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, tendonitis 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.
• Tendonitis: Tendonitis is caused by unusual or repetitive strain on the tendon. The constant strain placed on the tendons during archery can lead to tendonitis 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 tendonitis. 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 tendonitis. 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 fibres tear slightly during normal use, but when subjected to a load that is greater than their capacity more fibres 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
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.