Archery requires more strength than meets the eye. Besides the obvious arm and shoulder strength, the act of shooting a bow puts your body through stress in the core region while you must maintain good balance and proprioception in the lower extremities. Maintaining good fitness is great for all archers in general, but doing certain exercises that target your shooting and stability muscles will help your archery game.
Archery is a very one-sided sport, and overdevelopment always happens with archers who spend hours upon hours practicing. Usually the body’s dominant side (the side that pulls the string back) will develop more back, shoulder and arm muscles while the other side will develop the critical stabilizing muscles, which are not as bulky. Overdevelopment on the dominant side can potentially lead to some posture problems in the long term. Top-level archers counteract this development by doing exercises in the gym that mimic pulling a bow, but with their nondominant side to try to “even out” their muscle development. Of course, their muscles will never achieve complete symmetry, but such exercises will help to keep the archer’s muscles better balanced.
Archers spend countless hours on their feet. Some stand in one spot to shoot at a target, and they need to be able to hit the middle regardless of the weather conditions on the archery field. Other archers shooting a field round must traverse varying terrain and shoot from positions that can vary from being on the side of a hill to standing and balancing on rocks and tree roots.
To shoot in windy conditions or with less-than-ideal footing, it’s important to train the brain and feet to be able to recognize shifting body weight. This is where proprioception training comes in, where the archer performs tasks while balancing on an unstable platform. This can be done at home away from the gym with materials easily bought from your local sports store. Archers also train (shoot) while standing on balance pads to simulate very unstable conditions so that they feel more stable in a range of situations.
Maintaining a strong core is one of the keys to consistent shooting. The core is defined as the muscles in the central part of your body, which includes your stomach, lower back, hips and pelvis. The muscles in that area are essential for keeping you upright and stable, and to help resist twisting. There are literally hundreds of different exercises that you can research, and almost all of them can be beneficial to archers.
Some of the most important muscles to focus on are the lower abdominals and the obliques. Lower abdominals are a key connection between the upper and lower halves of your body; a weak connection sets up a poor foundation for stability in the shot. In that case, the archer might tend to start arching their lower back during the shot, which can cause fatigue and injury over time. The obliques (abdominal muscles that extend down the sides of the torso) are used for stabilizing and resisting twisting of the torso. The motion of drawing the string back and the subsequent release of the string will put a rotational force onto the torso, and being able to keep this stable will result in better consistency.
Although archery is a “stand in place” sport, having a good cardiovascular system is very important. Some of the world’s best archers can shoot in situations with the highest pressure and their heart rate barely crests over 80 beats per minute. You might credit genetics, but most of them train with focus on cardio to bring down their resting heart rate. Snipers are known for shooting between heartbeats, and archers can do this as well; the slower the heart rate at full draw, the higher the chance an archer can shoot between heartbeats. A lower heart rate during shooting helps the archer stay calm and minimize involuntary movement during the aiming process. Cardio exercises can vary. Some archers enjoy running; others can’t stand the thought of running a mile. It’s up to the person to know what works best for them (running, cycling, swimming, etc.) to train their cardio system effectively. Steady-state training — where you do your cardio exercise routine but try to keep your heart rate below around 150 beats per minute — seems to be the best for archers (according to physical trainers). The rate will be different for every individual, but the key is to maintain and control the heart rate even under cardio exertion.
Shooting arrows is a great way to train, but you should cover physical exercise off the archery field too. Most high-level Olympic archers will have a strict regimen of shooting and physical training. Some will shoot six days per week and train for strength three times; others will integrate a smaller, but daily, strength training routine into their archery practice. Not everybody has the luxury of training and working out every day, but making time for a sport that you love will help you find opportunities during the week to squeeze in some exercising or doing cardio. It doesn’t always have to be a big session, and doing smaller, more frequent sessions can have a positive effect. Try to enjoy exercising just as much as you enjoy shooting.