How to build back strength for archery

Back strength is essential for archery – and life. Lucy O’Sullivan shows you how.

I cannot emphasise this enough: we all need to work on our back strength. Not only as archers, but as 21st-century humans. ‘Text neck’ and ‘office shoulders’ are a serious problem for people of all ages and it is getting worse. Building a strong back will help you and your archery, and can also stave off unpleasant problems such as kyphosis of the spine. 

There are so many stretching exercises to add into your exercise routines, warm-ups and cool downs for archery, so today I’m going to solely go through some strength exercises for you. All of these can be completed at home or in a gym and will require a stretch band. You’ve got one of those, right? 

Let’s start with the body-weight stuff. 

YTW warm-up 

This prepares the muscles for exercise. Place your hands over your head, almost like a ‘YMCA’ movement. However, for this exercise, make a Y, T and a W with your arms. 

Neck press 

Essential to combat problems caused by using a smartphone. Lie on the ground, or sit against a wall and press your forehead (eyebrows) into the floor or wall. Keep your spine straight and push from the head gently into the surface. 

Back extension 

To work all those small back muscles, with this exercise you lie down on your tummy (prone) with your hands on your temples and your elbows raised off the floor. Gently lift your ribs up off the floor and then return to the starting position.  

Prone push-up

This exercise should be incorporated into an archery warm-up, as it is so good for the rotator cuffs. Pop into a high plank position and keep your arms straight. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as tightly as you can and then push them away as far as you can, and repeat, getting as much mobility around the shoulder blades as possible.

Swimmers

This one works those upper-back muscles and shoulders. Lie down on your tummy (prone) and have your hands stretched out in front of your body, off the floor and reaching forward. Then, without touching the floor, draw a straight line so your arms are by the side of your hips, keeping your hands off the floor, and then repeat. 

Bridge

This works the lower part of your back and your glutes. Lie down on your back and have your feet hip-width apart, close to your bottom. Gently lift your hips off the floor, engaging the core (squeezing in the tummy), and then slowly go back to the start position.

Plank

This works all of your core and back muscles. Pop yourself into a plank position, either on your forearms and toes, or on your hands and toes. Make sure your spine is straight and lengthened, not hunched or curved. Imagine you are a plank of wood. Hold this for 30 seconds or more to really work those muscles.

Band and cable exercises

Band pull-apart 

Stand up nice and tall. Have a stretch band stretched in both of your hands in line with your chest. Pull the band apart so that it touches your chest and then return to the start position, warming up the rotator cuffs.

Face-pulls 

Have a stretch band attached to something in line with your face. Hold the band in both hands and pull the band towards your nose, pulling the elbows back behind your head, working the shoulder blade muscles and the rotator cuffs.

Face-pull to overhead external rotation

To add on the face-pull, once your elbows are behind your head, rotate the hands up from in line with your nose to over your head, keeping the arms at a 90-degree angle.

Lat pull-downs 

Have a stretch band or a cable above you and kneel or sit on the floor. Hold the band with both hands and pull it down towards your collarbone, using your back muscles to do so. Slowly release the band and your hands back to the start position.

Sword-pulls 

Attach a stretch band or cable near to your feet. With one hand, keep tension on the band and – keeping the arm straight – gently pull the hand diagonally from your hip to the opposite shoulder and back down to the hip to return to the start position. Once one side is completed, repeat on the other side.

The heavy stuff: weights

Straight-leg dead lifts (SLDL) 

This works your hips and lower-back muscles. Hold a bar in your arms and stand up straight, then bend from the hips, pushing your hip bone up and your collarbone down until you are in a 90-degree position. Ensure that your back is flat and not curved, and your legs are straight (but with a soft knee). To finish the exercise, work your bottom and hamstrings, and squeeze until you are back in a straight standing position.

Bent-over rows 

Following on from the single-leg dead lift position, hold a bar in your hands and, from the hips, bend your body to a 90-degree position, keeping the back flat and the legs straight (with a soft knee). This is the starting 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 row 

As with the bent-over row, bend your body from the hips, with a flat back and straight legs (with soft knees). For this exercise, 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 and, when finished, stand up using your hips.

Bent-over fly (reverse fly) 

Start in the hip 90-degree position, flat back, straight legs (with soft knees), holding two dumb-bells, one in each hand. 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 a semi-circle to the starting ‘hanging arm’ position. 

Chin-ups 

The classic. Have your hands on a bar, with your hands facing your chin (chin-up). If you want to make it harder and do a pull-up, have your hands facing away from you. Using your back muscles, squeeze the shoulder blades down into your imaginary jeans pockets, lifting yourself up to bring your collarbone to the bar. Then, slowly lower back down to a hanging position.

Overhead (OH) press 

Hold two dumb-bells in your hands, in line with your shoulders. Keeping your back flat and tummy squeezed, push your arms up straight over your head, before slowly returning the arms to the shoulders in the start position. Try not to flare your ribs while pushing the weights up over your head.

Renegade row 

This is an all-round back-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 of the body to perform one rep. How many of these can you do? 

Upright row 

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

These are some of my favourite back exercises. Give them a go and follow my YouTube channel, O’Sullivan Archery, to see each exercise, too. Remember, in this day and age, a happy back equals a happy human and, therefore, a happy archer!


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