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Off-Season Training

In Kentucky, deer season ends mid-January, along with dove and turkey (everyone’s favorite seasons). Now we have a big question to answer: What in the world are we going to do until fall, when everything comes back in season? I know exactly what I will be doing, and I have a specific goal for this summer. I will be in the gym training specific muscle groups and building my endurance. I want to be able to increase the draw weight on my bow by at least 10lbs, and I want to be able to carry my bow and a backpack in heavy winter gear without instantly feeling fatigued. I won’t list my current draw weight, because no one needs to compare themselves to another person. You compare yourself to YOU, that’s the only way you see progress. Since we are all at different stages in our fitness journeys, this may seem like a simple goal to some people; however, I am a very small framed female, who is still new to bow hunting, who suffered from childhood asthma and has never had great lungs since. I want to build muscle and cardio endurance. Everyone has different goals and this one is mine.

Let me provide some background as to why this is so important to me.

This past year was the first time that I really gave my all at bow hunting. I practiced numerous days a week for hours each day, throughout the entire summer and fall. I researched the best equipment for bow hunting and upgraded some aspects of my bow, and I sought assistance from professionals on fine-tuning my equipment. When deer archery season opened up, I felt ready. I had my gear, I had the perfect location, and I knew that I was ready to take a whitetail. I even knew which one I wanted: the first one I saw with a large body (I was really just hunting for meat, not a specific antler size).

My hunting location for the season was two and a half hours away, so I turned each hunt in a weekend long camping trip with my husband (who also planned to kill the first big-bodied deer he saw). We had spent about three or four weekends camping and hunting, had seen no less than 20 deer, could just about name them at this point, and I found my opportunity. A six pointer with a large body walked about 35 yards out from where I sat on the ground under the evergreen branches. It was still early October, hot and humid, and I had mosquitos biting me in the face as I sat statue-still, making eye contact with this buck. He walked up to the edge of the pond, looked at me, stomped a couple times, and just stared. We spent at least five minutes just staring at each other and I saw my one and only chance open up.

As he turned his head to reach and scratch with his back leg, I went up on my knees, drew back my bow and shot him. He jumped, kicked, and bounded off into the woods as my husband and I high fived and talked about how delicious that deer would taste as summer sausage. We gave him about 15 minutes and walked over to start spotting blood. We looked and looked, found my arrow, and found no blood. Not a single drop on the ground. Nothing. I look at my arrow and see a busted broad head covered in blood and hair, but there was not any on the arrow shaft. Guess how crushed I was. Not only did I hit high, hit a rib bone and bust a broad head, but also I injured a young buck that I wouldn’t get another chance at. As hunters, we pray and practice to make clean, ethical shots and kills. I failed. My best assumption is that my draw weight should have been a little bit higher for a faster arrow, and my range finding abilities need to improve. (That’s another summer goal I have.) I think I hit high because I measured the distance incorrectly.

Over the season, I’ve also come to realize that I fatigue very easily, especially in the cold. I would get bundled up in my heavy winter gear, pick up my backpack and bow and start walking up the hill with my husband to our stand, and I would end up falling behind him. Even if I could keep up, I would be so shaky by the time we got to the top of the hill, that I wouldn’t be able to take a shot if I wanted to. I hate cardio but the embarrassment of not being able to keep up with others has changed my tune.

My training plan for archery season:

Back: 3-5 Sets of 6-8 Reps-Use a heavy weight, but not so heavy you sacrifice form

  • Seated cable rows

  • Upright rows

  • Lat Pulldown

Finish it off with a few Max Contraction Bow pull/holds. Use your gyms cable machine, set the cable to cheek-height, and wrap the handle around your wrist like a wrist release. You should mimic the same action as pulling back your bowstrings. For max contraction training you will need a gym buddy, since you’re using a weight heavier than you would typically use for an exercise similar to this. (If you don’t have a gym buddy, use the heaviest weight you can, pull and hold the weight to your draw length until fatigue.) If you have a buddy, set the weight heavier than you typically use, and have them help you pull it back to your normal draw point. Once you’re ready, have them let go gently and hold that weight until failure. Make sure they stick around to help you lower the weight. Lowing too much weight without assistance could damage muscles.

Shoulders: 3-5 Sets of 6-8 Reps-Use a heavy weight, but not so heavy you sacrifice form

  • Lateral Raises

  • Shoulder Press

  • Front Raises

  • Cable Rear Delt Face Pulls (Use the rope attachment)

Arms: 3-5 Sets of 6-8 Reps-Use a heavy weight, but not so heavy you sacrifice form

  • Typical Bicep Dumbbell Curls

  • Bicep Hammer Curls

  • Tricep Pulldown/Pushdown (Same motion, differing hand position)

  • Tricep Dips

Cardio: I hate cardio; however, my plan is to do at least two 30-minute sessions a week. That may not seem like much to most people but honestly it’s two 30 minute sessions more than I typically do so every little bit helps. If you hate cardio like me, build a sweet playlist on your IPod, or plan to do cardio when your favorite show is on TV, the entertainment helps pass time more quickly.

Side note: The cardio machine I hate the least is the stair master, because I convince myself it’s just a leg workout ;)

Core and Stability: I do 2-4 sets of 20 reps of the following list. I go through 1 set for each exercise and start over again at the top for set 2.

  • Alternating leg lifts

  • Heel Touches

  • Russian Twists

  • Crunches

  • 1 Minute plank

I have received some professional advice from a physical therapist who recommended that I add some stability exercises in. I recommend picking a few and exchanging them for other ab exercises, or adding them into your lifting routines.

  • Bosu Ball Pushups

  • Bosu Ball Squats

  • Bosu Ball Planks (front and side planks)

  • Overhead Lunges

  • Isometric Band Twists

I also train legs and glutes (those are my favorites actually) but when you think of archery, you think of your back/shoulders/ and arms; therefore, that’s what I’ll list. Feel free to split arm day. I like to work my back and biceps together, and my chest and triceps together. Personalize it as you desire, and change things up every now and then. Don’t let the gym get boring! Muscles need rest and good nutrition to grow! You only need two days rest for a muscle group following training; but I personally like to give myself four because I stay sore for a few days.

Lastly, if you have a specific goal, record your progress. Note your starting point, give yourself a timeline, and even take photos of yourself to help document how far you’ve come. It’s hard to see your progress when you see yourself every day. Compare your before photo to yourself throughout your journey and you’ll surprise yourself!

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