How to choose the right draw weight for your recurve bow

Whether you are buying a bow online or in a store, one of the toughest decisions you make is the poundage of the limbs. Buying either a too heavy or too weak bow is very frustrating and cost a lot of money. It also often happens that archers quit for a while since they experience muscle issues. This is often due to a too heavy bow. Therefore, I will, therefore, discuss how you can avoid these mistakes and buy a bow with the right draw weight. No time to read on? Read at least the bolded paragraph below:

A draw weight between 20 and 30 LBS will be suitable for most adults. For teens, 18 to 24 LBS is recommended. Children should shoot with less than 18 LBS. It's much better to pick a too low draw weight than too heavy. Picking a too light bow, has little disadvantages for the archer.

There is a lot more to draw weight than you might think. A lot of starting archers choose a draw weight to lightly and therefore end up with a bow which doesn’t allow them to shoot accurately. So keep reading, to avoid these issues!

Some information about draw weight

Before we can dive into recommendations selecting the right draw weight, we have to discuss the draw weight in more detail. In particular we have to discuss the differences between the actual draw weight and the draw weight indicated on the limbs. Click here, if you want to skip this section and go right to the recommendations.

The difference between the limb draw weight and the actual draw weight

When you bought your first bow and you show it to fellow archers, one of the most common questions is: ‘’what is the draw weight’’. For some reason archers find it very important to compare draw weight amongst each other. The silly thing is, however, that the draw weight of the limb alone says nothing about the actual draw weight.

The actual draw weight is determined by two factors: the rigidity of limb (the draw weight) and the draw length. So if two people have the exact same draw length, you can indeed compare the draw weight. The draw weight on the limbs is always measured at 28 inches, regardless of the limb size. So, if you have a draw weight below 28 inches, your actual draw weight will be less than the poundage displayed on the limb. This works also in reverse, if your draw weight is above 28 inches, your actual draw weight heavier than displayed on the limb.

The relationship between draw length and draw weight

Per inch you draw the bow back, the draw weight will increase. Therefore, sometimes both a kid and an adult can shoot the same bow because they have wildly different draw lengths. Let me discuss an example.

My draw length is 31 inches and my actual draw weight is 30 LBS on my recurve bow. That isn't extremely heavy, but also definitely not light. For this example, I measured my bow at a draw length of 20 inches, and at that draw length, the draw weight has dropped to 16 LBS. That is considered a low draw weight, suitable for larger children.

How to get the actual draw weight

Although there are many resources available that claim to enable you to calculate the draw weight, this can never be completely accurate. These tools often let you fill in the draw weight on the limbs and draw length. These tools will only provide you with an estimation, however. If you want to know the real draw weight, you will have to measure it.

To measure the actual draw weight, you can either use a special bow scale, or a luggage scale. Both will give you an accurate reading, but the bow scale will be a lot more easy to use.

Picking the right draw weight

Now you know the difference between actual draw weight and the draw weight indicated on the limbs, we can discuss how to choose the right draw weight.

Draw weight recommendations

By far the best way to figure out what draw weight is right for you is to actually try it. I don’t mean that you should just go to an archery store and try to draw the bow you would like to buy a few times. This doesn’t really allow you to feel if the draw weight is right. You really need to be able to shoot it for a full day. Therefore I would highly recommend lending a bow from a club if possible. This allows you to try different draw weights to find what you can and can’t comfortably draw. If you can comfortably shoot 30 arrows a day with a certain bow, it’s probably the right draw weight.

Sadly this isn’t possible for all archers; therefore you might want some recommendations on what draw weight is recommended in your situation. Below I have added some recommendations based on your age and gender.

Archers profile Draw weight
Small children 16 LBS or less
Larger children 16 till 18 LBS
Teenage female 18 till 22 LBS
Teenage male 20 till 24 LBS
Female 20 till 26 LBS
Male 22 till 30 LBS

The difference between a 22 LBS and a 30 LBS bow is very big. I would only recommend the higher poundages for archers that are short. If you are tall your draw weight will make your bow a lot heavier, as we learned in the previous section.

Some archery coaches also consider the frame and muscle mass of the archer when deciding for the right draw weight. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, since this may often lead to overestimating someone’s strength. The muscles you are using with archery are not often used in daily life, nor are they often trained at the gym. These upper back muscles are only used when you pull your shoulder blades back. If you want to know more about what muscles you use, I would recommend reading this article:

How to train your back muscles for archery – What muscles do you use?

Testing your draw weight

In the previous section, I mentioned that the best way to figure out what draw weight fits you is to test it. If you don’t have access to bows with different draw weights, you can also mimic the draw weight with resistance bands or anything else. If you have a luggage scale, you can measure the resistance of the band at your draw weight. You can then use this resistance band to mimic the draw of the bow.

Make sure that you closely mimic the draw time (see the table below) and repeat it at least 30 times. Keep small breaks between all 3 shots to closely mimic an archery training. You know you have the right draw weight if you aren’t shaking the last few repetitions.

Archery style Average time at full draw
Traditional (no sight) 3 seconds
Olympic recurve 8 seconds
Compound 15 seconds

I have developed an archery drill that allows you to test your draw weight. It was inspired by an exercise from professional archers. Click on the link below for more information:

A simple test to find the right draw weight

A word of caution

Number one mistake among beginning archers is to buy a bow with a too heavy draw weight. It’s kind of an ego effect that tends to affect men more than woman. Since archers often compare draw weights, some archers want to show off how heavy their draw weight is. Therefore most archers want to shoot as heavy as possible, since they don’t want to stay behind.

Shooting a too heavy bow, however, has many disadvantages. In the first place, you will start to shake during your shots decreasing your accuracy. Because your muscles will start to get more tired, you also can’t train a whole lot. The last disadvantage is that you will most likely suffer muscle pain, if your bow is too heavy this might take all the fun out of archery.

Archery isn’t a weight lifting competition; therefore shooting a heavier draw weight has only minor advantages. Therefore, I would highly suggest to start shooting at a low poundage. If you really want to shoot a high draw weight, you will first need to train your upper back muscles. I would recommend this article if you want to know how you can do so:

How to train your back muscles for archery

Questions about draw weight

You might still have some questions about draw weight. In this section I will try to answer most of these questions. If you still have a question that is unanswered, please leave them in the comments below. This helps me improve this blog, and of course you get your answer :).

Why choose a high draw weight at all?

In the previous section, I have warned you about the disadvantages of a too heavy bow. But what are the disadvantages of a bow that is too light?

In essence, you can’t really shoot a bow that is too light. If you for example shoot a 20 LBS bow, while you can easily shoot a 30 LBS bow, your accuracy will not decrease. A 20 LBS bow will be as accurate as a 30 LBS bow. An advantage of shooting a very light bow is that you can shoot many arrows in one day and really master the technique.

So are there any disadvantages? Yes, there are, the major one is arrow speed. Since the bow is under less tension less energy will be transferred into the arrow, making the arrow fly slower. This has the following disadvantages:

  • More wind resistance: since the arrow is longer in the air, the wind will more easily influence the flight trajectory of the arrow.
  • Increased arrow drop: this means that you will have to lower your sight for distant shots. This can also mean that you won’t be able to shoot at longer distances, like 70 and 90 meters (77 and 98 yards).
  • The arrow will be more susceptible to vibration: because the arrow leaves the bow with less force, more vibration will be transferred into the arrow, decreasing the accuracy very slightly.

For these reasons, archers want to shoot close to their maximum draw weight. This is a very difficult process, however, so I would always advise archers to start at a low draw weight. If you are not shooting at long distances, which most starting archers will not, you will not notice any drawbacks of shooting a lower poundage bow.

When can you increase your draw weight?

Most archers eventually increase their draw weight. Archers often say: ‘’I am ready to switch to a heavier bow’’, but when are you really? Sadly even experienced archers overestimate their abilities and switch to a heavy draw weight to early. Some archers think that you can switch when you can comfortably shoot 30 arrows, but I wholeheartedly disagree. I believe you should at least be able to shoot 60 arrows, without major muscle strain before you even think of increasing your poundage.

How to increase your draw weight?

If you want to increase your draw weight, you should make sure that you can comfortably shoot your current bow. Although shooting your bow will increase your muscle strength, you can really challenge your muscles too much. If you really challenge your muscles, you will start to shake thereby dramatically decreasing your accuracy. Therefore, if you really want to speed up the process, you should do exercises besides your standard archery practice. I have discus how you can do so in the following article:

How to train your back muscles for archery?

What should I do if my bow has a too heavy draw weight?

If you have a bow that has a draw weight that is too heavy you have two options. You can continue shooting until the draw weight gets manageable or buy a different bow or limbs. It can take a long time before you get used to a certain draw weight, therefore in most cases the latter is the best option.

Sadly there are no other alternatives, that’s why I always recommend buying a bow with a low draw weight. If your draw weight is too heavy you will probably experience muscle pain and you will never be able to shoot accurately. This can completely kill the joy of archery; therefore buying a new bow/limbs is almost always the best options. Sadly I had to learn this the hard way.

If you really can’t change the bow you are currently shooting with, you will have to do some additional training. The article I discussed earlier is great if you decide to go for this option.

My experience with draw weight

Although most of my advice is based off my own experiences, I don’t often discuss these in detail. Most of you just want an answer and are not particularly interested in my experiences. In this case I want to make an exception, however, because I believe it tells to important lessons.

Three years ago I bought a second-hand bow (buying second-hand is also something I wouldn’t recommend). It was a really nice bow, for a really nice price. The only disadvantage was that the bow was 26 LBS, while my current bow was 22 LBS. Since I have long arms, my 22 LBS bow has an actual draw weight of 30 LBS. I was into archer for a while then, so I decided that I was probably ready to make the switch.

The first few months I felt some muscle strain, but it wasn’t too extreme so I ignored it. When I had less time to shot the problems started to appear. I couldn’t complete my usual training, since I got severe muscle strain after a few shots.

I decided to keep trying and train my muscles, but sadly this didn’t help fast enough. After half a year, I decided to sell this bow and switch back to my old bow.

This experience thought me the following lessons:

  • Don’t make the choice to switch too lightly, it can have major consequences
  • If you experience severe muscle strain, don’t keep trying, but buy limbs with a lower draw weight.

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