Archery exercises: rows and weights

Lucy O’Sullivan focuses on the best exercises for your back

To be able to push past plateaus in your archery it is important to look after your back muscles. You can check out Bow 161 for an article on my favourite back exercises, but today I want to focus on rows and their variations. 

Most people are familiar with the rowing machine, found in almost every gym, and it is excellent for giving you a full-body workout, focused slightly more on your legs. It’s a low-impact exercise and will increase your cardiovascular endurance, so is excellent in almost every respect. Here, however, we are focusing on rowing with weights in order to develop the back muscles and strengthen your shot. 

Archery is an upper-body sport (apart from the few para-archers who use their legs), and so for many of us will help to strengthen posture, shoulders and give you more defined arms.

Rowing exercises work your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids and the muscles that support your spine, your erector spinae among many others. There are so many options when it comes to how to do a row exercise, and each one will target a slightly different group of muscles. 

Bent-over rows 

This is the king of row exercises and my favourite upper-body compound exercise. Holding a barbell in your hands, bend your body from the hips to a 90-degree position, keeping the back flat and the legs straight (with soft knees).

This is the start position of a bent-over row. Now pull the bar up to your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body, and gently return the bar back to the hanging position. Once finished, unbend from the hips to a standing position.

Single arm (bench) row 

Like the bent-over row, bend your body from the hip, with a flat back and straight legs (with soft knees). Hold a dumb-bell in one hand and brace the other arm against something for support. Row the weight up, keeping your elbow close to the side of your body, and return to the start position. Repeat on the other arm. When finished, stand up using your hips. 

Level 1 – Place a knee on the bench for further support.

Level 2 – As described above, have your hand propped on the bench for support.

Level 3 – Move a little further away from the bench and pop up on to your tiptoes and rearrange your back into a flat position. This works your core more as your body will want to rotate and you will have to resist!

Renegade row 

This is an all-rounder back and core strengthening exercise. Pop into a high-plank position with a dumb-bell in each hand. Brace tight and row one arm up, keeping the elbow close to the side of the body. Return the weight to the floor and repeat on the opposite side to perform one repetition.

Upright row

Hold a dumb-bell in each hand close to each other with your arms straight – think about the top of the back working for this exercise. Squeeze the weights up to your collarbone with your elbows pointing high, and return the weights back slowly to the start position.

Pulley row

Sit on a bench with the cable machine, have your legs straight with soft knees, and pull the cable to your ribs once you are in a flat back (1 o’ clock body) position. Return your arms to the straight position, and row the cable back to your ribs again. To return the cable back to the machine, bend from the hips.

Lower back rows

The same as the pulley row, but with this one you work your lower back. Every rep has an extra movement from the hips. With straight legs (and soft knees), reach forward from your hips (11 o’clock body position), then work the lower back by pulling into a row position (1 o’clock body) and pull the cable. Once the row is complete, straighten the arms and return from the hips to the 11 o’clock body position and repeat. (11 o’clock, 1 o’clock, pull, straighten the arms, 11 o’clock, 1 o’clock pull and so on).

Chest supported row 

Sitting down, make sure your chest is supported up to the collarbone, lean forward slightly to retrieve the machine and straighten up your back. Pull the machine, squeezing together your shoulder blades. Straighten out your arms again to the start position, and to return the weight, lean forward. 

Prone bench row 

With a bench at an incline position, lie face down on the bench (prone) with your collarbone slightly elevated, bend the knees for support, and pick up one dumb-bell at a time. Once your back is in a flat position, pull both elbows up towards the sky, keeping them fairly close to your body.

Return to a hanging-arm position (straight arms), without reaching or hunching towards the floor, and keep tension on your back throughout.

Landmine row  

Place a barbell into the landmine (T-bar) attachment, and grab a V-cable attachment. Place the V attachment under the bar and slide it up to the top, holding it with both hands, then pull the weights and bar up towards your sternum, squeezing your back muscles, and return to a straight-arm position. Again, don’t hunch your shoulders forward towards the floor, making sure to keep tension in your back muscles.

Cable row 

Standing up or sitting down, grab some cables with handle attachments of your choosing and pull the cable towards your armpit/chest. Keep tension on the cable as you return to a straight-arm position, as the cable will want to pull you in. This exercise is good for resisting the pull forwards, and for learning to keep tension in the back throughout the movement.

Inverted row 

Place a barbell on stands or squat rack, lie down underneath the bar and place your hands on the bar at shoulder distance. Pull your chest up to the bar and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Return back to the straight-arm position and repeat.

Level 1 – Have the bar higher up and have more of an angle to the floor.

Level 2 – Have the bar lower and lie more horizontally to the floor but keep yourself in a bridge position (with bent knees).

Level 3 – Lie horizontally to the floor and straighten up your legs, keeping in an upside-down plank position.

Bent-over Reverse fly

Start with hips at 90 degrees, a flat back and bent knees, holding two dumb-bells. Move from the elbows and shoulder blades, imagining you are drawing a semi-circle with your arms up to the side of your body. Slowly unsqueeze the shoulder blades, drawing that semi-circle back to the start, hanging-arm position, keeping tension between the shoulder blades throughout this exercise. 

Those are just some of my favourite row exercises. Give them a go and follow my YouTube channel O’Sullivan Archery for more strengthening ideas. Happy shooting!  


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