Every bowhunter knows that to become a good shot, practice will make close to perfect. (Nobody is a flawless shot.)
Many hunters won’t start practicing until mid-September, when really an entire month will allow you more time to knock off the rust and work out some kinks. But to feel good about your groupings that first time out, you might want to start in a place not many bowhunters would expect: the gym.
Bowhunting and the gym; sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? It doesn’t really roll off the tongue like “peanut butter and jelly” or “bread and butter.” Yet when paired together, doing workouts meant for strengthening your draw can mean the difference between a dead deer or the one that got away.
You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to do these simple exercises. In fact, you don’t have to be in that great of shape. Many of the lifts can be done in the comfort of your own home if you have two 10- or 20-pound dumbbells.
Single-arm dumbbell row: I always reference this one to pulling the cord to start a push mower. Use a table (at home) or a bench (in gym). Place one hand on the table or bench. Feet should be shoulder-width apart. Pull the dumbbell up to your rib cage, and let it back down. Pulling the weight up and letting it down should be done in a controlled manner. Keep your back flat and your core tight. Sets and reps: 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps with each arm.
Bent-over row: This is very similar to the single-arm rows. Bend at the waist, but be sure not to arch your back; squeezing your abs will also help. Developing a strong back is crucial for bowhunting. Bring the weights to your rib cage, and lower them under control. Sets and reps: 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps.
Dumbbell bow shoulder stabilization: I made this lift’s name up. It seems fitting. All you’re going to do is simulate drawing your bow, but with dumbbells instead of a bow in your hands. To work your scapulars, hold the position of where you would be at full draw for several seconds, then ease back to the start. Sets and reps: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
Dumbbell lateral shoulder raise: This will really burn those shoulder muscles in the later reps. Begin with dumbbells in both hands, standing normally. Simply raise the dumbbells up at your sides so that at the top of the lift, your fingertips and shoulders should be in a direct line. Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Dumbbell flyes: This may seem silly because it’s a chest exercise, but pull your bow back once and key in on how much you use your pectoral muscles. A great deal of strength on the draw comes from this part of the body. Pick up the dumbbells and lay down on the carpet or on a bench. Push the dumbbells up to where your arms are completely extended. Now you’re ready to start the lift.
Lower the dumbbells laterally toward your sides while maintaining a slight bend at the elbows. Once the dumbbells are level with your chest, reverse the movement you just did by using your pecs. The dumbbells should end at the top where they started. Sets and reps: 4 sets of 6-8 reps.
Split squats: But wait, all you use to draw is your upper body, right? Wrong. Sit on the ground and try to pull your bow back. Then stand up and draw back. You’ll notice the difference.
Take a dumbbell in each hand at your side and stagger your feet 2-3 feet apart. Simply descend your back leg while keeping your front knee bent. Don’t let your front knee extend farther than your front shoe. Use your abs to stabilize. Once your back knee gets close to or touches the ground, drive through the back heel to boost your back leg to the starting position. Sets and reps: 4 sets of 5-7 reps.
Farmer walks: This one is exactly how it sounds. Farmers have to carry heavy things from Point A to Point B all the time. All you need to do is pick up a dumbbell in each hand, and walk around. It won’t seem hard at first, but do it for 3 minutes and your shoulders will be howling. Once you start to feel the burn, go for another 30 seconds. Use good judgement on what will strengthen your shoulders and what could strain those muscles.
Planks: The common area of the body used in all of these lifts is your core. Most times, you won’t even realize you’re using your abs on the draw. But a strong mid-section will allow you to pull more weight and hold much longer, which can make all the difference between a kill-shot or a miss.
Start in a pushup position. Bend the elbows at a 90-degree angle and rest all your weight on your forearms. Hold the position for a minute at a time. Be sure to keep your backside down and in a direct line with your back and head. Three minute-long planks should have your abs telling you they were worked on. To really push yourself, rest your forearms on a yoga ball and your feet on a bench.
If you do half of these exercises one day, and the other half 2 days later, you’ll see a noticeable difference in: 1) the amount of weight you’ll be able to pull, 2) your balance, 3) your stamina at the top of the draw, and 4) your groupings. Devote as much time to working out as you do shooting, and I promise you’ll be more than ready come October 1.