By Adam Holt
One of the things that makes bowhunting so appealing is that it's so difficult. That's why I love the challenge of hiking into the middle of the wilderness with nothing but my pack and my bow.
As a bowhunter, you need complete faith in your physical ability to hike in to your hunting ground, stalk your prey, pull your bow stealthily and pack out your animal. That means it's essential to train for your hunt.
Whether you are a whitetail hunter trying to get more speed from your bow by pulling more weight, or an elk hunter trekking through the top of the Rocky Mountains, physical strength and endurance is vitally important.
If you are an average hunter like me, you save up what few vacation days you have each year to spend time in the woods. You spend all year thinking about those one or two big hunts. Don't you owe it to yourself to make sure you have the best opportunity for success?
You would never go hunting without tuning your bow to precision, yet most bowhunters don't think about training their body prior to a hunt. Proper training will lead to more consistent success, a more enjoyable hunt and the ability to hunt hard long after your hair turns grey.
The exercises I've developed below are designed specifically for the needs of bowhunters. They'll help you gain more leg and core strength, which is grounded by strong glutes and hamstrings, you'll be able to pull a 5-year-old buck out of the weeds to field dress it, or haul yourself up the tallest peak to scope for game.
Increasing your lower body endurance will enable you to hike farther and faster, covering more ground to reach the trophy you're after. You'll also shoot your bow straighter and with more consistency when you train your core, which increases your shoulder strength and stability. You will attain the upper body strength to smoothly pull back a heavy enough bow to bring down a brown bear.
All it takes is two, 40-minute workouts per week to master these 10 essential workout routines for bowhunters and to improve your chances for success this year.
3. Single Cable Press with Split Stance (Part II)
This is another shot of the same exercise. Place the cable at shoulder height. Keep your core tight and body still while you push your hand from your chest all the way out till your arms are almost straight. Remember that just your arm should be moving.
7. Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts
4 sets of 10/leg
This is an extremely athletic movement that requires all the balance and coordination you can muster. The Single Leg RDL is a hip extension exercise which primarily works your all important posterior chain muscles — hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. Those muscles are the ones that have gotten very weak sitting at your desk, in your car, and on that airplane. They also happen to be the most important muscles to develop for any athlete. They attach your lower body to your upper body and create power, speed, and strength from the ground up.
7. Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts (Part II)
Stand on one foot and set your core by squeezing your back and tightening your abs. Keeping your core tight, push your hips back until you are parallel with the ground with your back flat. Pull all the way back up and try to keep one foot off the ground until you switch legs.
8. Farmer Walks
(3 sets walking to your distance)
Sometimes the oldest and simplest exercises are still the best. This exercise simulates something a farmer often has to do: pick up something heavy and move it somewhere else. This is my favorite exercise for hand, forearm, and shoulder strength, and as a Bowhunter you cannot train those muscles enough. From securing your saddle to your horse, butchering an animal or pulling your bow, this exercise has universal benefits.
Grab two weights and pick a distance. With perfect posture, walk that distance holding the weights. Simple. If your forearms and shoulders aren't on fire you didn't walk far enough. The farther the distance, the less weight you will hold. I do this anywhere from 20 yards to 1/3 of a mile.
9. Single Leg Hip Bridge on Bench
(3 sets of 30 to 60 seconds per leg)
This is another exercise focusing on your posterior chain, and more specifically your Gluteus muscles. Your Glutes along with being your largest are simply the most important muscles in your body. If they are functioning improperly it can put much more strain on your knees, hips, and low back. This makes the muscles around those joints work harder, causing preventable injuries.
Lie down on a bench sideways with your head and shoulders on the bench. Both feet should be flat on the ground and directly below your knees. Pushing through your heel, lift your hips until they are in line with your knees and shoulders and hold. Try to keep your hips level and your heel on the ground.
3. Single Cable Press with Split Stance
(4 sets of 6 to 10 reps per arm)
We are not only working on your ground-based pushing strength, but also core stability. Performing this exercise while standing forces you to use your core to stabilize your entire body in the same way it does while shooting, backpacking, etc. Also, the increase in your pushing strength will keep your bow hand steady as a rock. Check out the next slide for another angle.
1. Single Dumbbell Row
(4 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions per arm)
I put this exercise first because it is perfect for Bowhunters. You are pulling the weight with one hand and pushing on the bench with the other while holding your lower body and core tight and still. Sound familiar? That's because it's a lot like the shooting motion. Having your feet on the ground forces you to use your whole body, particularly your core, to stabilize. This is much more beneficial than sitting on your butt on a machine.
Put one hand on a bench with an athletic stance. Make sure your spine is flat and lower body stays still. Pull the weight up to your rib cage, trying to touch both shoulder blades at the top. Then let the weight down slowly, allowing the shoulder blade of the working arm to relax until the weight is just off the ground.
6. Elevated Split Squats
(4 sets of 12 each leg)
This is the most effective exercise that you can do to develop your lower body strength and endurance. It forces you to balance on one foot while perfectly simulating a steep hike with your legs. The Split Squat allows you to safely go down to parallel with your thigh, which will train your often ignored hamstrings and glutes along with your quadriceps muscles.
6. Elevated Split Squats (Part II)
Stand with both calves against the bench, then take a step forward. Put your back foot on the bench in a relaxed position. The idea is to keep as much weight as possible off your back foot. Lean your spine slightly over the front leg and go down until just before the back knee touches the ground. Push through your front heel the entire time, making sure your front knee never creeps in front of your toes. Go all the way back up until your knee is slightly bent.
4. Alphabet Plank
(3 sets, one time through the alphabet each set)
The main occupation of your core muscles is to stabilize your body for other movement. This exercise puts you in a very unstable position, then makes you even more unstable by moving your upper body. Your core is the only thing between you and falling on your face while doing this advanced plank.
Put your elbows on a stability ball and feet on bench or box. Contract your abdominal muscles to flatten out your lower back. Never do this with a big arch in your lower spine. Keeping your body completely still, move your elbows in the shape of the letter A then B, etc. The slower you do this, and the bigger the letters, the harder it gets.
5. Lateral Shoulder Raise, Heels Up
(3 sets of 20 to 30 reps)
This exercise will give you the shoulder strength and endurance you need to hold at full draw as long as necessary, or to practice longer to perfect your technique without getting tired. I added the heels off the ground stance to work on your calve strength and balance. These are both vital whether you are hunting through the woods with a 20-pound pack, climbing into a treestand, or stabilizing for your shot. A lot of real-life shooting situations are not on perfectly flat cement like your local archery range. You need all the balance you can get to steady your body as much as possible.
Stand with your heels high off the ground with light dumbbells. Before you lift, set your shoulder blades back together. Your palms should be facing forward just like holding a bow. Not only does this simulate your shooting form, but it is also less abrasive on your shoulder joint. Lift until just before you get to parallel with the ground and bring the weights back down slowly.
10. Side Plank With Feet in Rope
(3 sets of 20 to 60 seconds per side)
A side plank is an unstable lateral exercise that works every muscle along your sides, from your ankle to the top of your shoulder. Lateral movements are very important to include for Bowhunters because we need stability and strength side to side, not just straight ahead. Hunting is never a straight ahead activity.
We have to climb over and around things, jump over streams, hide behind trees, and shoot our bows facing away from our target. You do all that with a pack on, which makes your center of gravity much higher and therefore less stable. When you are setting up for a shot, your whole body needs to be completely steady, even if you are on one knee in the snow. Your spine, knees, and hips will be more sturdy if you have trained laterally.
This not only makes you stronger but less likely to get injured. I also like the way your bottom shoulder is strengthened while holding this plank. Your lower arm and shoulder are in the same exact position you hold a bow. If you can hold your body weight in this position, your bow will soon feel like a feather in your hand.
Place your feet in the rope, elbow on the floor, and body in a straight line. Posture is very important for this exercise so don't hunch over. Simply hold at the top so that your spine is straight and hips are in perfect alignment with your body.
(3 sets of 8 to 12 reps per exercise; every repetition is
3 seconds up and 3 seconds down, very slow!)
Your Posterior Shoulder Girdle is immeasurably important to help you not only pull back more weight on your bow but also to keep your shoulders healthy. These muscles are the anchor that attach your arm to your body, making them the foundation of pulling strength. This series of exercises is designed to crush those muscles.
In a bent over position, make your spine as flat as a table top. The most important part of the exercise is to keep both shoulder blades touching the whole time. That is very difficult to do and I guarantee most of you don't need any weight for this exercise. Your thumbs should be pointing at the ceiling at the top of every Letter (make a "T" with your arms).
2. Y-T-W-L (Part III)
Once again, make a "W" with your arms.
2. Y-T-W-L (Part IV)
For the next phase of this exercise, you'll want to make an "L" by reaching a 90 degree angle with yours elbow and shoulder.
2. Y-T-W-L (Part V)
Lift hands up and down without moving your elbows.
2. Y-T-W-L (Part II)
This is the same as the previous exercise, except this time you're going to make a "Y" with your arms.
About the Author
Adam Holt lives in Denver, Colo., and has been a personal trainer and strength & conditioning coach for 11 years. He's worked with many athletes, from the high school to professional level, in a variety of sports. He was introduced to bowhunting four years ago by his uncle; now it's an obsession. He's passionate about helping other bowhunters enjoy the sport through better fitness.