Most fall big-game hunting seasons last about three months at most, and then they’re over in the blink of an eye. If you’re doing the math, that means bowhunters are left with nine months of battling offseason woes. For many, this period is consumed by scouting hunting areas, evaluating equipment, and shooting practice. But it shouldn’t stop there. If you want to get more enjoyment out of bowhunting, invest in your own physical health during the offseason.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Going to the gym won’t help me kill deer,” and you’re right. But it will help you draw your bow with proper mechanics, shoot better and avoid a pesky shoulder injury that otherwise might sideline you during your favorite time of year.
Christian Williams is a bowhunter with a background in exercise science, injury prevention, and strength and conditioning. He started Archery Strong over four years ago to focus on working with all types of archers for injury prevention and sports performance.
The most common injury Williams sees is from archers shooting too much draw weight. “When archers draw and shoot with more weight than they’re equipped to handle, they can sustain injuries to the draw shoulder, bow shoulder, upper back, neck and elbows,” he said.
If you hang out at 3D shoots or your local pro shop, you’ll notice some archers draw their bow by pointing it toward the sky or jerking it to full draw using their release arm and bicep. Both methods are telltale signs of someone pulling more draw weight than they should. If not corrected, this can lead to injuries.
“There are two main causes of pain and injury in regards to draw style,” Williams said. “The first occurs when the archer does not use the larger muscles of the back to properly move the shoulder and manage the weight. The second occurs when archers force their draw into a range of motion that doesn’t work for their shoulder, positioning their elbow too high or too low.”
There are a few ways you can make sure you’re not “overbowed,” a term given to those shooting a draw weight that’s too heavy to achieve proper form. Start by sitting on a chair or stool and raise your feet so they’re hovering over the ground. You should be able to draw your bow in one fluid motion without your feet touching the ground and without aiming into the sky during the draw process. Another way is simply to film yourself with your phone set up on a tripod while you draw your bow. Position the camera so it’s facing your back. When shooting with proper form, Williams says to the archer should look for the shoulder blade sliding toward the spine while it pulls the arm and elbow along with it. If these tests reveal you’re pulling too much weight, visit your pro shop to get your bow adjusted to a manageable draw weight.
Muscles used while shooting a bow are different from the usual muscles required to execute most basic lifts or daily tasks. For that reason, a workout regimen that targets your shoulders and back will help you shoot with better form and, most importantly, free of any shoulder or elbow pain. Best of all, these exercises don’t always require expensive equipment or gym access.
“A variety of body weight, band, and isometric exercises can be used to increase strength,” Williams said. “Examples of these exercises are plank variations, body weight pushing/pulling, broomstick isometrics, floor isometrics, and band exercise targeting upper body muscles.”
While these exercises are a helpful starting point, if building serious strength is your goal, Williams said the best results will ultimately come from utilizing weight training tools and protocols, especially if you have a history of shoulder soreness or injury.
If you ever find yourself in pain while shooting your bow, it’s best to stop immediately. Ease into your shooting regimen, and focus on quality reps with perfect form. The worst thing you can do is mindlessly send arrows downrange for hours on end. While fun, this can cause injury and poor shooting habits. The best practice is done with intention. Whether your focus is on form, perfecting your draw, or shrinking your groups at distance, pick something to home in on and don’t overdo it.
“Repetitive motion and stress are two of the most common causes of pain and injury in archery,” Williams said. “Listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re sore, decrease your shooting volume, frequency and draw weight. If you feel good, you can ramp up your shooting.”
Archery Strong provides strength training and corrective exercise plans focused on relieving pain, fixing injury and building strength in archers. Whether you have a history of shoulder pain, are starting to experience some random flare-ups while shooting, or simply want to take preventive measures to ensure a healthy experience in archery, Archery Strong has a program for you. Follow along on Instagram for quick-hitting content ranging from stretches you can do nearly anywhere, illustrations of proper drawing technique, workouts and more. Williams prides himself and his program on offering thorough, yet easy-to-follow exercise plans that help archers fortify and protect the working parts they need to enjoy the sport.