People who join the North Shore Archers usually do so for one of two reasons.
“For kids, it’s Lord of the Rings. And for adults, it’s Robin Hood,” says Marianne Johnstone, co-founder of the archery club in North Vancouver.
Into the pantheon of fictional heroes has stepped Katniss Everdeen, the young bow-wielding fighter from The Hunger Games. With archery’s popularity in the culture this year – not only The Hunger Games but also the upcoming Avengers, Brave and CW network’s Arrow, plus the Olympics this summer, archery coaches and clubs across Canada expect to see a wave of fans all aquiver to give the sport a try.
And while they welcome them – even if participation rates already verge on exceeding available resources – don’t be fooled into thinking archery is kids’ stuff. Not at the competitive level, at least.
“That’s something that a lot of people don’t fully understand, is the physical side of things,” says Winnipeg native Jason Lyon, 25, who has garnered a spot for one Canadian archer
at the London Games and will qualify for competition if this season goes as well as last.
For example, the draw weight – the amount of effort required to pull the string, measured in pounds – on Mr. Lyon’s bow is 50 pounds. Over the course of a day, he will shoot up to 300 arrows.
“You end up pulling 15,000 pounds at the end of the day, which means you need incredible muscular endurance,” Mr. Lyon says.
In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, Mr. Lyon will be in the gym two to three times a week. His routines mix multiple back exercises – particularly flies and throwdowns – with bench presses using free weights, which help develop the stabilizer muscles in his shoulders. He also does push-ups with his feet on a Bosu ball, another exercise that develops those crucial stabilizer muscles.
Mental concentration is also key.
“There’s just so much focus needed to execute the shot and keep yourself relaxed and in the moment so you don’t tense up and shoot incorrectly,” Mr. Lyon says. “It’s very, very mentally draining sometimes.”
To become a good archer, as opposed to simply a competent one, takes about 10 years, according to Joan McDonald, Canada’s head Olympic coach.
That said, beginners can take up the sport without having to pump iron.
“Archery is a sport that’s a little bit like golf … It has an enormous recreational component. Lots of people can do archery just as lots of people go and play golf, and they don’t do any specific fitness for golf,” Ms. McDonald says.
And in the world of competitive archery, with compound bows incorporating a pulley system to facilitate drawing arrows back, a strict fitness regimen is hardly a prerequisite.
“You’ll see some bellies on some of the high-level compound archers,” says Fred Matthews, a coach at the Capital Region Archery Club in Edmonton.
But at the Olympic level, where compound bows are prohibited, fitness is key, Ms. McDonald said.
“It’s a full-body program with a high focus on the core,” she says. “Scapular stability” exercises strengthen muscles in the back, especially the ones controlling the shoulder blade. Beginners should focus on proper form far before sport-specific exercises.
Indeed, posture is often the difference between an arrow hitting the bull’s eye or one going three feet wide of the target.
“If you’re not standing straight and standing tall and have your arms in a specific way ... then the arrows will go all over the place,” Ms. Johnstone says.
Although anyone can go out and try the sport, most people typically sign up for classes to gauge their interest before they invest in a bow of their own.
Given the rise in its popularity, the national body governing the sport has recently made a timely move to help support it across the country. Just last month, Archery Canada adopted a long-term development plan that it hopes will lead to more programs and trained coaches.
“In southern Ontario, we’re currently – and probably have been for the past two or three years – overwhelmed,” Ms. McDonald says. “All our classes are absolutely full. We’re struggling to get coaches qualified and certified to handle the people that we’ve got.”