Crystal Gauvin talks us through some easy and effective ways to improve your shoulder strength and endurance so you can build up your draw weight
First, let me start by saying I think it is way more important to shoot the poundage that allows you to execute the best possible shot for around double the amount of shots you will have to make in a tournament versus trying to shoot a higher weight and struggling. There have been numerous World Records shot by people shooting under 50 pounds! With that being said, I definitely think strength training is a great idea, especially if you are already prone to injury.
Here are some archery exercises I recommend for both compound and recurve archers alike:
1. Planking – I assume you probably know what a plank is (if not, google ‘forearm plank’), and while it does not specifically target your shoulder muscles, it is one of THE best exercises for archers. It takes very little time to see big improvements. I’ll let you in on a little secret here; everyone I coach does a one-minute plank every single day. They may not be able to hold a full minute at first, but they work up to that, and I speak from experience when I say you will find you can hold the bow steadier, especially in windy conditions, by giving up just one minute of your day.
2. Push ups – Push ups target the chest, shoulders, and triceps, while also engaging the core. Much like planks, these are easy to do anywhere with no equipment necessary. Push ups help archers by strengthening their chest muscles, which are opposite many of the back muscles used when drawing your bow, creating better balance in your body. I highly recommend archers do pushups with their elbows out (not back, in towards their body), as this puts less strain on your shoulders, which are highly involved in the act of shooting your bow. There are many variations you can add in later if you like (such as one leg push ups, for example), but the key here again is consistency, so try do some every day or every other day.
3. Basic Dumbbell Hold – Another favourite of mine, especially if you are struggling with the mass weight of your bow (front shoulder or elbow pain is usually a good indicator of this), is the dumbbell hold. Stand in a relaxed position, with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a weight in your hand (if you don’t have dumbbells, feel free to use a bottle of water, or something similar). Place your pinky against your thigh. Raise your arm straight out away from our body, up to shoulder height (90 degree angle to your body), holding for 15 seconds Eventually you want to be able to hold an 8-10 pound weight to match the mass weight of your bow for about 30-45 seconds, but most people should start lighter (1-5 pounds). It’s important that you don’t lean while doing this; you want to maintain a nice steady balance and good posture. Start by doing three sets of 10. As you get stronger, increase reps, holding time, or both.
4. Rotational Lift – This exercise will help work the muscles of your upper back and shoulders, which are crucial for raising your arm in overhead movements and shooting your bow. I recommend you start by using a soup can or a very light dumbbell (anything from 1-5 pounds). Just like the last exercise, you will want to start out standing in a relaxed position, with feet shoulder width apart. Place a dumbbell in one hand, with your pinky against your thigh. Next, lift your arm, while rotating up and out from your body. By the time your arm reaches a 90-degree angle to your body, you should be pointing your thumb down toward the ground. Think of pouring soup out of a can, keeping a firm wrist (and avoid raising your shoulder!). You should raise up to shoulder height, and pause for a few seconds at the top before returning to the starting position. Do this for three sets of 10 repetitions (on both sides), increasing the weight or reps as you get stronger.
5. Cross Body Lift– This is a particularly good exercise for strengthening rotator cuff muscles, which is a potential trouble spot for many archers. Again, you should start in a relaxed position, placing a light weight in one hand. Next, place that hand, palm down, on the opposite thigh (for example, put the thumb of your right hand on your left thigh). It is important to keep your arm straight throughout this exercise. Now raise your arm across your body (out and up to above your opposite shoulder). Once your hand has reached its maximum height, pause and then return to your starting position. You should perform this exercise slowly. Complete 10 repetitions, then switch arms (repeat three times).
6. Draw and Hold – Last but not least, a good exercise that can be done with your bow is to draw and hold for five seconds, then let down. This is great for compound archers because the bulk of the weight is in the draw (not holding weight), so doing this 25-50 times will really help you increase strength for drawing the bow repeatedly in a short amount of time, just like you would need to do in a tournament.
If you do these exercises three or four days per week, it shouldn’t take long for you to start seeing results. You should find you have better control over the bow, be able to hold it steadier for longer periods of time, and you should end up with less or (hopefully) no pain when drawing the bow.
It is also important for me to note here, that a warmup before shooting can be just as important as increasing your strength for preventing injuries from shooting a bow.