Fitness for Bowhunting

Shoulder flexibility and strength can be improved with a simple flex band, repeated 15-20 times, in three sets.

by Terry Wieland

Bowhunting season is almost upon us and, although I eschewed bows and arrows many years ago, I remember the hours spent practicing and the difficulties that arose.

The most obvious is the effort required to draw a bow of a strength heavy enough for hunting big game, but both archery itself, and hunting with a bow, require the use of some muscle groups that don’t get a lot of work in everyday life.

Jeremy Koerber, who runs, is both a fitness trainer and a bowhunter, and I was curious to see what he would recommend based on his experience with both.  He told me that—not surprisingly—the main focus is shoulder function, but not just shoulder strength.

“Anyone over the age of 35 probably has rotator-cuff problems to some extent,” he said.  “Rotator cuffs simply wear out.  They are just like the fan belt in your car.  This has an impact on both strength and range of motion.”

Addressing the latter problem first, he picked up a flex band, wrapped it around both hands, and pulled it wide with both arms while keeping the elbows tucked snugly against his body (see photos.)  Fifteen to 20 reps, three sets.  Got it.

The next exercise he recommended was one that is obvious, provided you have access to the right equipment.  With one hand, he simulates drawing the bow, while holding the bow with the other.  Unlike doing it with the real thing, however, using an exercise machine allows you to vary both the weight of the bow and weight of the draw.

“I never go more than five pounds with the dumbbell, because no modern bow is going to weigh even that much,” he said,  “But the importance of holding a weight in that hand is to strengthen the arm that holds the bow, and that makes it possible to hold it steady for long seconds at a time.”

An obvious exercise for bowhunters that allows you to practice technique at the same time as increasing strength in both arms. Again, 15-20 reps, three sets.

The draw weight, of course, can vary from as little as ten pounds to more than anyone can handle except Hercules, but the important point is to work up to comfortably drawing a weight greater than your bow.

“It’s like training to run,” Jeremy said.  “The way to train for a five-mile race is to run ten-mile distances.  Same principle.”