5 elements to focus on for your offseason bowhunting workouts
Now is the time to hit the gym to elevate your bowhunting game
For most of us our bowhunting season is a wrap. We reflect on what we did right and what we need to make corrections on for the season ahead. However, bowhunting is not for the faint of heart. It takes physical fortitude, strength, endurance and the right attitude. For those of us who have to work at it whether we hunt hill country, big swamps or have to walk miles back on public land, we need to be in bowhunting shape. For those of us who shoot a vertical bow whether compound or traditional we also need shoulder strength & endurance.
A great bowhunting workout has a plethora of variables but we can look a little more vaguely on the appropriate muscle groups that us bowhunters should be focusing on. Some of these exercises are recognizable and some maybe a little foreign to you.
Always, always, always master proper form first with lighter weights or bands before you move into the realm of heavy work.
As a personal trainer with an associates degree in physical therapy, here are the 5 exercise groups with a sample exercise that you should focus on in your offseason bowhunting workout.
Glutes are the driving force behind your ability to ambulate hills, move thru deep muck, and climb trees via sticks or ladder. Whether you use a saddle, climber, sticks & stand, or a ladder stand the glutes are the heavy lifters of the climbing world. They are also the main workers when dragging that deer out of the woods. As you can see, strong glutes are a necessity for any whitetail bowhunter.
A great exercise is the Bulgarian Split Squats. When we ambulate up a tree, one leg is performing the driving force while the other stays stationary. The Bulgarian Split Squat mimics that motion as well as a similar stress placed upon the lower extremity.
Rotator Cuff (to include the Latissimus Dorsi):
If you have ever had a shoulder injury or just shoulder weakness you know how important those rotator cuff muscles are. You also realize that if you don’t shoot your bow for even a month on how weak they can get compared to when you were shooting regularly. Also, anytime you have a weight bearing exercise to a joint your body creates synovial fluid that helps lubricate and protects that joint. That is why it’s crucial to add rotator cuff exercises to your offseason bowhunting workout. You don’t just put oil on your firearms during hunting season? Keep those shoulder joints lubricated year round by working those rotators.
One of the best bang for your buck exercises (pun intended ;-) is the external rotation with horizontal abduction. Not only does this exercise work the Infraspinatus and teres minor but also the latissimus dorsi. These 3 muscles all play an integral component of the draw cycle of a bow. When first starting out, be sure to err on the side of caution and use lighter bands or lighter weights.
Show me someone with an abdominal injury or a slipped disc and I will show you a person who is probably doing anything but bowhunting. Our core is crucial to what we do as bowhunters. Whether we are bending at the hips when aiming downwards from a tree stand to carrying all our gear on our back. I would even say that saddle hunting has increased the demand of our core strength due to the contortionist positions that saddle hunting sometimes places you in.
The plank on the stability ball is one of my favorite exercises for the core. When your spine is neutral and you're performing an isometric exercise (work being done, but no movement) it creates a very safe exercise for your spine and the muscles that surround it. One of the reasons I prefer the plank on the stability ball is that it recruits the core stabilizers and forces your obliques to work as well.
Rhomboids major & minor:
If there is one muscle group that gets overlooked in the archery draw cycle….these are the guys. The Rhomboids which are small muscles located between your spine and scapula “should” be the initiators of the draw cycle. This helps take the pressure off the rotator cuff muscles when pulling your bow. However, I see many archers initiate their pull with either their lats or their rotators. Not starting with your Rhomboids during the draw cycle is like starting your vehicle in second gear.
Shoulder retraction is one of the best exercises to directly train the rhomboids. Holding onto either a cable, bands or bent over with weights, bring your scapula (shoulder blades) together and hold for 2 seconds. Once you master this form you incorporate this exercise into any rowing exercise. The key is that you initiate the scapula first and then perform the rowing motion. Same can be said for the archery draw cycle.
For many of us who live in cold weather climates we just don’t get the cardio component like our southern friends. It’s important that we keep the fat off and our lungs and heart strong. The greatest mortality amongst deer hunters is not tree stand falls, or firearm accidents but heart failure while exerting themselves in the woods. While cardio can take many different forms, HIIT training is king. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This is where you will train at a slower pace for an extended period of time, then ramp up the pace for a period of time and then bring it back down.
Here is a great example for someone who is sedentary, utilizing a treadmill and new to cardio. Start out at a brisk walk for 1 minute. Proceed to ramp up twice that speed that you utilized for one minute and perform for 30 seconds. Then ramp back down to your original brisk walk speed. Perform this cycle for 15 minutes. As you get stronger and increase your lung capacity you should be able to decrease the walk times and increase the high intensity times.
The key to any good workout is to have a plan and that the workout remains balanced. Sometimes individuals get too focused on heavy sets, only cardio, specialization workouts, etc. The exercises listed are not verbatim but should be your starting point. Also, the purpose of this article is to have you possibly change your focus of your workouts to be more functional than linear.
If you haven’t started your off season workout, now is the best time. Combine that with some HIIT training along with some shed hunting and watch the pounds fall off while remaining strong throughout the year. Bowhunting isn’t just for fall anymore. It’s year round and your physical training should always play a major part in your bowhunting routine.
A nice Wisconsin 9 pointer I harvested this past fall.
Clint Ward is a certified personal trainer with associates degrees in physical therapy and chiropractic. He is the owner of Oak & Iron Outdoors which is an informative site that combines health & fitness with hunting & fishing. You can follow him at oakandironoutdoors.com.