Training your muscles for archery – is it even helpful?

There are a lot of different articles and videos on the internet on how you can increase your upper body strength for archery. You might wonder, however, whether it’s really necessary to train your muscles for archery. Aren’t you training your muscles when you are shooting? And is it necessary to go to the gym to train your muscles? Would that even improve your shots?

I will answer these questions in detail in the article. Here is a quick answer to the question in the title of this article: Yes, training your upper body muscles is very helpful for archery. Although archery is not all about strength, more strong muscles allow you to practice longer and take more time to aim. Make sure, however, that your workout routine doesn’t interfere with your training sessions.

In the remainder of this article, this question will be discussed in a lot more detail. We will not only discuss how training your upper body muscles can improve your shots but also how it can hurt your performance. At the end of the article, I will provide you with recommendations on when you should and shouldn’t work out for archery.

Why archery is not a good exercise to strenghten upper body muscles

Most people that do not practice archery think archery is all about strength. Since you draw the bow with your arms, many people believe that you must be really strong to shoot a bow. As an archer, you probably know that this is not the case. Even kids can practice archery and sometimes shoot better than adults.

Sadly, many archers still believe that archery is a great exercise to build upper body strength. On the contrary, archery is not a great sport to build upper body muscles. Although you need sufficient strength, you can’t train your muscle strength effectively when you are shooting your bow. Just look at the best archers in the world, none of them look like bodybuilders.

The most effective way to train your muscles is to challenge them. Gym sharks do this by picking a heavy-weight and doing an exercise for about 10 to 25 reps which takes about 3 to 7 minutes. They do this for all different muscle groups they want to train.

This is very different from archery. Since you can’t shake during your shots, you can’t pick a draw weight which is too heavy. A typical archery practice session takes about one and a half-hour. Therefore, archery is not a sport that challenges your muscles in terms of strength, it mainly trains your muscles for endurance.

In general, the back and shoulder muscles require the most work. Since you do not use these muscles all that much in your daily life.

Click here for shoulder and back exercises

How being more muscular can improve your shots

We now know that archery is not an effective way of improving your upper body strength. But as I mentioned before, having a strong upper body is helpful. In this section, I will explain how training your upper body muscles can improve your shots.

You can shoot a heavier bow

Alright, let's get the obvious benefit out of the way first. Most archers mainly think about this when you ask why you should train your upper body muscles for archery. Sadly, there is a macho complex regarding draw weight, which leads archers to often choose a to heavy draw weight.

There is a good reason why most archers want to increase their draw weight, which is arrow speed. Increasing the arrow speed has some clear benefits such as decreased arrow drop, decreased wind interference, and less interference from vibration. Sadly, many archers overstate these benefits, although it’s nice, being able to shoot your bow comfortably is way more important.

But now that’s out of the way, let’s move to the more interesting benefits.

You can take more time to aim properly

When you can more comfortably keep your bow at full draw, you can take more time to aim. When you look at competitive archers, you will see that they keep the bow at full draw a long time.

Because you are less rushed during the shot procedure, you are less likely to make mistakes in your technique. A common issue amongst archers that rush their shots is flinching, which we discuss in more detail in this article:

How to prevent flinching in archery

One of the major advantages of the compound bow is the let-off which reduces the draw weight at full draw. This allows compound archers to aim much longer than traditional and recurve archers.

You can shoot more arrows per session

When you are stronger you can shoot more arrows per session. Most beginners shoot about 10 to 20 rounds with 3 arrows, which total 30 till 60 total arrows. Professional archers on the other hand shoot way more arrows, they often aim to shoot at least 200 per day.

Although 200 arrows might be a bit extreme for most archers, increasing your arrow count towards 100 arrows per training is absolutely feasible. If often aim to shoot at least 90 arrows (30 rounds of 3 arrows). If you don’t have a lot of time to train, you can also opt to shoot more arrows per round.

Practice makes perfect. The best way to improve your shots is by training more; thus, firing more arrows!

You can focus more on your technique

When you have just finished a heavy workout, you might experience the feeling of lightheadedness, which makes you lose focus. Since archery is all about focus and concentration, pulling your bow back should not feel like a workout. One way to make sure that pulling the bow back doesn’t feel like a workout is to increase your muscle strength.

Although you may never feel lightheaded during archery, it’s still more difficult to focus when you experience muscle strain.

Your body will vibrate less

Have you ever experienced that you started to shake during the shot? This happens when your muscles are starting to strain. When this happens it’s impossible to keep the sight pin in the center of the target and shoot accurately. Stronger muscles are strained less rapidly which allows you to shoot accurately for longer. The vibration can sometimes be quite subtle; therefore, it might not always be obvious that you are shaking.

How it can hurt your accuracy

This is something that is rarely discussed in the archery community. When we talk about training your upper body muscles, most archers only discuss the positives. I believe, however, there are some clear negatives which you should consider.

It takes time away from practicing

Building up muscle mass takes time away from practicing. The time you spend training your upper body muscles could also be spent on shooting. This of course isn’t always the case, because you can easily train your muscles with a resistance band. When you want to shoot you have to prepare your bow and drive to the range to practice, so that is not something you can do between errands.

But if you go to the gym to train your upper body muscles, you might want to consider going to the range instead. If your focus is to improve your shots, it’s a better plan to spend that time on the range.

Muscle fatigue before training sessions

If you challenge your muscles, it will take some time before they recover. After a good workout, it takes at least 24 hours before your muscles are back to full strength. If you had an extreme workout it can sometimes even take a few days.

It’s not a good idea to shoot when you are still feeling muscle strain from a workout. First, it will negatively influence your shots. More importantly, it can also make your muscle strain worse, which means that you can’t shoot for at least a week.

Therefore, if you want to train your upper body muscles, make sure that it’s not to close to your training days. If you would miss a training session, working out would actually hurt your archery performance, as we discussed earlier.

If your biceps are too big you might have a difficult time anchoring

Most people don’t have to worry about getting too large biceps. If you train with moderation and don’t aim to become a bodybuilder, you won’t have to worry about this at all. When you take working out to extreme it will make it more difficult to shoot correctly. Let me explain this further.

When you are at full draw, you keep your elbow at an extreme angle (about 330 degrees). It is almost impossible to bend your arm further than this position. In this position, you can align your body with the bow, which makes it easier to keep it at full draw.

If you have overly large biceps, however, this can become difficult. There are even some tales that some bodybuilders can’t even wipe their bottom because their muscles are in the way. Therefore, it isn’t farfetched that these people would probably not be able to bend their arm at this angle.

Pro-archers develop their muscles but don’t go overboard. Being extremely muscular can only make it more difficult to draw because you can’t shoot with a straight back anymore.

From above you can clearly see why anchoring can be quite difficult when you have extremely large biceps

When you should train your muscles

I believe there are two major reasons why most archers want to train their upper body muscles for archery.

If you want to increase your draw weight

The first reason most archers want to train their muscles is to increase their draw weight. As we mentioned before, there are valid reasons to increase the draw weight. Especially archers that want to shoot a long-range, might want to pick a higher draw weight.

You have to know, however, that it takes a long time to build muscle mass. When I started training, it took 6 months before I even noticed a difference. Therefore, you must be patient and train before you increase the draw weight. Sadly, many archers overestimate their strength, which severely reduces the accuracy.

Increasing the draw weight is a long-term goal. Even if you work hard, it will at least take half a year before, you should even consider buying a heavier bow. Some archers think they will get used to heavier draw weight. Although this is true, it will be mentally very painful, because you will shoot horrible for a long time. It can also cause you to get bad habits trying to cope with the heavy draw weight.

You can simply better switch ‘’too late’’ to a heavier draw weight than ‘’too early’’.

When you feel your muscle mass is holding you back

As we mentioned before, some people are more muscular to begin with than others. Since you need some strength for archery it can sometimes be quite difficult to get accustomed to the draw. Let me explain this with my own experience.

When I was just getting into archery, I wasn’t all that active. Since I didn’t sport the last 2 years, I wasn’t fit at all. Since I am also quite long and skinny, I had to start with a low draw weight. Even at this draw weight, I sometimes experience muscle strain after shooting 30 arrows. Therefore, I couldn’t shoot as long as I would like. Since decreasing the draw weight wasn’t an option, I had to work on my strength.

After training my upper back muscles for a year, the draw weight felt way more manageable. It made me feel more confident and I now like to shoot at least 90 per training session. So, the moral of the story is: ‘’if you feel that your muscle mass is holding you back, working out is the only solution!’’

Another option: decreasing the draw weight of your bow

Sadly, most archers don’t like to discuss this option. Although it’s an easier solution, many archers feel like they failed, while they are only making a responsible decision. You can, of course, train your muscles to make the bow feel lighter, but you can also decrease the draw weight of the bow. If you experience muscle issues, this is a way better solution than working out.

In some cases, I would even recommend both. Decrease the poundage of your bow and try to train your upper body muscles. If you have sufficiently trained your muscles, you might switch back to your old bow within a year.

Final words

I hope this article gave you useful insights. In general, I think training your upper body muscles can help you improve your shots. But you must be careful that you are shooting less than usual because of it. I often train my muscles between errands and in the evening. Just a few exercises with resistance bands every weak can make a huge difference. Read this article if you would like to see the exercises I do:

How to train your back muscles for archery

If you have any questions, comments, or experiences you would like to share, please leave them down below in the comments. I will respond to any questions as soon as possible and send you an email with my reply.