Do you have to be strong for archery?

When people think about archery they often think about how archery is depicted in the movies. Large muscular men pulling very heavy bows, which shoot with tremendous power. This is not only historically inaccurate, but it also doesn’t represent modern day archery. The best archers in the world are not overly muscular. Archery is not a weight lifting competition but is all about accuracy. Therefore good archers shoot with a bow which they can easily draw.

In case you're are in a hurry, read the short answer below:

You don’t have to be really strong for archery. Most archers start with a low draw weight which enables them to focus on their technique. Having strong back muscles is beneficial, but since these muscles aren’t used in daily life, most people start with a low draw weight.

In this article I will discuss this topic in more detail. I will discuss which muscles are used in archery. Next up, different body types and the advantage or disadvantage for different archers will be reviewed. To wrap up this article, I will give some extra tips and explain how you can train your muscles for archery.

What muscles do you use?

In the intro I discussed that you mainly use your back muscles when shooting. This is not the complete story though, because you also use your arm muscles. The difference, however, is that you use your arm muscles in daily life. Therefore, most people have sufficient arm muscles to start with archery. Even most senior people won’t experience any issues with their arm muscles.

The upper back muscles are a whole different story. In our daily life we almost never use our back muscles because it doesn’t help us move our arms or legs. We only tension our upper back muscles when we pull our shoulder blades together, which is not something we do often in daily life.

The upper back consists of multiple layers of muscles. The first being the trapezius muscle which stretches over a large part from the spine to the shoulder cap. Behind the trapezius muscle is the rhomboides minor and major. These muscles start from the spine and continue to the shoulder blade. In the neck are the splenius capitis and cervicis, which make you able to move your head.

The rhomboides minor and major are the muscles that are under the most tension when at full draw. Therefore these muscles are most often the issue if you experience muscle pain. But also the trapezius muscle, splenius capitis and services need to be sufficiently trained. These muscles assist the draw and are also under tension when drawing the bow.

If you want to know more about these back muscles I would recommend reading the following article:

‘’How to train your back muscles for archery’’

Why being a bodybuilder is a disadvantage

At the start of this article I said that you don’t really have to be strong to start with archery, but that it helps if you have strong back muscles. Therefore you might think that bodybuilders will have an advantage if they start shooting. The main focus of most bodybuilders is their arm muscles, because you don’t really see your back muscles that well. But most bodybuilders will also have decent back muscles because you can’t really your arm muscles, without training your back muscles to.

Having really thick arm muscles, however, is seen as a disadvantage. When you are drawing the bow, you pull your elbow backwards in about a 110 degree angle. If you have really thick biceps you will not be able to make this sharp angle. If you can’t make it to this angle you can’t anchor correctly. Therefore most archers don’t train their arm muscles excessively.

Why being overweight is a disadvantage

On the other hand, being overweight can also be a disadvantage. In the first, people that are overweight tend to have a less stamina. You would be surprised how much stamina is still required when shooting. Another important reason why being overweight can be a disadvantage has to do with your form. If you are overweight you might notice that your belly or breast interferes with the string. Therefore some archers have to bend their head forward to clear their belly or breast. This is uncomfortable and strains your neck muscles.

Why you should start with a low draw weight

Most archers overestimate the draw weight. When you draw a bow one time, you will probably not even feel your muscles. Therefore, starting archer often conclude, based on one or a few draws, that the draw weight is light enough. When you are at the range, however, you will experience that there is a big difference to drawing a bow once or 30 times. Your muscles will get tired after each shot, therefore you will slowly feel the strain on your muscles.

Therefore, beware of overestimating your own muscle strength. Starting with a lighter bow is often more advantageous because you can focus more on your technique. Archery is not a weight lifting competition; therefore you shouldn’t force yourself in a certain draw weight. If you want to know more about draw weight, I would recommend reading the following article:

‘’Buying the right limbs for your bow – Draw weight’’

Some extra tips if you are tall and skinny

Choosing the right draw length is really important but especially difficult if you are tall and skinny. If you have long arms, you probably have a long draw length. This long draw length makes your bow extra heavy.

A common mistake archers make is comparing the draw weight displayed on the limbs without considering the draw length. If you have one short archer with a 40 pound bow and a tall archer with a 25 pound bow, depending on their draw length they could have the exact same draw weight.

The draw weight of all limbs, no matter the size, are measured at 28 inches. Therefore, if you have a draw length over 28 inches, your actual draw weight will be much higher. If you have a shorter draw length then your actual draw weight will be lower. This can make really significant differences because the draw weight on bows increases per inch of draw length.

Therefore you shouldn’t compare your draw weight with other archers. If you have a long draw weight you should be wary of buying a heavy bow. The actual draw weight will be much higher than indicated on the limbs. So be careful, I had to learn this the hard way when I just started.

How to train your ‘’archery’’ muscles

In general most people don’t have to train their muscles when you start with archery. You can just start with a low draw weight and if you get stronger slowly increase the draw weight. A common mistake, however, is to expect results too quickly. Most archers expect that you can advance to a higher draw weight within half a year, but often this is not the case. Most often it takes at least a year, depending on your strength.

If you really want to shoot a higher draw weight, you can of course always train your back muscles. If you want to know how to do so, I would recommend reading this article:

‘’How to train your back muscles for archery’’

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