I always recommend new archers to start with a low draw weight. This helps you to keep the right form and makes sure that you focus on your technique. Archery should not become a weightlifting exercise. Eventually, most archers want to increase their draw weight.
In this article, I will explain when you are ready to increase the draw weight and how much you should increase it. I will also briefly discuss the pros and cons of increasing the draw weight. If you don’t like reading, you can watch the video below for a summary:
When should you increase the draw weight?
You should increase your draw weight if you can shoot much longer than you normally train without getting tired. If you normally shoot 60 arrows and you can easily shoot 120 arrows without getting tired it’s time to increase the draw weight.
You don’t want the bow to be too heavy, nor do you want it to be too light. I discuss why, in more detail in this article. Below I will discuss a method I use to figure out whether I am strong enough to increase the draw weight.
First, I want to shoot 50% more arrows than normal. I aim to shoot at least 60 arrows, so I would add 30. This means that I should shoot at least 90 arrows in the next few sessions. I will then check whether I have any muscle-related issues such as:
- I start to shake
- I feel muscle pain
- I keep the bow shorter at full draw
If any of these issues arise, I won’t increase the draw weight. When I don’t experience any of the issues, I believe I am ready to increase the draw weight. But then I only expect to be able to shoot the 60 arrows without any issues. So, I believe your arrow count drops by 1/3 when you increase the draw weight.
How much should you increase the draw weight?
You should only increase the draw weight by a maximum of 20%. So, if you shoot a 20 LBS bow, you should increase it with a maximum of 4 LBS. Increasing the draw weight with a lower percentage will make it much easier to get used to the bow.
If you shoot a recurve bow, you must buy new limbs to increase the draw weight. Recurve limbs are available in draw weights starting from 16 LBS to 50 LBS with an interval of 2 LBS. So, there are no limbs available with uneven draw weight (17, 19, 21, etc.).
Increasing the draw weight with only 2 LBS will make it easy to get used to the draw weight. But it also has a disadvantage. Since you must buy new limbs every time you increase the draw weight, this can get quite expensive. Especially if you train a lot.
Therefore, most archers opt to increase their draw weight with 4 LBS. Especially if you shoot with a reasonably heavy bow (30+), you won’t experience any issues if you increase it with a bit more. Don’t go overboard though, I wouldn’t recommend increasing it by more than 20%.
Some archery stores allow you to trade in your old limbs when you buy new limbs. I am not a big fan of that. Although it makes the new limbs cheaper, you are locked to your new draw weight. It’s often quite difficult to judge in the store whether you are ready for the new limbs.
So, I would hold on to your new limbs when you are increasing your draw weight. If you are comfortable with your new draw weight, you can always sell them or trade them in later.
Why you shouldn’t increase the draw weight too fast
If you increase your draw weight too fast, you won’t be able to draw the bow smoothly shot after shot. Most archers won’t notice it during their first few shots, but after 30 arrows you will start to feel the muscle fatigue kick in.
When your muscles are starting to fatigue you will experience the following issues:
- Your bow arm starts to shake
- You will rush your shot
- Your technique will deteriorate
All these things will decimate your accuracy, so you want to make sure that you can comfortably handle the new draw weight.
How to find your optimal draw weight
Finding your optimal draw weight can be quite difficult because it depends on a lot of factors. How strong are you? How much do you shoot? With what kind of bow do you shoot? All these things should be considered when you choose a draw weight.
Visit an archery store
There are recommended draw weights for both compound and recurve, but these are mostly meant for new archers. The best way to find the optimal draw weight is to try it out. Visiting an archery store and trying a few bows with different draw weights is a good first step. But you won’t closely mimic shooting conditions, because you will probably only draw the bow a few times.
Testing the draw weight
A good way I found to test your draw weight is by using some resistance bands. Measure the resistance bands with a bow scale or luggage scale to figure out the draw weight of each band. Then use a combination of the bands to test the draw weight.
From the comfort of your own home, you can now test different draw weights and mimic the shooting procedure. Just draw the bands to your anchor point and hold for 7 seconds (recurve) or 12 seconds (compound). Repeat this with the number of arrows you normally shoot.
If you are a recurve archer, I recommend taking this strength test. The test gives you clear advice on what draw weight you should use for optimal shooting performance!
What to do if your bow is too heavy
When you have bought a bow with a too height draw weight, you might be tempted to think that you will get used to it. Although that is true, it can take a long time, which depends on how much too heavy the bow is.
To indicate how much you are overbowed you can use this simple test:
- Keep track of your arrow count and check whether you feel muscle strain after each arrow
- Once you feel muscle strain or once you start to shake, count the number of arrows you shot
- Compare this count to the number of arrows you want to shoot during a training. For example 45 of 60 arrows is 75% (45/60*100)
- Look at the image below for an indication of the severity of the issue
If you are slightly overbowed, you probably get used to it within a few months. But if that if it’s more severe than that, I would recommend reducing the draw weight. If that isn’t an option, you should consider doing daily exercises to train your muscles. Read the article below, for some great exercises that can greatly improve your strength:
How to train your muscles for archery
Note: the test above assumes that you normally shoot 60 arrows per training. If you shoot more or fewer arrows, make sure to use the percentages instead.
Why increasing your draw weight isn’t that important
Some archers have an unhealthy obsession overdraw weight. They believe that increasing the draw weight makes your bow more accurate, but that is not true. Even with a kid’s bow, you can shoot accurately if you are skilled.
On the contrary, shooting with a lower draw weight bow has a lot of advantages. One major advantage is that you don’t have to worry about muscle issues. Therefore, you can shoot more relaxed, aim longer, and focus more on your technique. Additionally, you can always shoot more arrows per session. And the best way to improve your shots is to shoot more arrows.
So, don’t get caught in the macho syndrome. Archery is not a weightlifting competition; archery is all about accuracy. It doesn’t matter whether you shoot the arrow with lightning speed in the target or if it goes slow. If you hit the gold, you have succeeded in your goal!
Some good reasons to increase the draw weight
If you shoot short distances indoors there are no real reasons to increase the draw weight. Increasing the draw weight will of course stimulate muscle growth. But if that is your goal you can better head over to a gym.
But if you shoot outdoors at long distances (50 and 70 meters) then there are some solid reasons to increase the draw weight. With some low draw weight bows, you might not even make those longer distances. Therefore, if you shoot outdoors at long distances it’s important to shoot a reasonable draw weight.
Another good reason to increase your draw weight is for hunting purposes. If you want to hunt large animals you need a decent draw weight (about 45 LBS) in order to put down the animal humanly. For more information about the pros and cons of a heavy draw weight bow, read the article below:
Training muscles and muscle memory
Most people think that you can increase the draw weight because your muscles get stronger the more you shoot. That is of course true, using your muscles will make them stronger. But I think there is something else that also helps, muscle memory and muscle efficiency.
When we draw our bow repeatedly, we train our muscle memory, which makes our muscles more efficient. Therefore, even a skinny person can shoot quite a heavy bow if he/or she trains a lot. This also explains why it’s often difficult to draw a bow if you haven’t shot for a few weeks.
You only start to lose muscle after one month according to research (source). So, there must be more than only building muscle strength. This also explains why going to the gym tends to be less effective than just shooting a lot of arrows.
I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions, feedback, or experiences you would like to share please leave them in the comment section down below. I will respond to any questions as soon as possible and you will receive an email notification once I replied.
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