Preseason Archery Workouts: Get in Shape for the Hunt

In bow hunting, weeks or months of preparation come down to a single moment. To capitalize on your opportunities, your body must be ready. Picking the right workouts can make the difference between a successful hunt and heading home empty-handed.

Preparing your body is just as important, if not more so, than picking the right gear and finding the perfect spot. Training builds trust in your physical capabilities, which gives you confidence heading into the backcountry. 

This article will arm you with the knowledge you need to get ready for hunting season. You’ll learn which fitness qualities are important for an archer, and how to train them. Plus, you’ll we'll share several of the best exercises that’ll make you a better bowhunter. Let's start by looking at the muscles needed for shooting a bow.

What Muscles Are Used in Bow Hunting?

A bowhunter’s legs must be strong enough to carry them great distances, which means they have to have endurance as well. The arm, shoulder, core, and back muscles all have to be strong enough to draw and aim the bow. Hunting is a full-body activity that requires strength and endurance.

The entire leg is engaged during hikes for backcountry hunting. From the quadriceps running down the front of your thigh, to the hamstrings on the back, powerful glute muscles above those, and your calves running down the backs of your lower legs. They're all involved in hiking and trekking in the wilderness.

To handle your bow specifically, your back muscles need to be strong. The latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, teres major, and trapezius help you draw the string. Your biceps, triceps, and deltoids help you draw and hold the bow in place.

And to the surprise of many, your core muscles are also used in archery, including the obliques, which run down either side of your torso. These muscles help you turn and stabilize your spine when shooting.

As you can see, bow hunting is a full-body workout. From draw strength to leg endurance, high-performance bow hunters train year-round to get their entire bodies and mind ready for the season.

Is Archery a Full-Body Workout?

While bowhunting in the backcountry is a full-body workout, archery is more specific. You don’t really need your legs to shoot a bow.  Your arms, back, and shoulders do almost all of the work. To be a great archer you need to be strong enough to draw your bow and hold it steady.

Consider this: you can probably shoot a bow just as well from a seated position as you can while standing. Plus, you might not have the luxury of shooting from a standing position while hunting.

For that reason, it’s important to incorporate archery-specific exercises into your workout routine. While you’ll need cardio and leg exercises for hunting in general, bowhunters and archers alike need to carve out space in their workout to strengthen the arms, shoulders, and back muscles.

3 Pre-Season Workouts for Bow Hunters

Hunting — and bowhunting in particular — places unusual demands on muscles we don't typically use on a day-to-day basis. That's why training needs to be specific to the needs in the field. We've created a specialized program that focuses on creating strength and mobility for carrying a pack and bow across miles of rugged terrain as well as for drawing and holding your bow steady. In the rest of this article, we've made 3 of our pre-season workouts available so you can get a better idea of what MTNTOUGH training is all about. While these are just a small sliver of what's inside, you'll at least be able to understand how an entire program will make you physically and mentally tougher for hunting season.

If you can get through these workouts one to two times ahead of the season, you’re going to be way ahead of the curve when you head to the hills with your bow. To build trust in your body, you need to build resilience in key areas.

For example, the hips and shoulders. The hips support your legs and help you cover miles of rugged terrain. Your shoulders allow you to draw a bow and aim with unwavering accuracy. On top of that, you need to incorporate strength training and cardio into your routine.

Workout #1: Hip Health Workout

This hip workout combines cardiovascular conditioning on the rower, followed by resisted hip movements and some extra hamstring strengthening to get your hips in shape for hunting season. You’ll build endurance in your legs and upper body while making your hips more resilient. Here are the exercises in the workout:

1. Row Ergometer

The rower is a perfect complement to this hip workout because it uses a mix of upper and lower-body muscles, meaning you won’t exhaust your hips because it’s low-impact. If your hips are bothering you, it should offer a relatively painless way to warm up.

  • Step 1: Strap your feet snugly into the rower
  • Step 2: Grab the handle
  • Step 3: Sit up tall in the seat and slide your body as close to the front of the rower as you can
  • Step 4: Press with your legs, pulling the handle
  • Step 5: Once your knees are nearly straight, lean back slightly and pull the handle into your chest
  • Step 6: Reverse the steps to return to the start position

2. Banded Hip Flexors

This exercise strengthens the hip flexors, the muscles in front of your thigh that lift your leg. They often lack strength, particularly if you sit a lot at your job. Strengthening them can help prevent hip injuries.

  • Step 1: Tie a band to a fixed object behind you, as low to the ground as possible
  • Step 2: Face away from the band and get into an elevated push-up position with your hands on a bench or wall
  • Step 3: Put your foot in the band
  • Step 4: Drive your knee up to the chest, pushing against the resistance of the band
  • Step 5: Return to the start position to complete one rep

3. Standing Fire Hydrants

Perhaps you want a visual, but this exercise looks a lot like what a dog does when it pees on a fire hydrant. It targets the gluteus medius, a muscle on the side of your hips, that’s ignored by many other leg exercises.

  • Step 1: Place a min-band around your knees
  • Step 2: Cross your arms in front of your chest, or keep them by your sides
  • Step 3: Slightly bend both knees
  • Step 4: Lift one leg as far as you can backward and to the side

4. Single Leg Hamstring Curls

Weak hamstrings can lead to muscle strains or sprains if you put too much force on them. Leg exercises like squats and lunges don’t target the hamstrings very well. In fact, not many exercises isolate them properly, but the hamstring curl does.

  • Step 1: Get a slider or roller that can glide under your foot
  • Step 2: Lie on the ground with one heel on the glider, crossing your arms over your chest
  • Step 3: Bridge your hips into the air a few inches
  • Step 4: Keeping your hips in the air, slide your foot away from your body until you feel the tension in your hamstrings
  • Step 5: Slide the glider back towards your body as far as you can to complete one rep

Now that you know the exercises, it’s time to combine them into a workout. You’ll row, do a hip strengthening exercise or two, then repeat. In total, you’ll row 3,000 meters.

  • 250-meter row/10 banded hip flexors on each leg
  • 250-meter row/10 banded hip flexors on each leg
  • 500m row/3 sets of 10 standing fire hydrants on each leg/3 sets of 10 single-leg ham curls on each leg
  • 500m row/3 sets of 10 standing fire hydrants on each leg/3 sets of 10 single-leg ham curls on each leg
  • 250-meter row/10 banded hip flexors on each leg
  • 250-meter row/10 banded hip flexors on each leg
  • 500m row/3 sets of 10 standing fire hydrants on each leg/3 sets of 10 single-leg ham curls on each leg
  • 500m row/3 sets of 10 standing fire hydrants on each leg/3 sets of 10 single-leg ham curls on each leg

Workout #2: Shoulder Health Workout

If you’re unfamiliar with the Assault bike, you’ll be well-acquainted after this workout. Similar to the hip health workout, you’ll alternate a cardio exercise with shoulder-strengthening movements. This workout targets the muscles that archers need to shoot with range and accuracy.

Here are the exercises you’ll see in the workout:

1. Assault Bike

This isn’t your average spin bike. It’s a full-body machine that uses a fan in the front to increase resistance as you pedal harder. In this workout, you’ll use calories burned as a measurement of distance. The assault bike mainly works the legs, but the upper body pushes to add power.

  • Step 1: Adjust the seat of the bike so that your knees are almost entirely straight at the bottom of each cycle
  • Step 2: Sit on the bike and put your feet on the pedals, gripping the handles
  • Step 3: Pedal with your feet, simultaneously pushing the handles on one arm and pulling with the other

2. Renegade Rows

As an archer, you need to push with one arm (the arm holding the bow) and pull with the other (the arm that draws). This exercise perfectly mimics that movement, strengthening your shoulder, back, arm, and core muscles. Generally speaking, rowing exercises are some of the best for archers.

  • Step 1: Get into a push-up position, holding a dumbbell in each hand
  • Step 2: Keeping your hips squared to the ground, lift one dumbbell up until your wrist hits your rib cage
  • Step 3: Lower the dumbbell to the ground, then repeat on the other side to complete one rep
  • Step 4: You can optionally add a push-up to increase the intensity

3. TRX Y’s

Strengthening the back of your shoulder is important for an archer. This exercise does just that, using the smooth resistance of the TRX to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder blade and the back of your shoulder joint.

  • Step 1: Hold the handles of a TRX and lean back, walking your feet forward so that your body is at an angle relative to the ground
  • Step 2: With a slight bend in your elbows, raise your arms straight overhead
  • Step 3: At the top of the movement, your arms should form a “Y”
  • Step 4: Lower your arms so that they point to the site where the TRX is attached

4. Push-Up +

The push-up+ is a regular push-up with a little something extra at the top. You’ll do a scapular protraction at the top, which is when you move your shoulder blades away from each other. This strengthens the pecs and rotator cuff muscles to make your shoulders more stable.

  • Step 1: Get into the push-up position
  • Step 2: Perform a regular push-up
  • Step 3: Once you get to the top, continue to press the ground away from you, lifting your upper back toward the ceiling
  • Step 4: Return to the regular push-up position, relaxing your upper back, to complete one rep

5. Weighted Superman

The superman exercise strengthens your lower back, glutes, and shoulders. This variation targets the shoulder muscles even more by adding weight. You’ll work the back of your shoulders, strengthening them through a wide range of motion to make them more resilient.

  • Step 1: Lie on the ground on your stomach with a weight in each hand
  • Step 2: Lift your legs and feet off of the ground
  • Step 3: Lift your arms off of the ground, holding your hands close to your ears
  • Step 4: Reach forward with the weights as far as you can, then return your arms to the start position
  • Step 5: Lower your arms and legs to the ground to complete one rep

For this workout, you’ll alternate the Assault bike with shoulder exercises. Each round you’ll do either an endurance ride on the bike or a sprint. And each round the endurance distance decreases by 10 calories. Renegade rows and TRX Y’s are performed after the endurance ride. After sprints, you’ll do the push-up+ and weighted supermans. This workout will wear you down and rebuild you stronger than ever before - you got this!

  • 70 cal endurance bike
  • 10 renegade rows on each arm, 10 TRX Y’s
  • 10 cal bike sprint
  • 3 rounds of 10 push-up+, 10 weighted supermans
  • 60-cal endurance bike
  • 10 renegade rows on each arm, 10 TRX Y’s
  • 10 cal bike sprint
  • 3 rounds of 10 push-up+, 10 weighted supermans
  • 50 cal endurance bike
  • 10 renegade rows on each arm, 10 TRX Y’s
  • 10 cal bike sprint
  • 3 rounds of 10 push-up+, 10 weighted supermans
  • 40 cal endurance bike
  • 10 renegade rows on each arm, 10 TRX Y’s
  • 10 cal bike sprint
  • 3 rounds of 10 push-up+, 10 weighted supermans
  • 30-cal endurance bike
  • 10 renegade rows on each arm, 10 TRX Y’s
  • 10 cal bike sprint
  • 3 rounds of 10 push-up+, 10 weighted supermans
  • 20 cal endurance bike
  • 10 renegade rows on each arm, 10 TRX Y’s
  • 10 cal bike sprint
  • 3 rounds of 10 push-up+, 10 weighted supermans

Workout #3: Mountain Man Workout

You’ve read through one workout to strengthen your hips and one workout to improve your shoulder strength for archery. This workout is designed to prepare your legs for hunting season so that they can take you as far as you need to go. 

You’ll need a weighted pack for this workout to simulate the demands placed on your legs during hunting season. We're big believers in functional fitness. Here are the exercises you’ll see in the Mountain Man Workout:

1. Treadmill incline/decline walking

To simulate walking up and down mountains, set your treadmill to an incline of 15. You must walk facing both forwards and backward to prepare for hunting season because walking down a mountain with heavy gear can be just as difficult as walking up.

  • Step 1: Set your treadmill to an incline of 15
  • Step 2: Set your speed to an even pace that you can walk at without feeling like you need to grab onto the guard rails
  • Step 3: Try to maintain a relatively upright posture as you walk

2. Lateral Step-Ups

You’ll need a box or bench for this leg exercise. Since you’ll already have a weighted pack on your back, you shouldn’t need extra weight. Rather than stepping straight forwards and backward, this movement prepares you for the often-awkward and unpredictable steps you’ll be taking in the wilderness.

  • Step 1: Stand next to a box or bench
  • Step 2: Place your inside foot on the top of the surface, slightly in front of your body
  • Step 3: Lean onto the elevated leg and step up by pressing down with that leg
  • Step 4: Once you have both feet on the box and are standing tall, step down with your outside foot
  • Step 5: Step your inside foot back to the ground to complete one rep

3. Walking Lunges

This movement prepares your legs for grueling, uphill treks. It works the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, using the weight from the pack on your back to push the leg muscles to the point of fatigue.

  • Step 1: Find a clear space with room to walk forwards and backward
  • Step 2: Take a lunge step forwards, planting your front foot flat on the ground
  • Step 3: Bend your front and back knee, lowering your body towards the ground
  • Step 4: As you go down, lean over your front leg slightly with your torso
  • Step 5: Step forward with your back foot, coming up to a standing position with both feet together
  • Step 6: Lunge with the other leg to complete one rep

Benefits of Pre-Season Bow Hunting Workouts

Preparing your body for hunting season is essential if you want to hit the ground running. You don’t want to waste any opportunities you might have because your upper body muscles aren’t up to the task of accurately shooting your bow. If you find the perfect spot, your legs should be able to take you there without giving out and forcing you to quit.

Unlike hiking or other mountain athletics, you start the journey with a heavy pack, but if you're successful, you'll leave with a significantly heavier pack. Sure, you'll shed some pack weight along the way as you munch through your rations, but with hard work and some luck, the toughest physical challenge will be hauling elk quarters down the mountain at the end. Thankfully a heavy shot of primal adrenaline will help you along the way, but if you want to truly breathe in the victory lap, you'll need to be in peak physical condition far before bow season begins.

The workouts above prepare your body for the various demands hunting will place on it. A study performed on rugby players found that adding only 10 training sessions before their season started reduced the risk of injury by 17%. With even more time spent training, your injury risk should drop even further.

Even though it’s not viewed as a traditional sport, hunters are mountain athletes nonetheless. So prep your body the same way athletes of other sports would. This isn't some marketing gimmick either. It's backed by data and scientific research - in fact, preseason training is the key to improving performance. For instance, a study performed on soccer players showed that sprint training in preseason improved their performance more than playing small games. The take-home point is that going out on small expeditions won’t prepare you for the big hunt in the same way that time spent in the gym will.

Upper body strength is one of the most important factors in archery technique. The shoulder workout will build all areas of the shoulder so that you can use your upper body to draw the bow and confidently take a shot. Strength training improves your technique, and it makes you more confident in your shot. That self-belief is crucial for your next hunt.

Make Every Shot Count

To take advantage of each hunt, you have to prepare your body beforehand. Working out before hunting season can make you more confident in your shot and allow you to cover more ground. Each workout you do before hunting season will make your life a little easier.

With that being said, you won’t get results if you walk into the gym and start doing random exercises. You need a program that targets the specific qualities that a hunter needs, like leg muscle endurance and upper body strength. Plus, you have to take care of your joints to make sure you don’t get hurt.

For guidance, check out the Backcountry Hunter Series. It’s specifically designed for people like you to maximize your performance. If you’re not ready to commit to anything, try the free 14-day MTNTough trial for access to all fitness content.