As a bow hunter I often deal with pesky shoulder aches and pains. For me, sometimes the next day or two after the range, I have an angry shoulder joint. It is important to address an issue before it becomes a problem. In bow hunting an injury could mean NO hunting. Because of this I devote time each week to taking care of my rotator cuff(s), trying to prevent shoulder injuries, and strengthening my archery muscles.
Courtesy of: archeryaccuracy.com
Here are some strategies and techniques to implement for improving shoulder stability.
Stability is the key when shooting. Example: think of your shoulder stability when you are holding your bow back aiming at a target. When you look through your peep sight, your bow sight should be rock solid and there should not be any shaking or moving. This is a foundational bow shooting principle. Instability will show up down range on those longer shots. Thus I want rock solid, stable shoulders for holding and aiming my bow.
When referring to shoulder stability for shooting a bow. It is important to know stability is the aggregate of all joints as a whole. So your neck, back, trunk, etc., are going to affect your shoulder strength and stability. An example is stand up and push your arm into a wall, notice your body move away from the wall. This is known as reaction force. Your hips, spine, feet, ankles, must contract to help with overall stability or applying force. If you split your feet apart, get a wider base of support, get a lower center of gravity (squat down) and lean towards the wall then push you will move less.
Shoulder (C.A.D.) Isometrics Matrix:
On my bowhunter specific workout programs I call this C.A.D. for Clock, Azimuth, or Degree isometrics. Isometric means applying a force equal to resistance, example plank, wall-sit, or hold push up where you aren’t moving. Isometrics are a great, safe way to stimulate nerves and muscles with proper control meaning you can apply 5% or 93.2% versus a gym machine that only has 5-10 lb increment options. Choose a method that works for you and try to apply force in every direction, plane, angle you can think of.
There are virtually endless options and you should never run out of exercises for your shoulder(s). Your creativity is your limit. You can and should apply force in every position and every angle that your joint moves in. The diagram above (Degree model example is 30, 60, 90, 120 degrees, etc.) is an illustration of directions to apply force from a given position. Another way to think about joint positions and applying force, if you aren't good with angles, is with a Clock model. Apply force 1 o'clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock and so on. Example: Start by lying on your back and place your shoulder in flexion (hand above your head) grab a barbell and push into 1 o'clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock and so on into an isometric hold. Azimuth (aka compass bearing) is another option using north, south, east, west or northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest as reference points to apply force. One example is using a door jamb, push your arms out into the door jamb and apply force in the east and west direction and hold for 15 seconds. Another example: in shoulder flexion or with your arms straight out infront on your (shoulder height). Apply force up for a given time, then out for a duration, then up and out for a length of time. Or Pull down for a given time, then out for a duration, then down and out a length of time into a fixed object like a barbell or handrail.
To complicate things then change the position of the shoulder - in, out, up, down, front, back, rotate in and rotate out and apply force at the new position. Also think about standing, supine (lying on your back), prone (lying on your stomach), sidelying (on side) will give you more options. The gist is to apply forces in every possible angle to achieve optimal success and stability for the shoulder joint.
To get a 360 degree approach use C.A.D. Isometrics with all 12 shoulder positions: adduction (in), abduction (out), elevation (up), depression (down), retraction(forward), protraction (backward), horizontal abduction (across back), horizontal adduction (across front), flexion (in front), extension (behind), internal rotation (turn in), external rotation (turn out). Refer to Fig. 1
Figure 1 - Courtesy of: Illinois Neurological Institute
A great and easy way to do all these crazy angles quickly is to sit on a kitchen table chair, preferably with an open back rest, facing the open backrest you can apply forces up, down, out, in, compound angles up/out, down/in, then also don't forget to do all these positions with internal shoulder rotation and external shoulder rotation. Another idea is to use a barbell, or a handrail, maybe a stair rail, you might have to kneel to get the proper height and/or angles.
Seated Chair External Shoulder Rotation Chest Fly (Pulling in)
Standing Barbell Shoulder Abduction Isometric with External Rotation (force up
Kneeling Shoulder Chest Fly Isometric at a stair handrail
You always have the option to regress (make easier/lighter weight) an exercise if you have pain or something feels off. Adjust angle, position, load/weight, stop, or consult a professional. Again I will go from a dynamic (movement) to an isometric (hold) as a regression.
Chest Press or Push Ups - Isometric pushup or bench press (hold at 90 degrees elbow angle)
Row or Lat. Pulldowns - Isometric row or lat pulldown (hold at 90 degrees elbow angle)
Shoulder Press - Isometric shoulder press with dumbbells (hold at 90 degrees elbow angle)
Just by switching from a dynamic movement to a static hold isometric you will reduce the joint stress dramatically because of fewer repetitions (I.e. one rep for an isometric hold verses 10-15 repetitions for a dynamic exercise set). Good to know when dealing with an overuse injury.
Tip: Focus on one joint position per day (session) so you don’t feel overwhelmed. This should take 5-10 min. Refer to Fig. 1 (above) & Table 1 (below)
Day 1 - shoulder height (front) position with C.A.D. isometrics (Flexion Position)
Day 2 – arm out to side (shoulder height) position with C.A.D. isometrics (Abduction Position)
Day 3 – arms overhead position planes with C.A.D. isometrics (Adduction Position)
Day 4 – arm by your sides (hip height) position with C.A.D. isometrics (Adduction Position)
Day 5 – arms behind position with C.A.D. isometrics (Extension Position)
Day 6 - shoulder protraction (forward) and shoulder retraction (back) planes with C.A.D. isometrics (Flexion Position)
Yoga Blocks, Straps, Belts, Door Jambs, and an Armed Chair are great props if you don’t have access to a gym or gym equipment. In the field you can use a belt if you need to fix shoulder pain. Other options are you can use your steering wheel or your seat headrest, two trees, a hallway to apply force into.
The wrist and elbow have big relationships to the shoulder. An example is you can write with your wrist or you write with your shoulder. Think about if you have cast on your wrist or elbow but your hand and shoulder are free. You can still write by moving your shoulder. On the flipside you can also write from just your wrist only. It is important to consider wrist pronation or your wrist rotation inward (aka thumb rotating downward). The forearm muscles cross the elbow joint and attach to the humerus (upper arm bone). The shoulder is directly influenced by the wrist and elbow muscles, ranges of motion, abilities or stability. Your wrist can and should move independently from your elbow. A lot of people don’t consider your release hand rotation of your hand/wrist/elbow. Whether you use a trigger release, thumb release, hinge release or your fingers. You might want to train those muscles and wrist pronation. See Below - band wrist pronation.
Thumb Release Grip
Note the differences between the trigger release vs thumb release wrist positions. There is a lot more wrist pronation with the thumb release. This can be important for a person starting out or someone who doesn't have enough wrist pronation range of motion. Either switch releases or train these muscles and movements to improve range of motion.
Courtesy of www.vhdissector.com
Band wrist pronation: With your release hand, grab a light band and anchor it high onto a door, ladder, or high cable pulley. Rotate just from your wrist (not shoulder) inward or thumb going downward. Play with angles of anchor points to create different challenges.
Start Position (Palm up)
End Position (Palm down)
Band Wrist Pronation (High Anchor)
Tip: If you do a bicep curl or tricep extension (skull crusher) exercise, you might want to add wrist pronation to challenge these elbow/wrist pronators. Example bicep curl turns into a reverse forearm curl. Do one set with palms facing up and one set with palms facing down.
Did you know that your neck muscles attach at your skull, your shoulder bones, and your spine. If you have a neck instability, weakness, or injury it will affect your shoulder health, range of motion, and strength. It is important to maintain the trapezius (neck, shoulder muscle that pulls shoulder up or elevates the shoulder) and rhomboid muscles (muscles between shoulder blades that squeeze or pull the shoulder(s) inward or together) because they pull back your bow and also rotate your head. Both keys to hunting and shooting. Refer to Anatomy photo previously
Neck Rotation & Extension Isometric on Incline Bench: Sitting with an incline bench leaning back, rotate your head and push back. Try to push your chest forward or off the back rest almost like you are arching your neck. Use a yoga block if you need more mobility. If you don't have an incline bench refer to the above neck rotation isometric with a chair against the wall. 3 sets of 5-10 seconds (2-3x per week) @ 10-25% effort. Alternative option is to use the headrest in your vehicle.
Supine Neck Rotation & Flexion Isometric: Lying on your back or face up, rotate your head and lift your head up. This will strengthen your sternocleidomastoid (neck rotator, flexor muscle) muscle(s) which attach your skull to your sternum (chest bone). It rotates your head and lifts your head. 3 sets of 5-10 seconds (2-3x per week) @ 10-25% effort. Refer to Anatomy photo previously
Prone Neck Rotation & Extension Isometric Lying face down or on your stomach, rotate your head and push back or up. This will strengthen the trap (trapezius) and rhomboids muscles that pull back your bow and also rotate your head. 3 sets of 5-10 seconds (2-3x per week) @ 10-25% effort. Refer to Anatomy photo previously
Sidelying Neck Rotation Isometric (Looking Up): Lying on your side or one shoulder, turn your head looking up and just hold your head there. You may notice that this tires quickly. Thus you may want to work on strengthening it. This will strengthen the trap (trapezius) and rhomboids muscles that pull back your bow and also rotate your head. 3 sets of 5-10 seconds (2-3x per week) @ 10-25% effort. Refer to Anatomy photo previously
Sidelying Neck Rotation Isometric (Looking Down): Lying on your side or one shoulder, turn your head looking down and just hold your head there. You may notice that this fatigues quickly. Hence more of a reason to work on it. This will strengthen the trap (trapezius) and rhomboids muscles that pull back your bow and also rotate your head. 3 sets of 5-10 seconds (2-3x per week) @ 10-25% effort. Refer to Anatomy photo previously
The latissimus dorsi (big wing muscle) on your back is the primary bow pulling muscle. The lats aka latissimus dorsi muscle, attaches on your humerus (arm bone), your thoracic spine (upper back vertebrae, all the vertebrae going down your spine from shoulder to tailbone, and also on your hip bone. So therefore it will affect trunk, back, and hip instability, weakness, and can affect shoulder strength and range of motion.
Courtesy of: Visible Body, Argosy Publishing, Inc.
Seated Side Bend and Rotation Isometrics: Sitting on an armed chair or couch turn to one side and bend over into arm rest. Another way I cue this position is to turn (rotate) then pull your ribs down to your hips and apply force from your shoulder into the arm rest. This will work a bunch of muscles that are crucial for turning, twisting, and rotating your body. Also those bow pulling back muscles. Try turning toward the chair/couch arm and side bend or lean over arm applying force down as well as turn away from the chair/couch arm and side bend or lean over arm applying force down.
Left - Left Trunk Rotation & Left Side Bend, Left - Left/Middle Trunk Rotation & Right Side Bend, Right/Middle - Right Trunk Rotation & Left Side Bend, Left – Right Trunk Rotation & Right Side Bend
These are examples and suggestions, modify as needed.
Disclaimer: Please note that these are suggestions/recommendations and can be modified depending on level/ability and/or equipment. Also note that prehabilitation and rehabilitation exercises can be interchangeable depending on your shoulder health status (healthy or injured). You should consult your physician and/or physical therapist before starting any exercise program.
Workout - Healthy Shoulder Program Example: 6x/week (Advanced)
C.A.D Isometrics (Choice one method):
Clock - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12 O'Clock
Degrees 0, 22, 45, 60, 75, 90
Day 1 - Arms Front - Shoulder Height (Flexion Position)
Day 2 - Arm(s) Out to Side (Abduction Position)
Day 3 - Arms Overhead (Abduction/Adduction Position)
Day 4 - Arms By Side or Hips (Adduction Position)
Day 5 - Arms By Behind (Extension Position)
Day 6 - Protraction (Forward) 1 Set Internal Rotation & 1 set External Rotation1 Set 3x5sec. @ 5-10%
Day 7 - Retraction (Back) 1 Set Internal Rotation & 1 set External Rotation1 Set 3x5sec. @ 5-10%
Bow Specific Strength
Day 1 - Reverse Bicep Curl (Wrist Pronation)
Day 2 - Seated Neck Rotation & Neck Extension Isometric into Wall
Day 3 - Tricep Skull Crusher (Wrist Pronation)
Day 4 - Sidelying Neck Rotation Isometric (Looking up)
Day 5 - Seated Sidebend Isometrics (Right Rotation & Right Sidebend, Right Rotation & Left Sidebend, Left Rotation & Left Sidbend, Left Rotation & Right Sidebend) - use an armed chair if needed
Day 6 - Neck Rotation Isometric (Looking down)
Day 7 - Prone neck Rotation & Extension Isometric (Right Rotation & Left Rotation)
Workout - Copyright by Science of Cardio All Rights Reserved @ 2022
In closing I recommend not to work through pain. Try to go to a lighter version and/or an isometric (hold) version to see if that affects the pain sensory feedback loop. If you still have pain contact me, a physician, or a physical therapist. I highly recommend doing prehab (injury prevention exercises) or C.A.D. isometric exercises from above before and after you shoot on the range. I am amazed when I try to cut corners, how it bites me and when I do the proper warm up, how great I feel.
From the bottom of my heart. I hope this helps and makes a difference in your hunts, skill sets, and shoulder health. These training techniques should improve joint health, overall strength, and decrease injuries.
If you are interested in custom workouts please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck with your upcoming season(s). More information on this topic can be found at:
Happy training, shooting, and happy hunting.