Your first bow should have a light draw weight. For children, this might be 10-15 lbs. For an adult, 15-25 lbs. is a good starting point.
Top reasons to begin with a light draw weight:
• You put less stress on your muscles and joints that are new to shooting.
• You can easily develop good muscle memory with the right technique.
• You will be able to work up to the right weight at your own pace.
• You can get into correct shooting form with a bow you can control.
Less stress is for the best
Even if you are a strong person, there are several reasons to begin with lower poundages and work up to higher draw weights later on. Your first task as a new archer is to learn sound shooting form that will help you be as accurate and consistent as possible without injury.
Even with the world’s best coach standing by your side, becoming a good archer takes time. You will be learning precision movements and body control needed to develop good technique. Especially since the act of shooting puts stress on the arms and shoulders, you want to make sure that you can reliably find your “sweet spot” of good bone alignment at a poundage that won’t cause discomfort to your muscles and joints. You want a draw weight that won’t be too difficult to control or hard on your body when learning to shoot.
What does “overbowed” mean?
Sometimes even with the best of intentions, a parent will buy a bow with poundage too heavy for their child, either from a lack of archery knowledge or by believing that their son or daughter will grow into the heavier weight. In fact, “overbowing” is one of the top reasons new archers give up the sport. This can be easily prevented by starting with a light draw weight and working up slowly to heavier weights once the archer has gained strength and confidence with good technique.
Sometimes, archers new to the sport are eager to prove just how much poundage they can pull. Naturally, every archer wants to be the best they can be. Yet you should keep in mind that archery is a sport of accuracy, and a heavier draw weight rarely translates into higher scores. In fact, shooting too much draw weight usually reduces your accuracy and score.
One secret to improving as an archer, even more than being strong or having the best equipment, is simply taking the time to practice good technique. You can’t do this if you are overbowed and must struggle to overcome your draw weight each and every shot.
How to build your muscle memory
Improving your archery technique involves muscle control and skeletal alignment. Whenever you break down the components of your shot and really focus on developing each part of your form, you are creating something known as “muscle memory.”
In any activity, this kind of conscious practice is like upgrading the connection from your brain to your muscles from dial-up to high speed broadband. Take the time to practice well and build up your muscle memory. It can mean the difference between a mediocre performance and consistently hitting the bull’s-eye shot after shot.
You can always work up to higher draw weights later on. If you have good technique, you may actually be able to reach higher draw weights than you would have before. It may take time, but you will become a better archer in the long run. After all, archery is a sport that can last a lifetime, so there is no need to hurry. Going at your body’s own pace will help make sure you shoot better and have more fun.
Resources for more information building muscle memory in sport and other activities:
• The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle
• Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell