It’s incredibly common in archery to struggle with the weight of your bow. It’s common for novices trying to get into the sport, it’s common for novices transitioning from beginners course to buying their own equipment and it’s common for more experienced archers who have bought their own equipment and find that – after the event – they have been a little too ambitious. It’s also a common scenario for people returning to the sport after a pause and for people returning post-injury.
First of all lets get the terminology out of the way – if you’re struggling with the poundage of your bow coaches usually call this ‘over-bowed’. There are some characteristic features of a person’s draw which will tell us if they’re over-bowed but, more often than not, it is something that the archer is aware of (although maybe in denial about)!
I’ll answer a few basic questions and then we’ll move on to how to fix it.
How heavy should your bow be?
The quick answer is: as heavy as you can manage whilst still being completely in control of it at all times. This means completely under control during all parts of the draw, aim and follow-through.
Why would you want your bow to be as heavy as possible?
The easiest way to explain this is to imagine a child shooting a very light bow over a long distance. You can imagine the trajectory as the arrow has to be aimed UP and then it leisurely floats down to land on the target.. with no weight behind it. While it IS possible to shoot somewhat accurately like that (especially indoors where there’s no wind) it intuitively makes sense that if you send the arrow out of the bow more forcefully, it will travel faster and make it to the centre of the target more accurately.
You’ll also find that you’re limited if you try to increase the distance that you’re shooting when you’re shooting a lighter bow. There are all sorts of hacks and tricks (like turning your sight inside the bow to get a sighting point at distance) that can help you.. but an 18lb bow just literally can’t propel an arrow to 70m.
So, we have two scenarios – you already HAVE a bow that’s too heavy for you or you’re shooting a lighter poundage and you want to increase the distances / accuracy of your shooting.
Firstly, the stronger you are – within reason – the better your archery will be. End of. Competitive archery requires physical strength (over the course of a competition archers will deal with more weight than weightlifters – we just do it cumulatively not in one go!) and stamina. The more you can increase both of these things the better your shooting will be.
It also figures that if you are comfortable on the shooting line handling the weight of the bow then you’ve got one less factor to possibly throw you off.
So, it makes sense that the first thing to look at is how can I get physically stronger? Now, I truly believe that there are fundamentally two types of people in this world. Those who love to go to the gym (you can replace ‘the gym’ with whatever word you choose – yoga works well in this case) and those who like to shoot stuff. So, I get that me telling you to go to the gym is probably going to be as welcome as a dose of scabies.. but.. go to the gym. If you possibly can. I promise that if you do the right things at the gym it will make your archery better. So, what is the right thing at the gym? Well what you want is a strength training programme – preferably with a trainer who knows that you’re doing this because you want to get better at archery. And, again if possible, using resistance weights as that’s the best way to mimic the push and pull action of drawing a bow.
For this one you don’t need to do anything crazily specific (like those resistance bands – we’ll get to them later) but a general strength training programme which covers biceps, upper back and core will help you immensely. You might even discover that the gym isn’t that awful. (OK it probably is – I’m an archer, what else can I tell you?).
The next thing is to pull your bow! It sounds obvious but again, as a coach, I can tell you that one of the surest things that you can do to get better at archery is to pull your bow more. And the sweetest thing.. is that you don’t even need to get to a club. And, you don’t even need to shoot arrows. I’m not talking about buying some crazy technical device that allows you to practice your release without actually shooting (although such things exist – see here and here) but just pulling your bow more will help a LOT. This is a particularly good tip for people who have over-bowed themselves. The absolute worst thing you can do is see it sitting in the corner in its bag… feeling slightly resentful toward it and slightly dreading / hoping for a miracle on Saturday – the one day of the week that you shoot… but you missed last week because Great Aunt Mary came to visit.
So, get your bow out! Yes, you can keep your bow strung at home without any harm coming to it. So, get it out! Keeping your bow strung in the spare room (or the lounge if you’re keen and you have an understanding partner) means you can get logarithmically more pulls in each week.
So, what should you actually be doing? Well, you should be mimicking everything that you do on the shooting line – except for nocking the arrow or releasing (you don’t want to dry fire). Keep the bow on its usual stand, lift the bow from its stand placing your hand correctly into the grip, take up your position with normal foot placement, raise as normal, draw as normal, smoothly connect into your reference point as normal, ‘aim’, count to 3 or 5, then relax the tension on the bowstring and come down. I would do 3 or 5 repetitions before replacing the bow on its stand.
If you’re really keen you can get a shot counter (row counters for knitting are fab for this – here are my top three: the cheapest, the cutest, and the one that I use) which in this case would be ‘draw counter’, and use it to count how many ‘shots’ you’ve practiced that day. Try and set a realistic goal – for a realistic amount of times each week.
Those are the two top tips – do these and I promise that you will get stronger and struggle less with the physical side of the sport.
Other things which I’ll just mention – yes you can get resistance training bands and some coaches (and archers) swear by them. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about here it’s this kind of thing (we’re not necessarily recommending these ones). They are convenient because you don’t have to get your kit out – if you genuinely ARE shooting four times a week I can see that getting home and putting your bow up AGAIN might be a bit of a barrier – but there are a few drawbacks too (and really? Are you shooting four times a week already?!) I don’t like the feel of them in my hand and I find it hard to mimic the pushing aspect of the draw (certainly at the end of your drawing sequence you will be releasing with 50:50 split on pushing the bow away and pulling back on the bowstring) and I therefore find it really hard to make it feel anything like a real draw. But they do have their place, they’re reasonably cheap and you can get them stronger or lighter to help you build up.
If you are overbowed the best fix is – obviously – not to stay overbowed! So, bite the bullet and buy some lighter limbs (or buy a lighter bow if you’re shooting traditional, or get the poundage lowered if you have a compound). Nothing will put you off archery faster than being overbowed – it’s painful physically AND psychologically because if you can’t fully control the bow, all the way through every shot, you just aren’t going to be shooting consistently. If you can have a second bow or second set of limbs do the drawing at home thing… or go to the gym for a bit and then try the drawing at home thing.
Take the heavy bow to the club occasionally – in conjunction with gym / drawing at home.
Only shoot it:-
1) if you are completely control of it when you are shooting and,
2) until you feel that your strength is going.
I can’t stress enough that you should not persist once bad form comes in / tired archery starts to happen. If you do this you’ll be teaching your body that raised shoulders and gritted teeth (and frustration from pinging it into the black) is how archery happens for you. But do try to do a little more each time.
If I could write this in 88 point font I would! No-one ever got to the Olympics shooting once a week (and skipping a week when Great Aunt Mary is in town). If you can shoot twice a week you’ll improve twice as fast. If you shoot three times a week you’ll improve three times as fast. OK we can’t guarantee that your scores will double or triple… but you will do better than how you’d shoot if you only did it once a week. If you can shoot three or four times a week (especially if combined with extra drawing at home and caring for your equipment) you will almost certainly get to a (basic) competitive level in a few months.
Finally, work up gradually – transitioning from an 18lb beginner bow is the hardest step to gauge and will depend on your general strength and condition, and how often you practice. But, generally speaking, increasing poundage by 2 to 4lb whilst shooting regularly (twice a week) is the way to go. Once you feel fully in control of the bow you can increase by a couple or a few pounds. You can also wind your limb weight up or down by around 10% but, be aware, that this is intended for you to perfectly tune your arrows – it isn’t intended as a way to increase the poundage. If you aren’t hugely precious (at this stage anyway) about your tuning though, it can help a little to transition you up (or down in the case of post-injury recovery). Limb exchange schemes can also help with this for beginners just starting out, or those aiming for outdoor shooting – or competitions – who e.g. have a plan to get to 40lb.
So, that’s my coaching perspective on how to increase the poundage of your bow. We’re considering offering some online coaching / goal setting covering more of these ways to improve in a step by step way.