Years ago if someone tried to convince me that going to the gym would be of benefit to my archery, I’d have laughed at them. Where I was shooting, no one was going to the gym. People spent their entire time behind the bow. Arrows or nothing was the mentality.
Having started with a new coach with a different way of teaching, I have since been convinced to try it again. So I’ve added a strength and conditioning (S&C) program to my weekly archery training, as well as a new found love for swimming. It’s a lot of hard work, especially on top of full-time work, but it’s definitely worth it!
I do my S&C sessions with a small group of archery buddies three times a week, where we work together on the program that the coach has put together.
The program (from Rogue Archery) is designed to pair specific exercises that compliment each other to promote balanced muscular development, train through the full range of motion and develop archery specific motor control - which teaches the mind how to activate the correct muscle groups whilst shooting.
At first this all sounded like mumbo jumbo, but it actually works! I was sceptical, but now I am definitely an advocate for it.
As an example of the program, we would focus on two different exercise pairs for the night, then do a different set of exercises for the next training session as not to over work one particular area.
On the first night I walked out of the gym hurting from head to toe! I started on very light weights, but was working muscles I’d never used before, and stretching things I didn’t know were tight. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do it again, but with a small group of other athletes and our coach I continued with the program. Training as a group really pushed me to keep going. I am competitive by nature, so it is a great motivator for me working in a group, especially if I can beat my coach! Working with training buddies or a coach also makes you accountable for your own progress.
As the weeks progressed, I felt my shooting getting stronger and easier. I was starting to use the right muscles (which is what I thought I was doing, but now it is very obvious to me that I was not).
As I’d been shooting for some time using the wrong muscles, I started to gain an awareness of my strengths in the wrong areas and weaknesses in the right areas.
After only four weeks of a three day a week strength and conditioning program I could feel a noticeable difference in my shooting. I then included a stretching programme every day to improve my flexibility and swimming twice a week for low impact general muscle improvement and cardio. Five to six times a week I also do SPT for half an hour before or after work which is building up my bow conditioning. SPT stands for ‘Specific Physical Training’ (otherwise known as ‘Severe Pain and Torture’). This has been very beneficial too, activating the right muscles and forcing them to hold for extended periods, making shooting feel like a breeze!
It's a lot of hard work, and sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated to do all of these things. But, I have a massive goal to achieve and I hold myself accountable every day. If I don’t do it, I give myself an opportunity to fail. I wont fail.
If I could give some advice to aspiring archers, I would say, “Don’t rush it”. Take the time to build a strong foundation. Find the right coach for you, someone who has your best interests in mind.
Get into the gym, and don’t be afraid to find the right gym for you (that’s why they offer free trial days). All of the top archers in the archery world go to the gym to find balance and strength. You won’t find anyone who competes as a professional athlete who doesn’t strength train. I would also recommend that you seek out a strength and conditioning coach who knows what they’re talking about, someone who works with athletes. A great S&C coach will be strict with your technique, and make sure that you are not training incorrectly.
I can guarantee this is the best decision you will ever make for your sport, if you wish to excel to the top of the pyramid and be the best that you can be.
You can’t have a million dollar dream with a minimum wage work ethic. Get out there and smash it!