There are three fundamental areas to focus on in our quest to hold the bow steady: the physical component, the mental component and the equipment component. All three must be understood and integrated into your training program to reach your full shooting potential. I’ll be addressing the physical act of holding the bow steady.
Several physical factors are involved in holding the bow steady: strength, endurance, proper shooting form, back tension, breathing technique and relaxation. We’ll go over each of these in turn.
In order to hold the bow steady, your muscles must be in good condition. They must be strong and they must have endurance. You do not have to be an endurance athlete to shoot a bow well.
However, in order to reach your full potential, you will need to do some conditioning.
For some top professional shooters, shooting is all the conditioning they ever do. There is no better way to strengthen and isolate the muscles needed to pull the bow back and hold the bow up than pulling the bow back and holding the bow up. However, you have to shoot your bow a lot for this to be sufficient.
These pro shooters tend to shoot more than 100 arrows a day. Most of us don’t have the time, energy or physical capability to do this.
The best way to train the muscles that help you to hold the bow steady is with resistance training. This typically means lifting weights. However, you can also use resistance bands.
There are a few specific muscles that are very important in controlling your ability to hold steady. These muscles are the left anterior deltoid muscle, the right rear deltoid muscle and the right rhomboid muscle (assuming you are right handed). These are the muscles you should focus on during your strength training.
When weight lifting for archery, I prefer free weights over weight machines and dumbbells over barbells. Dumbbells force you to use smaller auxiliary muscles and use fine motor movements. Recruiting these small muscles helps refine your strength by emphasizing control and balance — very important for a steady hold.
If I could only do two exercises to improve my hold, I would do straight-arm dumbbell lifts with my left arm and bent-over rows with the right arm. These exercises strengthen the most important muscles for holding the bow up and the string back.
For overall stability, it’s important to strengthen the muscles of your core. This means you must do sit ups or crunches as well as back extensions or planks. One thing to remember is to always work both sides of the body evenly. For example, don’t do bent over rows with your right arm and not your left.
The fact that you shoot a bow means your body’s musculature is probably already out of balance. Your right-side pulling muscles and your left arm pushing muscles are stronger than their respective muscles on the other side of your body. Don’t make this imbalance worse at the gym.
If you’d rather not lift weights, or if you’re suspicious you would not stick with a training program, let me give you an easier option. This method doesn’t require a gym or exercise equipment and only takes a few minutes each time you shoot your bow.
At the end of each practice session, pull your bow back as many times as possible. When I’m practicing with my hunting bow, my goal is to pull it back 20 times without stopping. With my target bow, my goal is 40 times.
I try to use the same movement to pull the bow back as I’d use in a hunting situation. I extend my left arm in front of me and pull the string straight back to anchor. I use my release aid rather than my fingers to pull the bow back. You must never do this without an arrow on the string.
Some release aids may fire if they aren’t re-cocked between draw cycles, and the last thing you want to do is dry-fire your bow.
The last time I pull my bow back, I remain at full draw, aiming at a target. I hold this position as long as possible until I’m about to collapse. I then shoot the arrow. When I’m using my hunting bow, my goal is to hold the bow back for a full four minutes. This workout will take a maximum of six minutes. I do this every other day to make sure my muscles fully recover between sessions.
No matter which program you choose, you’ll soon find yourself holding the bow steadier, especially on shots that require a little more time at full draw.