7 Best Exercises for Bowhunters

By Chris Heskett

Here on the east coast, we’re about to enter spring. For some, that means gearing up for turkey season. For others, that means getting food plots ready and getting plans ready for the upcoming fall. There are so many things that can go into planning your hunt that it’s easy to forget about actually getting in shape for it. 

While a lot of east coast hunting is from tree stands or blinds, it’s still important to get in shape for the hunt. There can be many reasons that you need to go to the gym for archery, including:

  • Maintaining your draw weight
  • Being more stable while holding your bow
  • Increasing your draw weight

Shooting a 70, 80, or even 90 lb bow isn’t a requirement for taking game, but it does give you more power, distance, and a flatter shot.

Other than shooting your bow, what can you do to get better? Here are the seven best exercises to get better at archery.

  1. Single Arm Dumbbell Rows

This exercise is the one that most resembles an arrow draw. It primarily strengthens the lats, traps, and rhomboids along with the muscles of the upper arm.  If you want to get a heavier pull or be able to shoot more arrows without fatigue, this is your number one exercise.

The exercise is performed by leaning over a bench or other stable surface, keeping your body parallel to the ground, and pulling a dumbbell or kettlebell up towards your ribs. 

This exercise should be done for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps and 60-120 seconds rest in between sets. 

To make this exercise harder, do an isometric hold at the top of the lift for 3-5 seconds. So, pull the weight up towards the ribs and hold it there for 3-5 seconds before lowering it. 

  1. Plank

The plank teaches you to maintain tension throughout your body without moving, much like when holding your draw. The forearm plank or push up position plank are both good ways to start. You should build up to being able to hold the plank for 120 seconds (2 minutes).  

If the plank is too easy, there are tons of different variations like shoulder tap planks and BOSU ball planks.

Biggest mistake I see when people do planks is not creating tension in their abs and glutes, which leads to hyperextension of the low back, this can lead to lower back pain or, worse, injury. To fix this issue, get into the plank position and squeeze your glutes, that usually also causes the abs to engage and fix the posture issue.

If it’s still an issue, or you’re looking for a challenge, squeeze a ball, yoga block, or foam roller between your legs as you do your plank. 

 Do 2-3 sets of as long as you can safely do them until you build up to 120 seconds. I usually start my clients with 20-30 seconds. 

  1. Push Ups

In addition to strengthening your upper body, push ups are essentially a moving plank, meaning you have to keep your hold body tense while also moving at the same time. 

Push ups primarily strengthen the pecs, triceps, and shoulders. But your abs are also getting a workout every time you do push ups. 

To set up properly, get into a push up position with your fingers pointing forward. 

As you start to bend your arms, keep your elbows either tight to your body or slightly out at a 45 degree angle. Elbows should never come parallel to your shoulders, that can lead to injury. 

If you find that you can’t keep ab tension, see the fixes for the plank above and use those. 

Push ups too hard? Do them on your knees or, even better because it uses your abs more, do them on a side of a bench or set up a barbell on a squat rack fairly low and do them there.

Push ups too easy? Add weight, do stretch push ups, use a TRX or rings, etc. There are hundreds of different push up variations you can do. 

If you’re just starting out and need to do the easier variations, do 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps with 90-120 seconds rest. Everytime you can do all your sets with 10 reps, make it a little harder until you’re on the floor. 

If you’re already pretty good at push ups, do 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps with 60-90 seconds rest. When you can do all your sets with 20 reps, move to a harder variation like a weighted push up. 

  1. RDL

RDL is short for Romanian Deadlift. If you’re outside of the fitness community, the reason we abbreviate it is because saying “romanian deadlift” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. 

For archers and bowhunters, this exercise helps strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and erector muscles of the lower back, but also teaches you to maintain tension in your upper back, which is important when needing to take a little longer to shoot. Last season, I had to hold a full draw for about a minute, and to be able to do that and shoot accurately, you need to have the ability to keep tension throughout your body.

To set up for the RDL, you can use one kettlebell, two dumbbells, or a barbell. Hold the weight so it’s in line with your hips. 

Have a slight bend in your knees and keep your shoulders pulled back,  push your hips backwards until you feel a stretch or tension in your hamstrings (the muscles in the back of your legs). Some of you might be flexible and be able to touch the floor, most of you will not be able to touch the floor without hurting your low back.

As you stand up, think about pushing your hips forward and squeezing your glutes. 

To keep this safe on the low back, keep the weight close to you. If you use a barbell, think about “shaving your legs” with the bar as you do the movement. 

Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 with 90-120 seconds rest between sets. 

  1. Goblet Squats

Squats primarily strengthen the muscles of the leg, however, a kettlebell or dumbbell goblet squat forces you to create upper body tension throughout the entire movement, increasing strength in the abs, arms, and upper back. 

To perform a squat, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell at chest height. Bend your knees and sit slightly back on your heels as you go down.

Make sure to have your legs at least parallel to the ground, or go slightly below parallel. 

If you are worried about your knees, doing squats properly will not destroy your knees, it’ll actually make them stronger. But if you’re struggling, do a box squat where you sit back onto a stable box, bench, or other surface. 

For box squats, I find that most people need to start with a height of 14-16 inches off the ground. The goal for most people should be to squat to 12-14” off the ground. Exceptions are if you’re very short or very tall. 

Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 with 90-120 seconds rest between sets. 

  1. Dumbbell Lateral Raises

While the upper back and lats are the primary movers in archery, we can’t forget about the shoulders. 

Dumbbell lateral raises can help build the strength and endurance to hold your draw for extended periods and still shoot accurately.  

To perform, stand with two dumbbells at your sides, and lift them until your arms are parallel to the ground. 

Avoid swinging the weights and shrugging your shoulders as you perform these.

Do 3-4 sets for 8-15 reps with 45-90 seconds of rest.

  1. Rowing 

We can’t forget cardio. While archery and bowhunting might not seem like an endurance event, shooting 50, 75, 100+ shots in a single day and walking back and forth can fatigue you. You can easily walk a mile or two without realizing it in addition to shooting. 

Rowing (either on an erg or actual rowing) or kayaking carry over the most to archery as you build endurance in the muscles involved with shooting. Another good option is a ski erg, which works similar muscles, but in a different fashion. 

But any cardio works, just look at Cameron Hanes, so running, biking, hiking, or any other form of cardio can help improve your archery game. 

Start slow, maybe 10-15 minutes, or 1 minute on and 2 minutes really slow (like a run-walk). Slowly build up until you reach a desired time or distance depending on where you hunt and what you might encounter. For me living in Pennsylvania, I try to build up to running about 3 miles in hilly terrain. 

To get better at archery and bowhunting, you have to put the reps in with your bow, there is no substitution for that. But to get stronger, maintain your strength, and/or reduce risk of injury then you need to incorporate strength training at least two times per week. 

These exercises are a great start to your first routine or adding to your current routine. If you want a custom program built for you, click here to get coaching.