We all know a friend or family member that pulls their bow out for the first time in late summer or even fall. Maybe it’s even you that procrastinates until the last minute to get ready for the season, and when you do, you realize that you are unable to pull back your bow. As a physical therapist, I hear this story over and over. We don’t realize the importance of keeping our shoulders healthy and often wait until it’s too late to do the preparation necessary for shooting our bow. The shoulder is a lot more complex than one may realize and it is imperative to understand shoulder mechanics and anatomy to know if you are taking the correct steps to becoming a better archer. Then, we must apply this knowledge to the shot process to provide a smooth draw cycle and steady aim. With knowledge of the shoulder anatomy and the shot process, we can perform specific exercises to maintain healthy shoulders.
Anatomy of the Shoulder
The shoulder blade and arm connect to make your shoulder joint, known as the glenohumeral joint. Your shoulder is a ball-in-socket joint. This type of joint has a lot of mobility; however, this mobility causes a lack of stability. Your rotator cuff, which is composed of four
smaller muscles, is your main stabilizer of the joint. Your shoulder blade is also important in the stability of your shoulder and has 17 different muscles that attach to it. All of these muscles have to work in unison for your shoulders to function properly and are most active when holding and drawing your bow. This group of muscles provide the most stability with shoulder function and when shooting archery, but are not typically exercised in the gym with conventional lifting. Understanding the mechanics of archery and performing proper exercises to increase stability in these smaller muscles will help optimize a healthy shoulder.
Dissecting the shot process is crucial for understanding what muscles are involved throughout the sequence. I see a lot of archers “overdraw” their bow by starting the draw cycle with the bow over their head, then lowering it as they pull back the bow. We should be able to draw the bow straight back, smoothly, which is going to allow us to utilize the correct muscles. We know we would not get away with this large draw cycle in the heat of the moment with an animal in front of us. We must practice specific to our hunting situations. When we don’t activate the correct muscles, the body will compensate for the lack of strength and subconsciously use other muscles to achieve the same task. This is what leads to injury and pain with shooting when these repetitive, compensatory, patterns occur. I have dealt with this myself, causing an injury to my bicep tendon in my shoulder. Dedication to strengthening these muscles will help you not make the same mistake.
Consistently working the proper muscles, in order to keep your shoulder strong and stable will not only help you avoid injury, but also become a better archer overall. There are several exercises that can help achieve these goals; but before working those muscles, it is imperative to understand which muscles are working during the exercises. I like to focus on exercises at shoulder height or above, which help apply stability to the shoulder joint. The use of exercise bands, small kettlebells, or dumbbells are all you need to make the most of the exercises. Slow and controlled movements throughout the exercise are important and crucial in archery. Simulating the draw cycle can be achieved by using a dumbbell and an exercise band. Consulting with a Physical Therapist to learn specific exercises to maintain healthy shoulders before an injury occurs will be well worth your time.
Striving for Perfection
That shot of a lifetime starts now. Don’t wait until it’s too late. The winter months present the perfect opportunity to start working on some of these muscles. Shoulder stability exercises should be included in your shooting routine and are going to help you become steadier and more accurate. With spring fast approaching, well hopefully, we will be getting outside to shoot and attending TAC events. Then, the season will be right around the corner. We strive to make shooting our bows a year-long process, so our health and fitness should be no different. There’s a lot of talk about new gear and the “latest and greatest” going on right now, but we should start by focusing on the core of archery, our strength and technique. So get up and start prepping for the season NOW!
By: Dimitri Sidorick, AntlerUp Outdoors