You don’t need to be strong like the Hulk to be a great archer. Although archery requires strength, it’s more about stability, great posture and even flexibility.
Stepping up your fitness game isn’t just good for you, it’s also going to boost your skills with a bow and arrows. Archery-focused exercises can help you draw a bow more easily, while building the stability and body control necessary for proper archery form. Those “upgrades” will help you pack more arrows into the middle of the target.
Shooting your bow is a great way to increase strength, but shooting won’t get you into peak archery shape by itself. To build stability and body control, the world’s best archers train on the range, in the gym and even on the yoga mat for complete archery fitness. The extra training gives them the needed edge to focus, steady their aim and outshoot the competition.
These pro archery exercises are for everyone, not just serious competitors. Whether you’re a brand new archer or even an aspiring one, these exercises will help you gain strength, improve your shooting technique, and even boost accuracy, whether you’re shooting at a bull’s-eye or 3-D target. These exercises are easily done at home and only take minutes to complete. You can even do them while watching TV or your favorite archery videos.
We asked three archers – including two Olympic medalists – how they get physically fit for better archery.
Jake Kaminski: Two-time Olympic silver medalist, author and professional archer.
Jake Kaminski takes a total-body approach to fitness and strength training, and emphasizes overall wellness. The muscles used to draw and hold a bow at full draw are difficult to strengthen at a gym. Some exercises work these muscles, but nothing works them better than drawing your bow.
When you first start shooting archery, you’ll start with a bow that has a low draw weight, meaning it will be easy to pull back. This is important because you don’t want to strain to draw the bow, which can lead to fatigue and poor technique. As you progress in archery, you’ll want to increase your draw weight, because more draw weight means a faster arrow and the ability to shoot farther. You can speed up your progression by supplementing your shooting with exercises designed to work your archery muscles. One of the best exercises for increasing draw weight is Specific Physical Training, or SPT.
SPTs were developed by KiSik Lee, who coaches the U.S. Olympic Team for archery. SPT exercises are usually done using a bow, but any training device that mimics drawing a bow by using resistance bands will also work. For beginners, you can start with any resistance band – just loop it so you can “draw” the band with one hand, and hold it with the other.
“For increasing draw weight, SPTs are great,” Kaminski said. “Basically, what you do is draw back your bow and hold at full draw with good form for a minimum of 15 seconds and a maximum of 30 seconds. You then rest double what you held. So, if you held for 15 seconds, you rest for 30 seconds. Continue that for a half-hour to an hour. Doing that for an hour equates roughly to 200 to 250 arrows shot.”
For safety, if you do SPT with a bow, stand in front of a target with an arrow loaded, so if you accidentally trigger a dry-fire, you won’t damage your bow. Using resistance bands instead will let you do SPT workouts at home while watching TV or getting some fresh air and sunshine.
Kaminski takes a scientific approach to exercise and, most importantly, structures his training so he’s at peak performance for competitions. His book, “Training for Archery,” covers his system in-depth.
Heather Koehl: Olympic Team alternate, Olympic Training Center resident athlete.
Heather Koehl focuses her training on balance and strength. For strength, she mostly works on her core and upper body. “As archers, we try to focus on our arms (strengthening the biceps, triceps and wrists); our back (posterior deltoids, latissimus dorsi and lower traps); and core stability with our abs,” she said.
Like many recurve archers, Koehl uses SPT to build strength. “I’ve found a combination of SPTs and 12 arrows in four minutes drills works the best for me,” she said. “For the four-minute drill, you’re required to shoot 12 arrows in that time span, which is usually the amount of time you’re given in competition to shoot six arrows.”
Cardiovascular endurance benefits archers. “When you have a super-fast heart rate, it can be counterproductive when you’re trying to stay calm and even-keel,” Koehl said. “If you can’t do some extra weightlifting to help with the strength required for the bow, always try to get in some cardio.”
Cardio also comes into play if you are shooting 3-D or field archery, which both involve hiking through the woods. If you can hike up a hill and keep a relatively low heart rate, it will result in better accuracy – and bragging rights when you out-shoot your friends.
Koehl also uses yoga to improve her stability, strength and balance. She recommends basic yoga classes to work on these important parts of archery fitness.
Stability comes into play while shooting on the uneven terrain experienced by 3-D and field archers. Balance and stability keep you in perfect posture and keep your bow steady while shooting uphill and downhill. In fact, yoga is one of the best exercises for archery because it teaches body awareness and mental focus. So, if you want to up your archery game, give yoga a try!
Zach Garrett: Olympic silver medalist, Olympic Training Center resident athlete.
Zach Garrett noticed his shooting skills improve after recently stepping up his workouts. “Having a weightlifting routine is really new to me,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of positive results from consistently working out.”
Garret trains full time at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. He shoots thousands of arrows weekly, so his upper-body strength doesn’t require extra attention. Garret focuses his workouts on core and leg strength. His favorite exercises are squats, planks, deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts.
During your first archery lesson, you might hear that you’re leaning back while shooting. This is very common for new and experienced archers alike. To improve posture, Garret recommends focusing on core and stability strength by doing front and side planks.
Garret also uses mental exercises to sharpen his focus for competition. After all, the mind is a muscle used in every shot, so it helps to make it strong. “I really believe in exercise’s ability to increase a person’s cognitive ability and focus,” Garret said. “At the Training Center, we have to read an article while music is playing. We then have to recall key points from the article. It’s a great drill for focus and dealing with distractions.”
These three top-tier archers have their own style of archery workouts. The key is to find what works best for you. You can start with the instructors at your local archery store, and even a personal trainer, to create workout programs that fit your needs. Either way, you’ll benefit physically and mentally when you get in shape for archery!