Shooting strengtheners: Custom workout routine for archers

Personal trainer Lucy O’Sullivan explains how being fit can aid your archery, and outlines the basics of a gym routine that can help supplement your shooting

(1) Start with the basics, such as stretches and balance exercises

As an athlete and coach I have worked in gyms from both perspectives, and being physically “fit” can often be used to help you get “archery fit”, so let me take you through the differences. Firstly, what is archery fit?

Being archery fit means being able to pull back your bow, at your wanted draw weight, holding your bow accurately while aiming, and being able to repeat this as long as is needed. The main way to do this is practice. Practice with a heavier bow then you will use in competition, practice shooting more arrows then you will shoot in competition, and practice different distances so that you can get your aim just right for competitions.

What is fitness? In layman’s terms being fit means that your body is physically capable of doing what you want it to. Whether that is cardiovascular fitness, strength endurance, being the correct shape and size for your body, or flexibility, the term fitness covers a huge amount of things. For example, it can include being able to walk around all day, or being disease-free, or being able to do things like chin ups. Whatever you want your body to do is being “fit”.

The fitness pyramid

First you have your base level fitness – your flexibility, co-ordination and balance. This enables you to move properly, to hold body positions and to have strong, stable joints. Next is your general strength – such as your general muscular endurance and general strength. In simple terms, can you stand in a field all day for archery, or hold your arms up in front of you for more than a few minutes? Moving up the pyramid on the previous page we have our specific strength, and this is specific to your sport. This means being able to pull back a bow, and being able to pull out arrows from a target all day for example.

(2) Squats are a great exercise for all-over strength and core stability

The next part of the pyramid is general power – this is more important for other sports that need explosive power such as jumping or running, but in archery we need power to use our rotator cuffs properly and our lower trapezius needs to contract in order for the bow to be released. The last part of the pyramid is specific power – once you have general power you can adapt that into an archery specific format such as contracting the correct archery muscles all day long in a powerful motion.

(3) Squats are a great exercise for all-over strength and core stability

I find the pyramid way of training an athlete from novice to elite very simple. Start at the bottom and work up, and remember a good base will help you have a bigger top – if you neglect the base level of training your next levels will not show as much improvement. Get the base right and the rest will come, and always think general to specific.

How to use the fitness pyramid to help your archery

(4)External rotations will build strength in the rotator cuffs

Level 1 Base level strength: This is the easiest one to get right, so to put this into a gym situation for improving things such as your flexibility and balance you’d start off with leg stretches and single leg balance exercises. These help your archery as you will be standing all day, so good balance at your roots is the base.

Then move onto the arms with overhead stretches and pec stretches (shown in picture 1) making sure you are supple so that you can then hold weights out to the side of your body in an arm abduction exercise.

(5) External rotations will build strength in the rotator cuffs

Level 2 General strength: Some of my favourite general strength exercises include the squat (shown in pictures two and three) which trains the core, leg strength and general body co-ordination, and weighted bent over rows (which help with shoulder blade retraction, especially if you work at a desk all day). Single leg exercises such as lunges, and core exercises such as cable rotations, will also help your body become more stable when you are competing. For general strength, three sets of 8-10 reps is good especially when you train off-season, and if you want to go a little heavier three sets of five reps works even better.

(6) Overhead presses will help build general power in your back and arms

Level 3 Specific strength: Specific strength exercises can then be added into a good gym workout programme once a good general level of strength is achieved. Archers need good rotator cuff muscles, so in a gym you can work on these by adding in external rotations (shown in pictures four and five) to your workouts. Shoulder workouts such as chin ups will definitely help your archery, but of course you need to be strong enough to be able to do these. Again, start with three sets of 10 reps; this gives you strength endurance as well as muscular strength. If you want to ramp up your sessions, do five reps with heavier weights.

Level 4 General Power: Exercises such as an overhead press with a bar (shown in pictures six and seven), or bar shrugs will help you gain power in your back and arms. Jumping exercises can help your core and legs become more powerful – I know that archers don’t need to jump, but a good overall fit body will help your overall archery performance. Power exercises are based on strength over a period of time. So an explosive shot needs a strong and powerful muscle to be able to release your bow efficiently. With jumps, try three sets of six jumps, and overhead presses can be three sets of 12 reps for endurance.

(7) Overhead presses will help build general power in your back and arms

Level 5. Specific power: Specific power exercises such as clini-band work can be added on to your workout routine by copying the shot process (shown in pictures eight and nine). This is the last stage of a well-rounded gym routine for an archer. You can really focus on a powerful shot while using the clini-bands and you can use as heavy or as weak a band as you need, but whatever weight you use make sure that you focus on an explosive shot.

(8) Finally, clini-band exercises can help build specific power in your shot movement

So how do we put this all together?

If you are a gym novice I suggest starting with two weeks of balance, flexibility and co-ordination work. Then keep your general strength work in your sessions all year; you want to do things like squats all year long so you keep your strength up all season. When you do feel comfortable with your base level strength you can then spend the next few weeks adding in your specific strength exercises to the end of your gym sessions.

(9) Finally, clini-band exercises can help build specific power in your shot movement

A few months later you can then add in some general power exercises and when you are powerful enough, add in your specific archery power exercises, and get explosive in your shot. Of course, gym work is all very well and good, but a very good way to get archery fit is to practice with your bow at least four times a week alongside any gym work.

This article originally appeared in the issue 113 of Bow International magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store

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