Should I use a Heavier Bow to Build Archery Strength

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I recall that you previously discussed using heavier limbs during practice and then lighter limbs during competition. How many pounds heavier should my practice limbs be?

* * *

Using a heavier bow to train with has been a practice technique for a long time. I recently read a very old treatise on archery from China which indicated that once an archer learned how to shoot well using a “light-drawing bow” they needed to train to be able to draw much heavier draw weights. Please note that their example of a light-drawing bow was one of roughly 60 pounds of draw. The heavier bows were 80 pounds and higher.

So, advantages of modern technology have changed things and the requirements of target archery have changed them again.

Ordinary archers in ancient historical (means “for which we have written records”) times were in essence artillerymen. These archers lobbed relatively heavy arrows into masses of men and animals in the expectation that they would hit something because there were so many “targets” all clumped together. The actual “marksman” was quite rare. The accounts of extreme marksmanship usually came from martial arts schools (which can be trusted to always tell the truth, right?).

Trad Recurve

Any bow can be used for this kind of training.

So, to address the question of training using a heavier bow.

This is not a regular thing. This is done to increase stamina or to build strength to support a heavier bow during regular shooting. The vast majority of your practice should be at the draw weight you compete in. This is because archery is a “feel” sport and the “feels” of the two bows are quite different.

Consider the example of a baseball player in the “on deck” circle preparing to bat during a game. They often use a heavier bat or add weights to their own bats which gets their muscles warmed up and makes their regular bat feel light in their hands. But before they approach the plate, they swing their normal bat several times, often trying to synchronize their swings with the pitcher’s pitches. Imagine what would happen if the batter took a heavier bat into batting practice and batted with nothing but it. When the game rolled around he would find his timing destroyed and he would be unable to hit at all.

The occasional use of a higher drawing bow to develop stamina and strength is advisable. So, you might do ten minutes of reversals with the heavier bow (always focused on having proper form) every other practice or during a fitness program supporting your archery. Something like that. You could go on a more extensive regimen to prepare for a draw weight increase (which are limited to 2# at a time for recurve archers so as to not destroy the form already learned). The draw weight should be something you can handle but noticeably heavier than you are used to, e.g. 5-10#.

The reason we draw such lighter weights today is that for target archery, we are shooting very small targets (and one designated beforehand), we are shooting a great many more arrows, and our arrows are considerably lighter than those of antiquity, plus our bows are more consistent. All of these factors favor shooting with a lower draw weight over a higher one.



Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

9 responses to “Should I use a Heavier Bow to Build Archery Strength

  1. good advice!

    I shoot ~30lbs draw weight. I could pull a higher weights but it would decrease the time i can keep shooting.

    Also, it depends on the shape of the bow how heavy the draw weight actually feels. Recurves *feel heavier* than traditional reflex bows with same poundage in my opinion, because the internal forces behave differently during draw.


    • I do not understand your comment “Recurves *feel heavier* than traditional reflex bows with same poundage in my opinion, because the internal forces behave differently during draw.” Could you clarify, especially the phrase “traditional reflex bows”?


      On Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 3:58 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote: > >

      Liked by 1 person

      • if you take a recurve bow and draw it, the force you need to exert is roughly linear. a “traditional reflex bow”
        looks something like this:
        im not sure about the proper english term, sorry. but these ones start off as light to draw, around half draw length they start to resist a little more, then at full draw length they will resist
        most. beyond optimal draw length they are extremely difficult to pull any further (and it may eventually damage the bow). so the amount of force needed to draw it is not linearly increasing. so what can be done is for example to draw it not yet to full draw, aim, then finish the draw and release quickly, and thus one can shoot with a rather strong bow.

        hope it made sense? 🙂 and this is based on experience and talking to some other archers. unfortunately i dont have scientific measurements to back it.


  2. Now I understand. Traditional bows with “ears” (syrahs, sp?) force the initial bend to be closer to the handle, then as the draw proceeds the bend moves farther away (true whether the bow is reflexed or not).

    I think if you actually did a draw-force curve it would appear much the same as for a recurve bow. Both curves are nonlinear in the same way, differing . very little until you get to the final end of the draw. The purpose of the ears and the recurve portion serve the same purpose: to make the limbs bend more closer to the handle (unlike a longbow that bends most near the tips and slightly less as you get closer to the handle). The difference is the syrahs are static and the recurve section is dynamic, that is it bends as you get close to full draw and since it is the weakest part of the limb, you get less resistance the deeper into that section you go. This is why the recurve bow has triumphed for target archers. You won’t see any static-tipped bows used in competition because they don’t relent in their final few inches of draw.

    Possible the bows you compared that gave you the impression that the feel involved was the other way around were not really comparable.


  3. Dave V

    I’ve been reading “Archery Anatomy” and his engineering approach outlines another reason for the “heavy” feel of some bows based on physical weight vs. draw weight and the ratio between the two. A physically heavier bow (such as a target recurve) puts the “DFL” (Draw Force Line) such that the line goes through not the bow shoulder, but some point below the shoulder meaning the muscles have to work harder. Not just to support the bow itself, but it also takes some of the draw load as well. If you have an analytical engineering mindset, it’s a great book with graphs, charts, and multiple illustrations on how the bow interacts with the body.


    • I have read AA about a half dozen times and I am getting ready to read it again, because the more I learn, the more I get out of that book! I have contacted the author and tied to get him to write for Archery Focus magazine but so far, no good. There is always more to see/say on these topics but blog posts aren’t supposed to get so long, so thanks for the comment as readers of this post will now know that AA is a source of more info!


  4. MikeyBoy69

    What are the advantages of having a heavier bow, like 50lb compared to 30lb?


    • There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these considerations. And, such considerations also depend upon application. You didn’t say what your particular application is, so that makes any answer I provide longer. (If you want short, pithy answers, ask detailed questions. ;o)

      My recommendation is to consider the goal of finding the lowest draw weight bow that will allow you to shoot your last arrow in any set with the same form and execution as you had on your first. Higher draw weights than that require serious physical training to be successful (which can be achieved by shooting, but that means many days per week of shooting).

      I will post a more expansive answer to your question shortly.


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