Don’t be fooled by the story of Robin Hood — archery is not a frivolous discipline in any way, shape, or form.
We can skip the talk of calluses (you can buy gloves for that) or hours of practice. No, what makes archery truly special is the unique harmony and steadiness that one must cultivate within one’s body.
It almost seems like the difference between this sport and many others is equivalent to the difference between dancing in your living room and being a professional ballet dancer.
So, while it requires you to be in tune with your body and in decent shape, does archery build muscle as well?
If you said yes, congratulations – come on up and pick up your gold arrow.
Archery provides an extensive upper body workout in the arms, shoulders, and chest. While the amount of muscle gained varies by individual, an archer’s body is most similar to a swimmer’s frame. Though, it’s important to note that archers are more prone to muscle imbalances.
What muscles does archery work?
In archery, the arm that you use to hold the bow gets a workout from the wrist all the way to the shoulder and chest. The one that draws the arrow is engaged from the forearm through the bicep, into the shoulder and latissimus dorsi (one of the biggest muscles in your upper body).
Since you’ll need good posture for archery, you’ll see improvement in the muscles that help you stand up straight. From the second you pick up a bow, your core muscles will be activated.
If you’re looking for an upper-body workout, archery will hit the spot.
Kundalini yoga has the archer pose that mimics the motions you will go through when preparing to shoot. It doesn’t provide the same challenge, but it can help you imagine what’s happening to your body. Of course, on a much simpler level.
But, even though archery isn’t a whole-body exercise, that doesn’t mean that your lower body is doing absolutely nothing.
Your quads and glutes will help you maintain proper posture and work while you’re shooting. Your ankles will also help you ground yourself.
Shall we recommend a round of pliés?
Does archery make you stronger?
Over time, the consistent movement of drawing the bow adds up. So, yes, you’ll get stronger.
But, you can expect “worker’s” muscles. These are not muscles designed and tailor-made in the gym, but gained through “labor”.
You’re not going to look like a bodybuilder on archery alone, but you will gain muscle.
The exact amount of muscle will depend on your genetics, body type, and diet, but the look you can end up with is close to the swimmer’s body.
Does archery cause muscle imbalance?
Archers that favor their dominant hand are bound to “overwork” one part of their body. It’s not that one side isn’t working, it’s that they’re both working in different ways.
As a comparison, imagine doing lunges but without changing which leg goes in front.
Yeah, after that bit up there you may have started imagining yourself as this creature that looks like the Hulk on one side and a stick figure on another.
I’ll be honest, it’s not that far from the truth.
The solution is easy – shoot using both of your arms equally.
Archery is one of those rare disciplines where you don’t have to be ambidextrous to use both hands. It’s quite possible that you will not be as precise when shooting with your non-dominant hand, but that should not stop you from using it at all.
But what if you can’t use the other hand? Quite possible due to an injury or disability. Maybe you sawed it off. Well, you’re going to have to find another way to compensate.
The smartest way would be: talk to a pro. They’ll be able to cater to your needs more specifically and give you exact exercises that you can do — from weights to resistance to reps and more.
How to build up archery muscles
Endurance over mass. If it were not so, no roleplaying video games would cast a little girl or a small elf to be the archer.
All joking aside, if you want to enhance your performance — without simply spending more time practicing archery — you’ll have to concentrate on building muscle endurance.
There are two ways to go about this.
One, you’ll have to do a lot of repetitions or sets, or two, you’ll have to do isometric exercises.
Doing a lot of repetitions with little or no weights or resistance is a decent way to build lean muscle, but when you push it a step further, it becomes a great challenge to the muscle’s endurance.
Think of the difference between what a body is supposed to be able to do to run a spring and what it needs to do a marathon. In this allegory, you’re running the marathon.
You can train for your marathon with simple arm circles (guys, don’t roll your eyes). Do it with or without weights. It’ll be equally effective.
These guys work your arms, chest, shoulders, and back, and it takes a simple switch in the position of the palm for you to get more out of this simple exercise.
2. Isometric exercises
Isometric exercises are exercises in which you basically assume a certain position and stay there for a while. Examples include planks or lunges.
They don’t do much for growing muscles, but they are very good at challenging and strengthening them. Pretty much all you have to do is to hold your pose up to the point of discomfort and then push it a few seconds more.
This part can’t get any simpler – if you want to work your arms, shoulders, and upper back, copy the pose of the Jesus the Redeemer statue in Rio. After a while, turn your palms down and hold. This will work the same way a plank does, but only it will work your upper body.
Though, a plank is a good idea here as well…
The whole idea is to create “steady hands”. You can compensate for strength with equipment, but precision and accuracy will come from you.
How to prevent archery injuries
In your life as an archer, you’ll get calluses, maybe even some cuts and bruises – make peace with that.
But you shouldn’t make peace with pulled muscles and other serious injuries. These have the potential to change your life forever, so be careful.
Would you be surprised to hear that you will have to stretch? Compare your muscle fibers to the bowstring – if it gets too tight, it’ll snap.
Your muscles need to stay elastic and springy, and the best way to do so is with a daily stretching routine.
Consider spending a week or two stretching out your body before you pick up the bow for the first time, especially if you haven’t been particularly physically active in a while.
Muscles get tight from inactivity as well. Plus, this will prevent some of that monstrous muscle ache you get only after you’ve exercised for the first time in ages.
Also, never shoot with cold muscles. Spend a decent amount of warming up before each session.
You can jog a bit or do jumping jacks, or anything else that will get your blood flowing.
How to kick it up a notch
Ever considered horseback archery? No? Not enough space in your backyard? Bummer.
Then pick a different bow. Contemporary ones are made to be lightweight and efficient, so going for something that is a bit “old-fashioned” will be a lot more challenging.
You have many options here. A Japanese kyūdō bow is still pretty light while still not being as easy to pull as the one you’ll see in the hands of an Olympic athlete.
Or go a bit further back in time. Your local Renaissance fair will probably have craftsmen of two that specialize in weapon reproduction.
As you may have guessed, a bow that you can pick up there will lack the sophistication of the ones from ye sports goods shoppe. This means that they will take a lot more skill and power to operate.
Or go to one of the survivalist tutorials and learn how to make a basic bow from PVC pipes.
How can archery benefit your health?
Archery is somewhat like a combination of doing a plank and working out with a resistance band. Both types of exercise engage muscles in a different way to weightlifting or other exercises with weights.
Your arm holding the bow is doing a plank while the shooting arm is doing resistance training, to put it simply.
Both of these types of exercises are very efficient in building strength and endurance, while resistance is just a tad less effective than weight when it comes to gains.
That being said, both are a lot gentler on the body and are often less likely to cause an injury. Most importantly, they are far more likely to engage the secondary muscles as well – something that is often omitted if you do plain bicep curls of chest flys.
But there are also emotional and psychological benefits, beyond what you get with psychical activity in general.
Archery requires almost a chess master level of concentration, which is something that doesn’t allow for random thoughts to invade our space for a brief amount of time.
There’s also primal satisfaction that rears its head once the arrow hits the bullseye. That makes for an additional dose of endorphins on top of the fact that our brains are happy that we are on the move in the first place.
I hope this article was able to answer any questions you had about building muscle in archery. Of course, always be sure to talk to a specialist before you set out on any extreme fitness journey.
If you need any more help, feel free to check out my other articles.