Q and A on Referee fitness
Polar, the market leader in heart rate training, caught up with Ian Mitchell, RFL Fitness co-ordinator for the Super League referees and match officials.
What is your role on a day to day basis?
I am in charge of the fitness and conditioning of the nine full time match officials for the Super League. During the season this normally involves three days contact time with the officials.
We are currently working towards pre-season which starts in the first week of December. During this eight week programme, we increase the time with the officials to five sessions for the first five weeks, so that’s my busiest time.
The whole squad all have different match schedules, so everyone needs a tailored programme.
What is involved in the different training programmes and what is the role of the Polar heart rate monitors in these sessions?
We are very scientific in that we carry out extensive physiological testing with the officials. Amongst key indicators, we check VO2 max levels and lactic threshold levels, which are all linked to heart rate data.
We analyse officials’ heart rates in training to establish when they are working harder in certain sessions, monitor that they are not working too hard in recovery sessions and to ensure they are maintaining the right levels of aerobic fitness.
Technology is critical and allows us to tailor individual programmes for each official for different sessions – we can then ensure that by monitoring heart rates during training that they are performing at their optimum and can tailor specific programmes to train from home.
What is involved in the ‘train from home’ programme?
The train from home programme ensures the match officials are still able to train at their best, without needing to all come together centrally.
A specific programme focusing on heart rate levels is tailored for each official. We ask them to report back on their condition and the heart rate is a great way to do this. We can keep tabs on them to ensure they are working to the required levels, particularly for recovery sessions, or by scheduling a lower intensity session the day before the game.
All officials have to download data and submit to me, which is straightforward with the Polar technology.
How does the match environment differ to the training situation?
We analyse heart rates using the Polar monitor in a game, then ensure this is replicated in training.
We analyse what performance levels officials are hitting at games. Using their average heart rate and their maximum heart rates, we pair the figures with harder sessions in training. 90 % of the training sessions use heart rates as the key factor, so the Polar heart rate monitor is crucial to our analysis of matches and resultant training programmes.
We need to ensure that the officials are in peak physical condition in training as during a game there are other factors, including decision making and the crowd that can play a significant part.
The new Polar RC3 has an integrated GPS function, what is the role of GPS in training the referees and how does this work when coupled with Polar heart rate monitors?
We have GPS on our officials for all our matches, which they currently wear in their shirts. We are looking to use the Polar RC3 with built in GPS next season across matches and also in training.
A match official would normally cover between 8-12km in the 80 minutes. We will marry up the heart rate data with GPS data and see what levels they are working at, what intensities, and replicate this in a training session.
How else are Polar heart rate monitors used in training?
Using heart rates as part of rehabilitation can help officials who are coming back from injury. One current example is referee Phil Bentham, who broke his leg in two places in May during the Wigan v Hull KR game when he was accidentally knocked over by Hull KR fullback Shannon McDonnell.
For his rehabilitation the heart rate monitor has been particularly useful working on the high intensity on the bike and in the pool. When we introduced him to running, we have tried to keep his heart rate target to similar levels before his injury and carefully managed his fitness and recovery by training at different levels. He is back running and hope he will be back full time in the New Year.
2013 is a big year for Rugby League with the World Cup in England next Summer
It will be an exciting time for the sport and we expect to have a couple of referees in the World Cup and some touch judges.
From a training programme point of view, our officials are judged on a week by week basis, so training will not change dramatically. They need to perform at the highest standard all year, so the high standards will remain. Officials are always striving to be better and improve, whether it is in our group session or when they train from home, and the World Cup would be no different.
We have talked about how training with heart rate monitors is valuable in the professional game, but what are the benefits at an amateur level?
It’s a great tool whatever your sport or level that you are performing at. Looking at runners, analysing heart rates as part of a training programme allows them to train at the right rate, stops overtraining, and allows them to maximise the benefits for their sessions. It prevents them from doing junk mileage, ensuring they are doing right training and maximising interval sessions – it works across all sports. The GPS facility is particularly important when covering larger mileage and ensures they are not doing too much distance work.
To find out more about Polar and how you can use heart rate monitoring as part of your training, visit www.polaruk.co.uk