Offseason Fitness Training: Keys to Speed and Endurance

by Kenneth Kaylor, Michael Donovan

For some NISOA referees, the Spring season means youth State Cup tournaments or professional leagues and physical fitness should not be as issue. However, if you are not refereeing it is an ideal time to start preparing for the Physical Performance Test (PPT) and the demands of the college season.  Fitness is an important, yet often overlooked, part of refereeing that can make or break your games and even your season.

Physical fitness involves three separate skills – endurance, speed and agility- all of which are critical for performing at your best.  In this article we will discuss the first two aspects- endurance and speed.


Cardiovascular and muscular endurance are vital to performing your best on the field and preseason training is the perfect time to build and reestablish your endurance in these areas.  When college matches last up to 110 minutes, your legs need to be prepared and accustomed to this duration and intensity.  The key to developing endurance is long controlled pace runs.

No matter your age you can safely build to a 90 minute run/walk.  If you are coming back from an injury or have not been running recently, begin with a 30 minute jog at a very controlled speed. From there you can add time in 5 to 10 minute increments up to 60 to 90 minutes. Run at an easy to moderate pace- such that you could comfortably talk to a running partner.

Sample Endurance Workout

  • Jog (10 minutes), Dynamic warm-up/stretch (5 minutes)
  • Moderate pace run (30-60 min)
  • Walk/cool down (5 minute)

As your fitness increases you can add time, working up to a goal of 90 minutes. When these runs become easy, you can increase your pace (following the warm-up) or include short pace increases called fartleks – to add some difficulty and variety to your workouts.


The second element of fitness that is critical for effective refereeing is speed.  When the defense clears the ball from a corner kick to an attacker at midfield and you are at the top of the penalty area, you need to have the speed to chase after the counterattack. The best way to develop speed is through interval training. Interval workouts can be based on distance, time or both and generally consist of a ladder of increasing time or distance with increasing times of rest.  The following workout is an example of a timed interval workout.

Sample Time Interval Workout

  • Jog (10 minutes), Dynamic warm-up/stretch (5 minutes)
  • 6 x 30 sec run/30 sec recovery (75% maximum pace)
  • 4 x 1 min run/1 min recovery (65% maximum pace)
  • 2 x 2 min run/1 min recovery (50% maximum pace)

Recovery: Jog for 4 min

  • 2 x 2 min run/1 min recovery (50% maximum pace)
  • 4 x 1 min run/1 min recovery (65% maximum pace)
  • 6 x 30 sec run/30 sec recovery (75% maximum pace)
  • Walk/cool down (5 minutes)

Note: Due to the higher intensity during interval training a good warm- up and cool down is essential to prevent injury.

Recommended Weekly workout schedule

  • 2 endurance runs (1 for 30-45 minutes, 1 for 60-90 minutes)
  • 2 interval workouts
  • 1 cross training day
  • 1-2 days rest days

Note: if you are doing games replace a work out day – do not give up your rest and recovery time.

As you get older you may need two rest/recovery days or substitute a cross training day for a long run day.  Cross training includes anything that gets your heart rate up for 30-40 minutes including cycling, tennis, handball, soccer, etc.

Working on your endurance and speed through long runs and interval workouts will help ensure you are fit for the preseason PPT and prepare you for the demands of the Fall college season.  In addition  — remember to have good hydration for these workouts.  On the longer runs you should consider carrying or stashing water or sports drink along your course.