-Alvira, 2017).

Football referee condition requirements

The referee teamThe refereeing team have two conditional requirements during the preparatory period and the regular season:

  1. Physical tests.
  2. Competition demands.

First of all, referees must pass a sports medical examination, a blood and urine test, during the preparatory period.

Later, they will have three rounds (figure 1 and 2) to pass the physical tests (before the beginning of the competition, November and February/March).

Physical tests for football referees

Figure 1. First round of physical tests for football referees. Source: Real Federación Española de Fútbol (2020).

Rounds of physical tests for football referees

Figure 2. Rounds of physical tests for football referees. Source: Real Federación Española de Fútbol (2020).

Alongside this, the physical demands of the referees are linked to the players during the match, with the end aim being the control of players’ behaviour and the correct implementation of the rule of the game (Irigoyen, Vaíllo, Domínguez, Martín & Larumbe, 2014; Bustos-Viviescas, Acevedo-Mindiola & Ortiz-Novoa, 2017).

In short, the the physical requirements of the refereeing team are:

  • High volume of total travel (10,000m approximately).
  • Management of distances covered at high intensity and their influence on the second half of the match (394m vs 313m).
  • The principle referees cover more distance and reach higher speeds than the assistant referees.
  • Referees and assistants have different patterns of activity.

Referee assistant

However, both share a decline in performance after short periods of intense activity, at the start of the second half, and during the final minutes of matches.

Finally, the physiological needs, that’s to say, the internal indicators that show physiological responses to dynamic muscle function, neuromuscular control, vertical jumping performance, coordination and technical performance, markers of muscle damage, selective depletion of energy substrates and muscle and blood concentration of metabolites.

Specifically, referees and assistants show significant decreases in physiological responses (peak, average, horizontal and vertical jumping) in the second half of matches, and spend the vast majority of time in the second half at intensities below 75% of maximum heart rate (HR) (Castillo, Cámara y Yanci, 2016; Castillo-Alvira, 2017; Mallo, García y Navarro, 2009)

I’m a referee, how can I improve my physical condition?

Considering the physical and physiological demands of the principal and assistant referees during football matches, as well as the requirements of the physical tests carried out at different points of the season, it’s important to organise training around the following points:

  • Capacity to perform short duration activity (10, 20, 30 and 40m) at a high speed.
  • Capacity to perform repeated sprints at high intensity and with a short recovery period: RSA.
  • Ability to perform intense long-duration intermittent activity, with full, incomplete, long, intermediate and short recovery periods.
  • Competence in performing low-moderate intensity activity for very long periods of time, interspersed with high intensity work..
  • High levels of intramuscular (peak strength) and intermuscular (muscle power) coordination.
Joint Flexibility and Mobility
  • Training of residual elongation-regression capacity (above normal values) in the joints of the lower limb and core.

How do you approach a preparatory period for a football referee?

High-level referees are exposed to the physical and physiological demands made on them by footballers during play.

This means that they must be capable of coping with the game conditions imposed by the footballs in order to control their behaviour and implement the rules of the game (Irigoyen et al., 2014; Bustos-Viviescas et al., 2017).

Specific training programs need to be designed for referees, establishing specific training systems according to the demands they experience during competition, as well as the possible adaptions that may be required in the game. (Sainz, 2006; Castillo-Alvira, 2017)

Female referee

Alongside this, in order to perform in training sessions and reach maximum levels during matches, the physical and physiological demands considered in the training must be correctly planned, programmed, periodised and prescribed.

As a result, a preparatory period has been proposed for referees, organised in a coherent, effective and efficient manner.

Preparatory period

Figure 1. Methodology and planning of the preparatory period for referees. Source: Own design.

HI: High Intensity

  • RSA: Repeated Sprint Ability.
  • SAQ: Speed, Agility & Quickness.
  • Top S.: Top Speed.
  • Max. S.: Maximum Strength.
  • M. Max. S.: Maintaining Maximum Strength.
  • S-S. R.: Strength-Speed Resistance.

How do I organise my weekly training during the season?

Organising the contents of training during a football referee’s regular week can be a complex task.

Below is a weekly training schedule from Sunday to Sunday (figure 2).

It suggests the referee should train between 3-4 times a week the specific physical capacities that the refereeing activity demands during the competition.

Referee team

Specifically, taking as a reference all the data set out above, and particularly the physical and physiological demands of football referees and their assistants, a regular microcycle has been developed, consisting of 3 separate phases:

  1. Rest Phase;
  2. Stimulation Phase; and
  3. Restorative Phase.

Planning preparatory referees

Figure 2. Methodology and planning for the preparatory period for referees. Source: Own design.

  • AR: Active Rest.
  • UL: Upper Limb.
  • HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training.


  1. Drust, B., Atkinson, G., & Reilly, T. (2007). Future perspectives in the evaluation of the physiological demands of soccer. Sports Med, 37(9), 783-805.
  2. Campos, M. A. (2015). Monitorización de respuestas físicas y fisiológicas al entrenamiento y la competición en el fútbol. (Tesis Doctoral). Universidad Pablo Olavide: Sevilla.
  3. Castillo, D., Cámara, J., & Yanci, J. (2015). Fatiga producida y Carga que supone un Partido Oficial a un Árbitro de Fútbol Internacional. I Congreso Nacional de Preparación Física en Fútbol.
  4. Castillo-Alvira, D. (2017). Cuantificación de las respuestas físicas y fisiológicas y análisis de la fatiga inducida por los partidos oficiales en árbitros de fútbol. Tesis Doctoral. Universidad del País Vasco.
  5. Real Federación Española de Fútbol (2020). Circular Nº 2: Pruebas físicas y controles médico en árbitros de fútbol. Comité Técnico de Árbitros. RFEF.
  6. Irigoyen, J. Y., Vaíllo, R. R., Domínguez, C. G., Martín, J. J. S., & Larumbe, A. L. A. (2014). Valoración y relación de las características antropométricas y la condición física en árbitros de fútbol. Revista Española de Educación Física y Deportes, (406), 15-27
  7. Bustos-Viviescas, B. J., Acevedo-Mindiola, A. A., & Ortiz-Novoa, J. A. (2017). Consumo máximo de oxígeno, frecuencia cardíaca máxima y velocidad aeróbica máxima de árbitros colombianos de fútbol. Búsqueda, 4(19), 149-157.
  8. Castillo, D., Cámara, J., & Yanci, J. (2016). Análisis de las respuestas físicas y fisiológicas de árbitros y árbitros asistentes de fútbol durante partidos oficiales de Tercera División de España.[Analysis of the physical and physiological responses of field and assistant soccer referees during Spanish Third Division official matches]. RICYDE. Revista Internacional de Ciencias del Deporte. doi: 10.5232/ricyde, 12(45), 250-261.
  9. Mallo, J., García, J. M., & Navarro, E. (2009). Rendimiento físico del arbitraje de fútbol en función del nivel de la competición. Archivos de Medicina del Deporte, 335-344.
  10. Sainz, J. M. (2006). Análisis del rendimiento físico de los árbitros y árbitros asistentes durante la competición en el fútbol (Doctoral dissertation, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid).

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Review of Physical Preparation for Football Referees

Physical capacity requirements - 100%

Points to consider - 100%

Training during the season - 100%

Plan examples - 100%


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About Ivan Sotelo
Ivan Sotelo
Iván Sotelo is a specialist in Prevention and Physical-Sports Rehabilitation, with experience in professional football teams.
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