At some point, every archer considers getting serious about archery. It is perfectly okay, of course, for them to stick with “just flinging arrows,” after all it is fun! It is also okay for them to explore the idea of becoming a serious competitive archer. Dreams of being at the Olympics are one thing, doing it quite another. They do not have to go “all in,” they can just give it a try, if they want to.
We have taught you our use of the terms “recreational archer” and competitive archer.” They basically cover the categories of archers who shoot just for fun (only for fun!) and those who want to learn how to compete and do well. Serious competitive archers are those who want to learn how to win.
And it is really easy to decide if they are cut out to become serious about their archery, it all comes down to whether or not they are willing to do the boring parts. This is one of those parts: becoming archery strong.
Just What Do They Mean by “Get Stronger?”
If a student-archer comes up to you and says “I need to get stronger,” what are you going to say? They do need guidance because they can waste a lot of time trying to “get strong” only to find out that what they are doing hurts their archery.
Archery is known as a “low arousal” sport. Basically that means archers do not want to get “pumped up” or really excited like one does while playing football. Archery is a repetition sport that requires archers to so the same thing over and over as precisely as possible. Because of that their basic physical platform is a body that uses as few muscles as possible with the rest being relaxed. Sure, they need to be able to stand up and stand steady, calmly, but they do not need immensely strong legs or arms, for example. These are things football linemen need in their strength profile but not archers. Archers do not need big biceps, either. These would get in the way of folding their draw arms at the elbow.
Well, what does need to be strong? You can figure this out by just walking mentally through an archery shot.
In order to be still and clam at full draw (for consistency’s sake), the foundation is a strong bow shoulder and a strong set of back muscles, primarily those needed to swing their draw shoulder around toward their spine. If you aren’t up on archery musculature, try this: stand up and hold your arms straight out to your sides. Now try to swing both arms on an horizontal arc so they would meet behind your back. Don’t worry, we don’t think even a contortionist can do this. You can bring your hands together in front of you, but you can only get so far when you swing your arms back. This is because the muscles responsible for this motion exist between and underneath your shoulder blades. They can contract (all muscles ever do is contract or relax) only so far and then … you stop. When you get to this awkward position you will feel those muscles, in the middle of your back, bunched up (that is contracted as far as they may be). Now you know which one’s we are talking about.
Many people think you need strong arms to be an archer but that turns out to be not true. In addition to those back muscles, you need strong upper arm muscles to hold your bow up. These are called the deltoid muscles (because they are shaped a bit like a Greek letter delta, D). If you stand up again and wrap your right hand around the very top of your left arm, then raise your left arm, you will feel those muscles harden (aka contract).
Archers can start on an “archery fitness program” by making these two sets of muscles stronger. There is more, much more, but they are just getting started getting stronger.
Building the Bow Arm Raisers
All archery exercises are the same for left-handers as well as right-handers. This is because we want to keep their bodies “balanced,” meaning the muscles on the left side are in as good a shape as those on the right side. So, all exercises that use just some side of the body are doubled: after you do one side, you repeat with the other.
Building Deltoid Strength The easiest way to build your ability to hold a bow up and steady is what are called “side raises” using a hand weight. You hold the hand weight to your side with your arm hanging straight down. You raise your arm until it is horizontal and then lower it back. That is “one repetition” of the exercise.
The amount of weight should not be great at the start. You should be able to do 10 repetitions (fairly slowly, do not rush) without getting very tired. Then you switch arms, and do 10 more. That is called one set. The goal is to get to three sets for this exercise. If you can’t get close to repeating this another two times, you have too much weight. Use less weight. If you whip right through and don’t feel it at all, you have too little weight, add more.
Hand Weights You do not need to run out and buy a set of dumbbells, even though that is what a dumbbell set was designed for. The reason you don’t want to rush out and get the “proper equipment” is that you haven’t passed the boredom test yet (see below). If you get bored and quit after a couple of days, what are you going to do with those stupid dumbbells? (They will become “stupid” because their existence will say ‘failure” to you every time you see them. This is why so much exercise equipment ends up in the garage … out of sight.)
If you have a plastic milk jug, you have all you need. Rinse it out and then fill it all of the way up with water. Put the cap on. You now have an 8-pound hand weight. (And it even has a handle!) This is too much for this exercise, we suggest you start with it about one eighth full (a 1-pound hand weight). Put a mark half way up the side of the jug, that is four pounds. Half way up to that mark is two pound and the water reaching up only about half way to that mark is one pound. (It doesn’t have to be exact.)
If you wear out this jug, it is time to get a set of dumbbells.
Building Your Bow String Puller
There is an axiom in training that says “the best exercise is the activity itself.” Why try to simulate the activity with exercise equipment? You got the real thing right there.
There are two approaches to building your back muscles using a bow. And for simplicities sake we will be giving directions for a recurve bow, but this applies to compounds and longbows, too. The two approaches are to draw a heavier drawing bow for exercise or to draw your bow and hold it in drawn position for a longer time. Which you choose to do depends on whether you have the necessary equipment (a heavier drawing bow).
Heavier Bow Drawing You can make a facsimile of a heavier bow but tying stretch tubing along side the bow string and then pulling the bow plus the tubing. Some archers have even practice drawing two light drawing bows at the same time. (We do not recommend this as accidents are too likely to occur.)
If you do have to have a “heavier” bow it must only be slightly heavier (2#-5#). If your regular bow is a 24# bow, trying to pull a 44# bow will be defeating.
Always draw with your absolute best form, hold, and let down. (Letting down is better than shooting this bow as it exercises the muscles involved even more.) A set of 10 of these is the first goal. Later we would like to get to three sets of 10.
Reversals If you have no “heavier bow scenario” you can create there is the exercise called “reversals” (why we do not know). You start with your bow (no arrow) and you draw and hold for a count of, say 3, then you let down. A set of 10 of these is the first goal. Later we would like to get to three sets of 10.
When the task gets easy, you expand the number of seconds of hold time (one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, …). Elite archers have been known to get up to 30 second holds!
When to Do These Exercises
It is best to exercise on a regular schedule. Possibly every other day would be best for now as that gives their muscles time for R and R (recovery and repair). All exercise that stress muscles enough that cause them to grow in responce creates some damage along the process. Repair of this damage is an ordinary function, but it takes some time. Go at it too hard and too often, and bigger injuries will happen. If they are working on both of these exercise, they can leap frog them, first one, then the next day the other, then back to the first. This pattern is what body builders use. On one day they work out their back and legs, on the next they work out their arms and chest, etc.
Set yourself a regular time, like before bed time, or whatever to make it easy to remember to do your archery exercises. You can even do them while watching TV or videos on your computer, but you cannot get so distracted you are not focussed on doing the exercises with proper form.
How to Evaluate Their Progress
So, if they try something like this and they are just bored to tears they will just stop doing these exercises. (You know this. We’ll bet that at one time in your life you obtained a piece of exercise equipment and now it is out in the garage or under a blanket somewhere.) So, now they know. And so do you. Right now they are not a competitive archer. This does not mean they will never be one, they just aren’t one right now.
They can still go to competitions . . . for fun, but not with a goal of winning or placing.
If, however, they can do these exercises, or similarly dull ones, and do not give up and are buoyed up by the idea of becoming a better archer, then they may just well be a serious competitive archer. Whether they will remain one is another simple test: can they make enough progress to feel they are getting better and the “better” they are getting to is good enough to meet their goals.
There are general principles underneath all AER archery instruction. If you are working with youths, remember that we suggest it is not a good idea for 8-, 9-, and 10-year olds concentrating on just one sport. We think they need to explore. If they find nothing they love more than archery, good! If they find something they love more than archery, that is good, too! We also think participation in just one sport isn’t good physically. Think about combining archery and soccer/football. In soccer, they are running, running, running and not using their upper bodies. In archery, they at most walk, and are heavily using their upper bodies. What a great combination! And each sport supports doing the other.
If you do recommend physical training, remember that this is a test and if as a result of their trying, they did not like the experience, deciding they would rather just shoot for fun, they did not fail the test! Do not think less of them. They may decide differently in six months or a year and even if they don’t it doesn’t say anything about them as a person that they did not want to get all serious about archery.
We just can’t take everything they find to be fun and turn it inro a job!