Archery’s health benefits and how to get in shape for the sport.
Archery doesn’t require superhuman strength. While upper body strength is definitely an advantage, archery requires more stability, flexibility, and good posture than brute strength. However, archery is a physical sport, so increasing your general fitness is only going to help you improve your skills.
While shooting your bow is a great way to improve your skills, it may not be enough to get you in peak archery form. Increasing your strength and stamina will give you better control and stability in your shooting. The best way to develop these skills isn’t necessarily on the archery range.
Whether you are brand new to the sport of archery or you’re a seasoned veteran, the following exercises will help you step up your archery game.
What Muscles Should I Work Out for Archery?
Whether you’re shooting at bullseyes, 3D targets, or big game animals, increasing your upper body and core strength will improve your shooting. You should focus on exercises that strengthen your arms, chest, back, and shoulders. However, don’t neglect your lower body. Stability starts with your stance, and forming a strong foundation will help improve your accuracy and your endurance.
Let’s start with an exercise that will help develop a strong and sturdy archery stance. Romanian Deadlifts are a guaranteed way to develop a strong lower back, as well as strong glutes and hamstrings, which are all essential to a solid archery foundation.
Your goal should be to complete 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with a rest period of 60 seconds between sets.
Here is the step-by-step process to perform Romanian deadlifts safely and effectively:
- Stand with your feet hip width apart.
- Maintaining a slight bend in your elbows, use an overhand grip to hold a barbell with your hands positioned just wider than your thighs.
- Keep your shoulders back, chest up, and back straight.
- Bend at the hip until the barbell is lowered just below the knees.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows
You can look at this exercise and immediately tell it will help you increase your draw strength. Dumbbell rows strengthen your rhomboid and arm muscles, which are the primary muscles used to draw your bow.
For best results, perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with each arm, resting a full minute between sets.
To perform this exercise:
- Choose a weight that is challenging but doesn’t make it impossible for you to complete the exercise.
- Place one knee on a flat bench, bend forward at the waist, and place the same side hand on the bench.
- Keep your torso parallel to the floor.
- Grasp the dumbbell in your free hand and hold it with your arm extended toward the floor.
- Pull the dumbbell toward your ribs in a slow controlled motion while maintaining good posture.
- Lower the dumbbell until your arm is once again extended.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Believe it or not, your shoulders play a key role in both stabilizing and drawing your bow. This simple exercise will not only strengthen these important muscles, it also helps with shoulder mobility and range of motion.
Complete 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with a one-minute rest between sets.
To perform lateral raises:
- Choose two dumbbells that are a comfortable, yet challenging, weight.
- Hold one in each hand.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells to your sides until they reach shoulder height.
- Lower them back to your sides in a controlled manner.
Lat Pull Downs
The latissimus dorsi are the two largest muscles in the back. These broad, flat, triangular muscles are used mainly during the drawing motion. Lat pull downs are easily the most effective exercise for building these muscles. You’ll need a machine for this one.
For best results, perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with each arm, resting a full minute between sets.
Here is how to do lat pull downs safely and effectively:
- Adjust your weight so that it presents a challenge, but doesn’t make the exercise impossible to complete.
- Grab the handle with hands approximately shoulder width apart.
- Sit down softly while maintaining your grip so that your arms are extended over your body.
- Position your body in the lat pulldown machine with your thighs under the pad and feet on the ground hip width apart.
- With your chest pointing up, pull down with your elbows back until the handle comes close to your chest.
- Extend the arms back up using a controlled movement.
Wide Hands Push-Ups
Push-ups are a convenient way to work out your archery muscles. You can do these simple exercises practically anywhere, and they require no extra equipment.
Push-ups are an effective way to strengthen your arms, chest, back, and core muscles. However, this arms wide version helps target the chest and shoulders specifically.
Proper form is more important than the number of push-ups you perform. It is better to do fewer repetitions with good form and proper body alignment than to do more repetitions with poor form. As a general rule, do as many pushups as you can before your form starts to suffer.
- Place hands on the floor just wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Raise up onto your toes.
- Your back should be long and straight.
- Bending your elbows, slowly lower your chest until it almost touches the floor.
- Push through the hands until your body returns to the starting position.
Here is another simple exercise you can do that requires no special equipment. This one mostly works your triceps (the group of muscles that runs along the back side of your arms), but as an added bonus, it also works the chest muscles.
Just like with push-ups, the quality of your bench dips is more important than the quantity. Focus on completing your bench dips with proper form.
- Sit on a bench or chair.
- Place your hands on the bench with your palms facing down on either side of your hips.
- Walk your feet out from the bench while maintaining your hand position. (Your bottom should be close to, but not touching, the bench.)
- Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
- Extend your arms, pushing through the palms, until you return to the starting position.
The forearm plank is an isometric exercise (meaning your muscles contract without moving) that improves core stability, strength, and endurance, all of which are necessary for archery.
To properly perform a forearm plank:
- Place your forearms on the ground with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders.
- With your feet relatively close together, lift your hips off the floor so your toes and forearms are your body’s only points of contact with the floor.
- Focus on keeping your body straight with your knees, hips, back, and shoulders in a straight line.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed, but contract your glutes (butt muscles) and abdomen.
- Hold this position for as long as you can maintain proper posture.
Archery itself is not considered a cardiovascular exercise. However, improving your cardiovascular health and endurance can have a major effect on your archery performance. This is particularly true for bowhunters and competitive archers who often shoot under stress.
When your heart-rate and breathing increase, it can be difficult to pull off a focused and stable shot. Exercises that aim to increase your heart rate and breathing can help you stay calm and collected when trying to shoot your bow under pressure.
Many serious archers implement running, hiking, cycling, or swimming into their training plans.
Even just 10-20 minutes of yoga a day can help improve your archery. Although yoga may not be the most effective way to strengthen your shooting muscles, it is highly effective for improving other aspects of your archery game.
Yoga is a great way to improve your posture and balance, increase self-confidence, improve coordination and flexibility, instill focus, and control your breathing. All these are essential elements of archery, whether you’re shooting targets or bowhunting. If you’ve never tried yoga, test it out with a drop-in class at your local gym or YMCA.
Archery as a Workout
Archery may not be as physically demanding as some other sports, but it does help with overall fitness. It is also a great way to add some variety to your normal fitness routine. Pounding the pavement and pumping iron can get pretty monotonous after a while. If you need to spice up your exercise habits, archery can help you burn calories and get some fresh and sunshine in the process.
Archers who practice several times a week should see improvements in their strength and muscle tone. Archery is also a physical activity that burns calories. However, you shouldn’t expect to turn into a bodybuilder using archery alone.
According to a study from Harvard University, field archery burns approximately 200 calories per hour. The amount of calories you burn will vary depending on your body weight, draw weight, shooting speed, and distance to your target.
You can also expect to burn more calories if you are bowhunting or engaged in combat archery (a sport similar to paintball or laser tag played with bows and foam-tipped arrows). Both of these sports are more active forms of archery and will burn significantly more calories per hour than target archery.
When it comes to calorie expenditure, archery burns calories at a rate similar to other moderate intensity activities like bowling, golf, and dancing.
Archery can be a dynamic and active workout. It taxes your muscles as you draw and aim and burns calories as you walk back and forth from the target to retrieve arrows.
However, you shouldn’t rely on archery alone for weight loss. If weight loss is your main goal, be sure to incorporate principles of basic nutrition. Eat healthier foods and increase your physical activity. Archery can certainly play a role in your weight loss plan, but it should not be the sole activity used to reach your goal.
The answer to that question largely depends on your end goal. If you enjoy practicing archery for entertainment and exercise, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to shoot several dozen arrows in one outing.
Bowhunters often choose to focus on precision and holding their draw. In this case, the quality of your shots should trump quantity. Bowhunters practicing in the off-season may be satisfied with shooting a dozen perfectly placed arrows rather than scattering 50 arrows all over the target.
Many elite archers shoot hundreds of arrows each day.
Obviously, the number of arrows you shoot will depend on your goals, shooting style, and your fitness level. Remember that bad habits form when your body fatigues. If you are tired and your form begins to suffer, you should probably pack up your equipment and call it a day. At the very least, allow your body and mind to rest for several hours before resuming your practice.
Other Health Benefits of Archery
Archery has plenty of benefits beyond physical exercise. Not only is the sport great for the physical body, it is also good for the mind and the spirit. Here are just a few of archery’s many benefits.
Improves Hand-Eye Coordination
To shoot an arrow and hit a target, your hands must work together while using the relevant input from your eyes to be successful. This coordination improves with repetition and practice, so if you feel a little awkward and clumsy when you’re first starting out, don’t worry. Everyone has to start somewhere and Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Archery requires you to engage almost every muscle in your body when drawing and shooting. Less obvious muscles also work to help hold your body steady, allowing you to keep your arrow of target through the release. This particularly engages your core muscles, which are also essential for maintaining balance during normal everyday activities.
Regular archery practice strengthens upper body muscle groups including the levator scapulae, trapezius, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and rhomboids. These muscle groups are important to good posture.
Proper archery form demands an erect posture with your head balancing directly over your spine. Reinforcing this posture on the practice field will also help improve your posture when you’re off the field.
Concentration is essential for an archer to tune out distractions, focus on their shooting form, and fixate on their target. This narrowing of focus has an effect similar to the effect of meditation.
There is an actual form of meditation called trataka which involves staring at a single point. Practitioners may choose a small object, although a candle flame is most common. Although somewhat different, the focus in archery incorporates the same principle of focusing on a single point. For the archer it is the point you want your arrow to impact.
Developing this laser-like focus helps archers cope with high-stress situations in their mundane lives as well as on the archery field.
Forms Healthy Social Relationships
Although archery is very much an individual sport, archers often form strong social bonds through shared experiences on the practice and competition fields. Archery is open to participants in almost every age group, and many families enjoy practicing and competing together.
Getting Fresh Air and Sunshine
Unless you practice on an indoor archery range, shooting your bow also has all the proven advantages of being outside. Studies have shown that time spent outdoors has its own special set of health benefits
Practicing archery outside can increase vitamin D levels. Exposure to sunlight begins a process that results in the creation and activation of vitamin D. According to research, this essential vitamin plays a role in preventing osteoporosis, cancer, depression, and heart attacks.
Studies also suggest time spent outdoors reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.
Additionally, scientists believe being outside and breathing phytoncides (the airborne chemicals produced by plants) increases the body’s white blood cell count. Since white blood cells play a key role in helping us fight off infections and diseases, the simple act of being outside can offer a valuable boost to our immune systems.
Summing It Up
Archery is a great physical activity with many health benefits. It improves balance, strength, coordination, and focus. Practicing your archery skills is also a fabulous way to spend time with your friends and family while having fun in the great outdoors.
If you want to improve your archery skills, you can practice off the archery field with training exercises to increase muscle strength, cardio exercises to increase stamina, and yoga to improve focus, flexibility, and breath control. You can plan these workouts yourself, or hire a personal trainer or archery coach to help. Either way, not only will your archery skills improve, but so will your physical and mental health.
About the Author: Alice Jones Webb
Alice Jones Webb is a writer, long-time hunter, experienced shooter, and mother of four up-and-coming outdoor enthusiasts. She grew up flinging arrows and bullets at Virginia whitetails, turkey, and game birds, but her favorite hunting experience is chasing bull elk in the Colorado backcountry.