Every Archer’s Hidden Enemy


If a person wants to increase arm strength by lifting weights and build cardio endurance by walking, why not do both at once? That what my reasoning as I prepared for a recent elk hunt. Each morning I put in my two miles of brisk walking while hefting a 10-lb. weight in each hand… bad idea! Whenever a person uses the same muscle group repeatedly without variation, they become subject to “overuse syndrome,” also known as RSI. Since I’m not a physician, let’s look at an online encyclopedia’s definition.

August Products 2011 032Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a syndrome incorporating several discrete conditions associated with activity-related arm pain such as edema, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, stenosing tenosynovitis, intersection syndrome, golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis, tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis, radial tunnel syndrome, and focal dystonia.

Archers face this problem because they strive to develop muscle memory that is repetitive: That is, to make every draw, anchor, and release exactly the same in order to produce consistent accuracy. Fortunately for me, I realized the problem with doubling exercise training in time and didn’t lose the season. I’ve had to deal with overuse syndrome in my 40-year archery career, yet I still shoot well (in my humble opinion). Here are several steps I’ve taken to beat this malady. Think of them as prescriptions from the medical school of hard knocks:

1. First, be aware of the potential problem. Vary your exercise and shooting practice and follow training recommendations, which usually alternate strength and cardio activities. That’s why baseball pitchers don’t start every game.

2. Warm up before you shoot. Whether on the range or in a tree stand, I pump my bow 20 times over my head and stretch my shoulder muscles. To stretch your muscles, hold the bow handle in your drawing arm and push up on the lower limb with your other hand.

3. Moderate your practice over time. I shoot about five ends of three arrows in each practice session. That’s enough to build muscle strength and regulate hold, aim, and release. It’s not necessary to wear out a target to build accuracy, and you can’t do it two weeks before the season.

4. Talk to your doctor. Archers are athletes, and professional advice can save you much pain and missed time afield. Often anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed for moderate discomfort, but listen to your pain. If you have severe shoulder pain or loss of articulation, seek professional help.

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Joe Byers
Joe Byers has more than 1,000 magazine articles in print and is currently a field editor with Whitetail Journal, Predator Xtreme, Whitetails Unlimited, Crossbow Revolution, and African Hunting Journal magazines. He’s spent the last three decades depicting the thrill of the chase and photographing the majesty of all things wild. Byers is a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and numerous other professional and conservation organizations.