3 Tests and 1 Exercise for Referee Career Longevity

Lebron James spends over two million dollars a year on his body. This includes personal trainers, home gyms, nutritionists, acupuncture, massages, and physical therapists

Why does he do it when he is already the best player in the league?

James spends two million dollars a year to be the best player today and for as long possible.

Longevity, the ultimate key to success over a career.

And the referee athlete is no different.

My name is Anders Varner, a seven-year strength coach and 21-year student of human movement. I have watched, trained, and coached athletes from the highest levels of the WWE, NFL, and CrossFit to the weekend warrior trying to kill it in a mud run.

Two years ago, I met my very first NCAA basketball referee and since that day, referees have been a focal point of my coaching career.

The number one lesson every referee has to come to terms with is that they are athletes and in order to succeed they must learn to treat their bodies the same way athletes do.

We have measured that referees are running over two and a half miles per game.

In those two and a half miles you are starting, stopping, twisting, running, sprinting, moving laterally, and quickly changing direction.

These are the exact physical demands James and every other NBA star rigorously trains for throughout the year.

The Referee Athlete is no different. Your body is your product. If your run hurts your knees or you suffer back pain from the endless grind of travel, you will not be 100% at the tip and you will be broken by playoff time.

Changing your mindset and training like an athlete is not easy. You do not really know where to start, who to listen to, and there are a zillion personal trainers out there. How do you know which one understands the demands of being a referee?

This process, although appearing cumbersome, is simple, and it starts with understanding human movement, the demands of your job, and assessing your weaknesses.

Global Flexion – The Toe Touch Test

Can you bend over and touch your toes?

Seems simple enough. Sadly, over 80% of the referee athletes I work with cannot perform this basic function of human movement.

img_3543The inability to touch your toes, tightness in the hamstrings, is an indicator of future injury in the low back, knees, hips, and will significantly affect your running form.

This movement dysfunction is most commonly caused by a series of lifestyle choices. Travel is a large portion of the referee lifestyle and cars and planes force you to sit for long periods of time. The sitting motion shortens the hamstrings.

Luckily, we can counterbalance the effects through a proper warm up, cool down, and mobility plan.

Global Rotation – The Twisting Test

Do you know any marathoners that would run the Boston Marathon looking backwards? It seems like a ridiculous question, right?

It is ridiculous until you realize you spend the majority of your time on the court, running forward and looking backwards at a developing play.img_3545

To test this, stand with your feet together, cross your arms, and look behind you. You should be able to rotate your shoulders so they create a line perpendicular to your feet. If so, you will be looking straight behind you.

Mobility in your thoracic spine allows the body to twist while protecting the spine. If you lack the range of motion, be prepared for low back issues, neck and shoulder pain, and an un-athletic run. Lacking thoracic mobility is like waking up with a stiff neck every morning. You are an athlete and movement is supposed to be fluid.

Sit to Stand

Stand tall, cross your legs, and sit down. Once you are seated, stand up. Oh yeah, I forgot, no hands.

You have just taken, quite possible, the most telling assessment of longevity.

In one, simple movement, you can test proper hip function, stability in the knee, strength and loading sequence in the posterior chain, core stability, kinesthetic awareness, and proprioception.

Most important, this is a full body test. If you cannot do it, your longevity as a referee athlete will suffer.

floor to standing

Uploaded by Movement Rx on 2016-09-30.

Start With Your Warm Up

You can only floor the gas pedal in your car a few times before it is on its way to the mechanic. The human body is no different. Your warm up is the number one way you can prevent injury and add longevity to your career. Make sure you move every joint, prepare your spine, knees, and hips, and create a system that prepares you for the physicality of your profession.

Referee Warm Up


This summer I spoke to a group of 100+ basketball referees at Adidas Uprising in Las Vegas. Hundreds of the top high school players from all over the country were throwing down in front of the top college coaches.

As I watched, it was so clear who the top athletes were. They ran well, their posture portrayed confidence, and their calls were crisp

Even after three games in a day they still appeared fresh while many of the athletes labored.

These athletes did not run as much as glide. I did not need to know about their sport to know who was the best.

Their movement told me everything I needed to know.

When you compare the best, side by side, it is just so easy to see. These athletes did not play basketball. They were referees.


Anders Varner

About Anders Varner

Anders Varner, a San Diego Based Strength and Conditioning coach, began his training career at the age of 13. Anders has coached elite athletes from the worlds of the WWE, NFL, and CrossFit. Anders began working with referees in 2014 and found a group of highly motivated, driven athletes that needed to understand how to get their bodies to a performance level. Anders is the co-founder of The Referee Athlete, an online training program for referees to create longevity and financial success for officials.


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