Archery is quite a demanding sport for your upper body and in particular for you back. Therefore many archers experience muscle strain near their shoulder blades. We don’t often use our back muscles in our daily lives therefore they are often not properly trained for archery. The proper archery form requires you to pull your shoulder blades together which can be quite though. Even beginning archers that seem quite muscular can have problems with their back muscles, because they are often overlooked.
In this article I will first explain what upper back muscles you use for archery. Next I will discuss how to train these muscles either at home or at the gym. Then I will discuss how to build up the weights and I will finish with some general tips from my own experience.
If you want to train your back muscles for archery you can do a lot of exercises with a resistance band. If you want to train at home you might want to buy a pack. Going to the gym and picking machines that focus on muscles in the upper back can also be an excellent way to improve your strength.
What muscles do you use?
When you want to train your muscles it’s beneficial to know what muscles you have in your back. This makes it easier to search for exercises, since you can Google for the specific muscle group you want to train. Therefore I will briefly discuss the muscles in the back.
The back consists of different layers of muscles. The most outer layer is the trapezius muscle, this muscle starts at the spine and connects to the shoulder blade. Many Olympic recurve archers feel this muscle when they catch the bow after the release. The sudden force of the bow will then tension this muscle, which might feel unpleasant if the muscle is not strong enough.
Behind the trapezius muscle is the rhomboides minor and major. These muscles aren’t often used in daily live, therefore many starting archers therefore feel these muscles when at full draw. It’s important to train these muscles for good form. These muscles pull your shoulder blades backwards, which makes you stand right and in line with the bow. If these and the trapezius muscle aren’t sufficiently trained you will tend slouch while shooting.
Behind the rhomboids minor starts the splenius cervicis which continues in the splenius cervicis. These muscles make it possible to move your head to the left or the right. With archery you don’t really strain these muscles by drawing the bow. However it is known that you can start feeling these muscles when you look with your head to the right or left for a long time. Therefore you can feel this muscle when you are shooting for a long time. To prevent this, try to take brakes and move your head between shots. The pain you feel is probably due to stiffness.
Training at home
If you are training at home you will need some equipment. Although you can, of course, use your bow and draw it at home a few times without firing. If you only do this exercise you might miss a few muscles that also need training. Therefore I would recommend, if you don’t have anything similar, to buy a pack of resistance bands. They offer a wide variety of exercises and are very inexpensive.
Regardless of whether you are going to train your muscles at home or at the gym, it's a best practice to do a warming up. Therefore, I would recommend incorporating a few warming up exercises in your home training. In the article below, you will find some excellent exercises and more information about warming up for archery.
- Stand like you want to shoot your bow. Hold your bow arm straight and grab the other end of the elastic band with your other hand.
- Draw to the point where you normally anchor. Hold at least 5 seconds.
This is the only exercise that you can also do with your bow. I would however train with a stronger weight than you are currently shooting. Therefore these resistance bands are also very useful to do this exercise.
Do at least 10 reps in quick succession at least 3 times.
Forward arm abductions
- Keep your arms near your torso in front of you. Slightly tension the bands around your wrist.
- Pull your arms to the side until your arms are completely vertical and hold for approximately 2 seconds.
Do at least 8 reps, 2 times.
Rear arm abductions
- Hold the band slightly under tension behind your back.
- Pull with both arms until your arms are completely vertical and hold for approximately 2 seconds.
Do at least 8 reps, 2 times.
- Hold your hands in front of your body and slightly tension the band between your wrists.
- Stretch the band as far as possible by pulling your arms to the sides. Keep your elbows at your torso and pull with your back muscles. Hold for approximately 2 seconds.
Do at least 8 reps per arm, 2 times.
- Hold your hands forward slightly tensioning the band between your wrists.
- Pull with one arm up and one arm down as far as possible. Hold for approximately 5 seconds.
Do at least 8 reps per arm, 2 times.
Forward straight arm abductions
- Hold your arms straight in front of you while slightly tensioning the band between your wrists.
- Pull both arms to the side as far as possible. Hold for approximately 2 seconds.
Do at least 8 reps per arm, 2 times.
Archery extension while planking
- Plank with one hand on the ground while holding the band.
- Pull the band with your other arm to the point where you normally anchor and hold for approximately 5 seconds.
This is a heavy exercise, so don’t worry if you can’t successfully complete it.
Do at least 5 reps per arm, 2 times.
Training at the gym
Although doing exercises at home is really convenient, this convenience can also have a negative side. Because you don’t have to plan when you are going to exercise, you can start to procrastinate. I also think that the gym is a more motivating environment than your home. Therefore I like to train my back muscles for archery at the gym. But of course this depends on your own personal situation. Below I will discuss some good exercises that you can do at the gym. I do not suggest to only do these exercises, try to also train your arm and leg muscles. Although your leg muscles don’t really help with archery, it’s not a good idea to only train your can easily overload your body that way. It might be a good idea to even do some cardio between exercises, to give your upper body some rest.
One of the best exercises you can do is the row. There are a lot of different machines that offer this exercise. Don’t use a rowing machine however, that is a cardio device. All the strength has to come from you arms. Be sure to not bend your back while doing this exercise, try sit as straight as possible. I like to do at least 20 reps. Sometimes I take a small brake between the first and the second 10.
Another great exercise is the lateral pull. This device mainly trains the trapezius muscle. This is a good exercise for every archer, but in particular for olympic recurve archers. With this exercise I also like to do at least 20 reps and sometimes take a small brake in between.
Pec Fly and Rear Delt
Both pec fly and rear delt are excellent exercises to train your back muscles. In most gyms one machine offer you both exercises. With pec fly you face away from the machine and use the vertical handlebars and push the bars towards each other. With the rear delt you do everything while sitting reversed and using the horizontal handlebars. With this machine you mainly train the rhomboides minor and major. I would aim to do 20 reps, but this can be quite heavy at first, so you might just do 15 reps the first time. Try using a lower weight if you can’t make these 15 reps.
This is again a very good exercise for olympic recurve archers since it trains the trapezius muscle. This machine mainly trains the upper part of the trapezius muscle. Since most people don’t often strain these muscles, you might find this exercise very difficult. I would aim to do 15 reps, don’t worry if you have to start on a low poundage and if you can’t make it yet. This is a really heavy exercise, but you will see results quite fast.
Reverse Pec fly
The name already gives it away, this exercise is the pec fly but in reverse. With the standard pec fly you push the handles in front towards each other. When you reverse it, you start with the handlebars together at the front and you pull them back to the side. This actually mimics the draw of a bow for you back muscles quite good. This time it feels however, if you are drawing two bows at the same time. This exercise mostly trains your rhomboides minor and major but also the upper part of the trapezius muscle. I would do at least 20 reps, but start on a low weight. Most often you can do this exercise on the pec fly machine, you only need to adjust the mechanism to work the other way around.
Many different machines offer the same workout, but luckily they tend to use the same exercise names. Therefore look at information printed on the machines in your local gym, to find out what exercise is possible on it.
A note about the pictures: I used the machines of Freemotion in my article because I am familiar with this brand. My local gym mostly has Freemotion machines. I am not affiliated with Freemotion or get paid for using these pictures.
How to build up the weight
After training for a while you want to build up the weight. If you train 2 times a week I would advice to only increase the weight for one exercise. Don’t go overboard and increase the weight on all the exercises, start with the one that feels the least heavy. And slowly increase the weight for all your exercises.
You might notice that you find some exercises more intense than other. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses in their body. I have quite strong abs, while my arms are weaker than average. Therefore don’t worry if one muscle group takes more work.
My personal tips and recommendations
Due to my natural build I have trained my back muscles a lot. From my own experience I have a few tips:
- Exercise away from your home: I have multiple times set the goal to exercise at home. But for me it never really worked because I tend to procrastinate and seeing my computer, the couch and the TV is not really motivating. If found the gym works great for me, but I also like to exercise outside. Try different locations to find out what is a motivating environment for you.
- Don’t have specific goals: You might have the goal to increase the poundage of your bow. There is of course nothing wrong with goals, but don’t put a date on it. You don’t know how you muscles develop in the future. Therefore you never know whether the goal is way too hard or too easy. Instead of a goal dedicated on the outcome, focus on the process. For example: ‘’ the next 3 months I want to train at least 2 times per week’’.
- Make it fun: Before you will see results you will have to train a lot. To keep up the motivation you should make the exercise as pleasant as possible. Doing these exercises with friends or listening to music can greatly increase your enjoyment. Just know that if you absolutely hate the exercises you will probably quit in a few weeks, so you better make it as enjoyable as you can.
I hope this article was helpful to get you started. I noticed when shooting with my recurve bow that my back muscles weren’t strong enough to draw the arrow consistently through the clicker. After I did these exercises for a year, I have seen huge improvements. Don’t expect to see improvements in a few weeks. Sadly muscles don’t grow that fast. You will have to put a lot of time and effort in it, but if you keep going you will see results.
You might notice that I didn’t explain exercises with dumbbells. I didn’t explain these exercises because I don’t really have a lot of experience with them. I recently started experimenting with them, so if you would like me to add exercises with dumbbells please let me know.
If you have any questions or comments on this article please let me know in the comments. I will respond as soon as possible.