Q and A on Referee fitness
Polar, the market leader in heart rate training, caught up with RFL Fitness Co-Ordinator Ian Mitchell to find out exactly what it takes to be a top flight referee.
1. How much has the game changed over the last decade for referees in the Super League?
Super League matches today are more physically demanding than ever before with referees expected to run around 9km-11km. Their training, whilst different to a player is no less intense and I have to ensure that they have the physical capacity to keep up with the increasing pace of the sport to ensure physical tiredness is not a cause of poor decision making.
2. How exactly do you use Polar’s training monitors as part of your fitness programme?
We use Polar RS400 heart rate monitors for all fitness within the RFL’s Performance Department. It is vital to make sure the referees are working at the right intensity for each training session and monitoring their heart rate zone allows us to achieve this. For instance, looking at Super League referee Phil Bentham we can see that he achieved the below heart rate zones from a recent physiological test;
Easy/Recovery work <152 bpm (beats per minute)
Steady/Aerobic Development 152-172 bpm
Lactic Threshold (Tempo work) 172-178bpm
Interval (VO2 max improvement) >178bpm
Max Heart rate recorded on VO2max 194bpm
So using this information we can design a personal training regime around the data, using the Polar monitor to keep track on Phil’s intensity. For example, in order to improve his speed endurance Phil needs to work just below his lactic threshold between 172-178bpm for 20 – 30 minutes.
Overall, my colleagues and I design the training programs to make the referees as efficient as we can on the pitch, providing them with an engine to get around the field with ease.
3. How often do the referees train in a normal week?
Being a Super League referee is a full time profession and so their training schedule reflects this. Looking at Phil Bentham’s typical week you can start to get an idea of the amount of training the referees are carrying out to maintain their fitness levels as some of the best referees in the world.
Monday: This is what I’d call an active recovery/endurance maintenance day consisting of a 90 minute bike ride followed by a gentle swim working in the recovery zone. We try and keep heart rate around 152bpm or less.
Tuesday: This is the hardest session of the week, it’s an interval session pushing heart rate up to the maximum level it reaches during a match (around 170-180bpm) in order to improve VO2max levels. This would be followed by technical work on the field at around 130bpm for over an hour.
Wednesday: Rest day.
Thursday: 40 minute bike ride at a heart rate of 172-180bpm followed by a swim at 140bpm. Once this has been completed, Phil would then go for a weights and cores muscles circuit.
Friday: Aerobic maintenance session for 40-50 minutes at a heart rate of 150bpm .The data from this session would be sent to me after the referees complete it at home and remotely report back to me.
Saturday: Game day, which means that Phil and the other referees will be working at an average of 154bpm and running around 9-10km.
Sunday: A 20 minute recovery bike ride at a very low intensity, followed by a 20 minute swim and stretch.
The referees send weekly downloads of all their heart rate data from training sessions and games to me and Stuart Cummings (RFL Match Officials Director). This helps us keep up to date with exactly what physical training the referees are doing, and importantly, the physiological effects of the programmes we are setting.
4. What are the benefits of using your Polar RS400 when you’re preparing for big games?
Being able to control the intensity of a session helps us make sure referees perform at a higher intensity with less effort. This means the referees can be in the right place physically and concentrate on making the right decisions on match day.
Equally, it is important for the referees to monitor heart rate in order to avoid over training, poor performance and injury.
A good test that the referees can do for this is to take resting heart rate before they get up in a morning. They follow this by getting out of bed and letting the heart rate stabilise for around 15 seconds. A pattern should develop and will stabilise around 10bpm higher than at rest. If it is any higher than this then the referee or sports person could be coming down with an illness or be suffering from fatigue. At that point we would need to adapt the session to give an easier day and encourage recovery.
To find out more about Polar and how you can use heart rate monitoring as part of your sports training, visit www.polaruk.co.uk