To examine the activity profile and physiological demands of top-class soccer refereeing, we performed computerized time-motion analyses and measured the heart rate and blood lactate concentration of 27 referees during 43 competitive matches in the two top Danish leagues. To relate match performance to physical capacity and training, several physiological tests were performed before and after intermittent exercise training. Total distance covered was 10.07+/-0.13 km (mean +/- s(x)), of which 1.67+/-0.08 km was high-intensity running. High-intensity running and backwards running decreased (P < 0.05) in the second half. Mean heart rate was 162+/-2 beats min(-1) (85+/-1% of maximal heart rate) and the mean blood lactate concentration was 4.9+/-0.3 (range 1.7-14.0) mmol x l(-1). The amount of high-intensity running during a match was related to the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test (r2 = 0.57; P<0.05) and the 12 min run (r2 = 0.21; P<0.05). After intermittent training (n = 8), distance covered during high-intensity running was greater (2.06+/-0.13 vs 1.69+/-0.08 km; P< 0.05) and mean heart rate was lower (159+/-1 vs 164+/-2 beats x min(-1); P< 0.05) than before training. The results of the present study demonstrate that: (1) top-class soccer referees have significant aerobic energy expenditure throughout a game and episodes of considerable anaerobic energy turnover; (2) the ability to perform high-intensity running is reduced towards the end of matches; (3) the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test can be used to evaluate referees' match performance; and (4) intense intermittent exercise training improves referees' performance capacity during a game.