If enough time is spent in the woods with bow in hand and game on the mind, the hunter will inevitably find himself or herself in a less than desirable position. Whether it be having to hold their bow fully drawn for an exceptionally long time or shooting in an awkward and unpracticed position. Nature is unscripted and practice as we may, we will never be able to duplicate the complicated and unimaginable scenarios that she will lead us into.
Preparation comes in many forms and one can argue that the best way to prepare is to simply shoot your bow. I agree with this sentiment and would advocate for as much practice as possible. Many hunters find themselves living in a situation that does not provide the space for a nightly archery session or they desire to rapidly increase their draw weight. For these folks, I offer this in-depth article on the upper body muscles involved in the art of shooting a bow and how to fully utilize and strengthen these muscles for maximizing your strength and ability for archery.
Everyone understands that the upper body is used to shoot a bow. One arm pulls while the other arm pushes and stabilizes. Each part is equally important and requires a lot of different muscles to pull it off. The main muscles used by the upper body during a shot are the levator scapulae, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, deltoids and rhomboids and to a lesser extent the triceps and biceps. It is also essential to consider and take special care of the muscles that make up the rotator cuff. We are going to look at the main purpose of each muscle and how you can strengthen and stabilize it for optimum performance.
The levator scapulae is located in the upper back and it aids in back tension by pulling the shoulder blade in and up toward the neck. This muscle works together with the trapezius and rhomboids to create what is referred to as “back tension” and is used to hold the bow back at full draw. The trapezius and rhomboids are also located on the upper back and provide the ability to move the shoulder blade towards the spine as well as up and down. A strong upper back, with not only the ability to produce force but also the ability to hold weight steady for an extended period of time, is essential for mastery of archery strength.
An exercise used to strengthen the rhomboids, levator scapulae, and the trapezius is a row. You can perform a row using dumbbells or tubing. Another way to learn how to properly use your muscles to create back tension is to place a tennis ball between your shoulder blades and hold it there using only the muscles in your back. This will provide muscle memory to help you properly engage your back during a shot and give you the opportunity to build stamina for long holds.
The deltoid is the primary muscle of the shoulder and is comprised of the anterior, middle and posterior deltoids. The anterior deltoid is used in the initial lift of the bow before the draw, while the middle deltoid is responsible for keeping the bow steady after it is fully drawn. The main muscle used during the drawing back of the bowstring is the posterior deltoid. Strengthening this muscle is essential to not only ensure adequate draw weight but also provide stability at full draw. Exercises to strengthen the deltoid include a variety of shoulder lifts to target each individual motion. This can be accomplished using dumbbells or bands.
The latissimus dorsi or “lats” also play a large role in the process of shooting your bow. They are a large muscle group spanning much of your back. Their role is to aid in the drawing back of the string and stabilization of the bow. When performed properly, pull-ups, negatives, and lat pulldowns can all help to strengthen the latissimus dorsi.
The triceps are the located on the back of your upper arm and they are responsible for straightening the elbow, which is necessary when drawing the bow. The triceps can be strengthened by performing exercises such as triceps extensions and skull crushers.
While the triceps is straightening the elbow on the bow arm the bicep is helping to draw the string back on the opposing arm. The bicep is strengthened with curl exercises using machines, dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells.
Another part of the archer’s upper body that needs attention is the rotator cuff, which is made up of four muscles including the subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and the teres minor. These muscles are prone to injury but when healthy they allow the shoulder to move smoothly through nearly 180 degrees of motion. When an injury to the rotator cuff occurs it affects the stability and range of motion in the joint. Rotator cuff injuries are quite common especially in sports that require a lot of arm movement above the head. Protecting your rotator cuff and preventing injury can be aided by strengthening the muscles that surround the joint. This involves rotation exercises using lower weight and higher repetitions.
Home Exercise Routine
A basic home exercise routine to help strengthen and stabilize the archer’s upper body muscles should include rows, shoulder raises, pull-ups or negatives, triceps extensions, and curls and the four basic rotator cuff exercises. I have included a sample workout that covers all the basics and gives an idea of where to start. Use as much weight for the upper body exercises as you can for 5-6 reps. Proper form is more important than weight and will also play a key role in preventing injury.
For the rotator cuff exercises it is important to keep the weight lower and the reps higher. This is more of a stamina style workout and will protect the rotator cuff from injury. The right hand has a different role than the left but is still important to work all muscles equally. This will prevent muscle imbalances that can cause compounding problems down the road.
Upper Body Archery Workout:
(5-6 reps/3 sets) 2-3 non-consecutive days a week
Rotator Cuff Exercises:
(12-15 reps 1 set) 1-2 days a week