After a long absence from the archery range you go back to work on your skills and determine you are really out of shape. The toll of winter has set in and you regret the decision to binge on one more season of your favorite show instead of pulling out your bow. Archery is a total body activity that uses the muscles of the upper body, trunk and legs collectively to achieve a perfect shot. The muscles are used in such a unique way that can take adjustment and even feel awkward to first time shooters. I want to walk you through the form and function of your body for archery and some workout routines to help you succeed.
Proper form is said to be one of the most crucial tools in archery success. It is as equally important as having a well-tuned bow. Keys to proper form are: develop your stance, body position, grip, anchor points and follow through.
Develop Your Stance:
There are typically three stances for bow shooting, all of which have your feet shoulder widths apart. A square stance is when your feet are in line with each other and perpendicular to the target. Closed stance is when your front foot is perpendicular to the target and your back foot is turned out about 45 degrees. Having the back foot perpendicular to the target and the front foot turned out about 45 degrees is an open stance. It is important to find your body’s natural center. Remember to keep about 60% of your weight on the balls of your feet and 40% on your heels. This will help you from leaning back or leaning forward with the shot. The square stance is the best to start with because it is the easiest and can help ensure you can repeat with each shot. Once you determine your shooting style and learn the other movements of the body you can adapt your stance to see which provides the best grouping of shots.
Once in your stance — slightly bend your knees which will help as a shock absorber — and look toward the target. Remember this position and try to shoot this way each time as this is your natural rested position. This will help avoid strain on your head and neck. Keep your back straight and upright yet relax your shoulders. Do not thrust out your chest or hips as this will raise your center of gravity making you less stable. Maintaining your center of gravity and proper body position will encourage more accurate shots.
Grip lends itself to consistent shooting. Hand torque is the most common issue with improper grip. This is a result when there is too much squeeze on the grip and causes an unintentional twist, or torque, of the bow during the shot. In order to avoid hand torque, keep a soft bow hand and do not squeeze the bows grip. The bow will remain on the thumb with the pressure of being fully drawn. Some people will grab the bow after a shot to avoid it from falling — this can lead to the trajectory of the arrow changing if you grip too early. Using a wrist sling can help add the extra insurance needed to calm your mind from wanting to grip on.
Anchor points help ensure consistent positioning between the archer and the bow for every shot. When at full draw the archer should anchor the crotch of the release hand (between the thumb and forefinger) to the back of the jawbone. Think of it as a puzzle piece that fits together. More intermediate or advanced archers will hold the release hand under the chin and kiss the bowstring with their mouth. Practice will allow you to find what anchor point works best for you and ensure you accuracy shot after shot.
After releasing the string your arrow still has a split second of flight before leaving the bow. Moving any part of your form during this time can affect the flight of the arrow. Remember that your release must be a smooth action and not abrupt as to jump the trigger. Maintain engagement of your back muscles and hold the bow in your shooting position and your release hand behind your ear until the arrow hits the target. Do not peak at the target to see when your arrow hits. Shock and vibration from the bow will also be limited to the back and shoulder with proper follow through which will in turn reduce the amount of fatigue at archery practice.
Now that we have worked on the most important features of proper form lets dive into the function of your body and muscles. Most of us suffer from shoulders that are rolled forward and tight. This is often from the sedentary computer screen work demands many of us face. Tight muscles lack the strength and stability needed for safely drawing a bow. 65% of all sports injuries are caused by overuse — repetitive use of joints compromised by lousy posture and weak muscles. If you can follow the exercises listed below it will help ensure your muscles are in peak shape for any archery adventure.
Lay on a flat surface on your stomach. Extend your arms out into a T with your thumbs pointing upward. Keep your head in line with your spine. Pull your shoulder blades in toward your spine trying to squeeze them together. Hold for 5 seconds. Return to resting position with your hands by your side. Repeat 10-15 times.
Single Dumbbell Row:
Put one hand on a bench/chair and bend at the hips with knees slightly bent. Keep your back flat and lower body still. Holding a weight in the other hand pull up to your rib cage — contracting your shoulder muscles in toward the spine. Relax and repeat 3 sets of 10 reps.
Step Ups with a Loaded Pack:
Load your hunting pack or backpack with 30-40 pounds of weight. Have a box, step, etc that is about 20-24” high to step on. Ensure it is stable. Pay close attention to good posture and try not to push off with the back foot yet pull yourself up with your leading foot. Alternate each step. Try to do as many as possible in a 5 minute session. As you become more comfortable, up your session times to increase endurance. This exercise will not only help strength your core and legs needed for shooting but also to increase your endurance for the hunt.
This exercise will use all major muscle groups associated with archery. Start with feet shoulder width apart and arms up with dumbbells above your elbows (which should be at a 90 degree angle.) Go into a deep squat. Once at the bottom explosively burst up while extending hands overhead. Return immediately into your squat. Repeat without rest for 1 minute. Repeat 3 times.
Planks and Crunches:
Alternate an exercise of planks and crunches. Go into a plank position on your elbows and toes. Hold the position for 1 minute ensuring to keep your head and spine in line. Once complete roll onto your back and do 1 minute of crunches or sit-ups. Repeat planks. Repeat crunches. Do this for 3 sets or 6 minutes.
Although all of these exercises help you to strengthen the needed muscles for archery, the best practice is still with a bow in hand. We aren’t always able to make it to the archery range when we want to, but there are some new products out there to help us even when the range is out of reach. The AccuBow is an effective archery training device that gives you the most realistic archery training experience. The single resistance band can be increased or decreased from 10–70 pounds and the draw length also variable, making this training tool effective for archers of all age, strength, and skill levels. At only 4 pounds, the AccuBow is convenient to bring with you to the gym, work or pick up while at home. There is a D-Loop attachment if you want to train with your release or you can opt to train without. The AccuBow allows you to dry-fire which can also help with target panic and learning the surprise release. With the addition of the AccuMount Phone Mount Accessory, you can attach your smartphone to the AccuBow and participate in the downloadable Augmented Reality Archery Training System. Training with both Olympic targets and in bow hunting environments, the app provides a precise and accurate reading of your arrow trajectory after each shot. Increasing pulling poundage, holding stability and shooting stamina are all now available with an interactive archery training tool that you can take and use anywhere, anytime.
As a bowhunter your physical ability is put to the test starting with packing into your hunting spot to holding your shot on target while waiting for the perfect vital shot. Using proper form and increasing muscle strength will help you increase your chance of success in the field.