Archery Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Archery stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with archery injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published February 27, 2009 | Updated July 16, 2017
The ancient activity of Archery started out of necessity to kill animals for food. It soon found favor in warfare. Stone arrowheads have been found in Africa dating back to 25,000 BC. Around 3500 BC, the Egyptians developed the first long bows made of strong wood and horns. The long bow added range as well as the ability to shoot multiple arrows at once.
Napoleon’s troops had to face archers when they tried to invade Russia. The U.S. Army too used a detachment of archers in several actions in Asia during World War Two.
Archery soon moved from a skill of necessity to a skill of sport. Three basic types of archery contests are below:
- Target archery – Targets are spaced at varying distances on a groomed field.
- Clout archery – An arrow is shot high into the air to shoot a target lying on the ground.
- Field archery – It simulates hunting with targets of varying sizes and shapes scattered about in a non-groomed field.
Target archery is the version used in international and Olympic competitions.
Archery does not require a great deal of cardiovascular conditioning, but it does require muscular endurance. The continuous drawing back of the bow string requires strength and endurance in the upper body. A strong core and lower body is essential for balance and control. Strong forearms will ensure proper aiming and a steady grip.
The major muscles used by the archer include:
- The muscles of the shoulder girdle; the latissimus dorsi, the teres major, and the deltoids.
- The muscles of the neck; the levator scapula and trapezius muscles.
- The core muscles; the rectus abdominus, obliques, and the spinal erectors.
- The muscles of the upper legs and hips; the gluteals, the hamstrings, and the quadriceps.
A good overall strengthening program to keep the muscles strong and flexible will keep the archer on target for a long time.
Most Common Archery Injuries
Archery is a non contact sport that does not subject the body to a lot of violent impact. With the exception of an errant bolt, there are very few dangers of traumatic injury for the archer. The repetitive motion involved in practice and competition does, however, put the archer at risk for repetitive strain injuries.
Although archery has a low reported incidence of injury associated with it, there is some risk. The archer may fall victim to rotator cuff injuries, tendinitis in the elbow, wrist, or shoulder, contusions, and impalement (although very rare.)
- Rotator Cuff Injuries: Due to the constant draw on the bow string, especially at high draw weights, the rotator cuff muscles are under constant strain. The action of holding the string back as the arrow is sited puts additional stress on these muscles. The muscles may become fatigued leading to the potential for strains. Pain in the shoulder, especially during the drawing action may be evident. Weakness and inability to lift and rotate the arm may also occur. This may be treated with rest, ice and the use on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. In severe cases, or complete tears or resistance to treatment, surgical remediation may be required.
- Tendinitis: Tendinitis is caused by unusual or repetitive strain on the tendon. The constant strain placed on the tendons during archery can lead to tendinitis in the joints of the upper extremities, specifically the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Pain in the attachment of the muscle, especially when the muscle flexes before warming up, may indicate tendinitis. The joint may be stiff and sore and the muscles may be weaker than usual. Rest and NSAIDs may be all that is required to treat tendinitis. Recovery time will vary depending on the severity of the condition, with an average three to six weeks.
- Muscle Strains: The muscles of the back, neck and shoulder are subjected to constant tension during archery and overtime, or when using a different bow, could be subject to a strain. The muscle fibers tear slightly during normal use, but when subjected to a load that is greater than their capacity more fibers may tear, causing pain and inflammation. The muscle will also be unable to handle large loads until it repairs. Pain within the muscle, inflammation, and stiffness may be evident with a strain. Rest, ice (for the first 72 hours), and anti-inflammatory medication will help manage the strain. Limited activity can be attempted as it is tolerated.
- Contusion: When the bow string is released it may slap along the forearm on the way back, this is called “String Slap.” This can cause bruising where the string hits. The blood vessels under the string are broken due to the force of the string hitting the area and this causing bleeding under the skin. Slight swelling and discoloration will be present. Sharp pain will be felt immediately, then the pain becomes dull and usually only occurs with pressure on the area. Ice and protection will speed the recovery of the contusion.
Injury Prevention Strategies
The use of proper equipment and an overall conditioning program to prepare the muscles for repetitive use is essential for the archer.
- Proper use of arm guards and release devices will prevent “String Slap” and other potential injuries.
- Gradual increases in draw weight and repetitions during practice will ensure that the body is ready for the next step without shocking the muscles, helping to prevent strains.
- A good strengthening program for the upper body will prepare the muscles for the repetitive strain of drawing back the string and holding the position.
- Flexibility is essential to aid in recovery and keeps the muscles ready each time they are called into play. A good overall stretching routine will also help prevent imbalances caused by constantly pulling the same way.
The Top 3 Archery Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for archery; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Arm-up Rotator Stretch: Stand with your arm out and your forearm pointing upwards at 90 degrees. Place a broom stick in your hand and behind your elbow. With your other hand pull the bottom of the broom stick forward.
Rotating Stomach Stretch: Lie face down and bring your hands close to your shoulders. Keep your hips on the ground, look forward and rise up by straightening your arms. The slowly bend one arm and rotate that shoulder towards the ground.
Assisted Reverse Chest Stretch: Stand upright with your back towards a table or bench and place your hands on the edge. Bend your arms and slowly lower your entire body.
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Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden or play your favorite sport without “paying-for-it” the next day.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.