Our expert panel answers your questions.
QUESTION: I went and shot (compound) for the first time in a year or so. I currently shoot 40lb, and my shoulders are struggling. What are the best exercises for returning to form?
ANSWER: Let me start by saying that it is way more important to shoot the poundage that allows you to execute the best possible shot for around double the number of shots you will have to make in a tournament than trying to shoot a higher weight and struggling. There have been numerous world records shot by people shooting less than 50lb. With that being said, I definitely think strength training is a great idea, especially if you are already prone to injury. Here are some exercises I recommend for both compound and recurve archers alike:
I assume you know what a plank is – if not, go online and search for ‘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.
Press-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. Press-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 press-ups 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 single-leg press-ups, for example – but the key here again is consistency, so try to do some every day or every other day.
3) Basic Dumbbell Hold
Another favourite exercise 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 about shoulder width apart, holding a weight in your hand. If you don’t have dumbbells, feel free to use a jug filled with water, or find something similar in weight. Place your little finger against your thigh.
Raise your arm straight out away from your body, up to shoulder height (at a 90-degree angle to your body), holding for 15 seconds. Eventually you want to be able to hold an 8lb to 10lb weight, to match the mass weight of your bow, for 30 to 45 seconds, but most people should start lighter (1lb to 5lb). It is 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 light dumbbell (from 1lb to 5lb). 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 little finger against your thigh. Next, lift your arm while rotating it 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, 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 good for strengthening rotator cuff muscles, potential trouble spots for many archers. Start in a relaxed position, placing a light weight in one hand. Next, place that hand, palm down, on the opposite thigh (for example, the thumb of your right hand on your left thigh).
You must 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 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
Lastly, 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 to 50 times will really help you increase strength for drawing the bow repeatedly in a short amount of time, like you would need to do in a tournament.
If you do these exercises three or four days a week, it shouldn’t take long for you to start seeing results. You should 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 no pain when drawing the bow. It is important to note that a warm-up before shooting can be just as important as increasing your strength for preventing injuries from shooting a bow.