Pretty much everyone is familiar with what grip strength is and how it applies to daily life but it’s very important for recurve archery too. You need a certain amount of grip strength to perform many daily activities from simply drinking a glass of water to carrying bags of shopping.
We all know that grip strength plays a part in proper archery technique but its true importance is often overlooked.
Indeed, as I’ve emphasised many times before, the hook is one of only two places where you permanently interact with the bow (the grip is the other one). You can read more about these two key parts of the technique in our dedicated section: Set Position – Hook & Grip.
The ability to consistently hook the string on the fingers and maintain this throughout the shot is a crucial skill. It will be very hard to do this if your grip strength is too weak.
If you’re not convinced of the importance of your grip strength, try this simple exercise.
The next time you’re at the gym, pick up a light dumbbell that you can easily manage using a ‘three-finger’ hook like you do on the string. Don’t do any exercise with it but just hold it by your side. Pay attention to the amount of relaxation you can keep in the fingers, wrist, forearm and shoulder muscles. Pay attention to how easily you can keep the position of the fingers as you hook around the dumbbell.
Now do the same thing with a dumbbell which is quite a bit too heavy for you to use during a normal workout. Just hold it by your side and note the difference in feeling. You will notice how much extra tension you have around the whole hand, arm and shoulder just to hold the fingers in place. You will probably also feel the fingers start to slip off after a short amount of time.
It is a common piece of archery technique advice to have a ‘relaxed hook’ on the string, but the truth is many people aren’t able to do this because their grip strength is not good enough. Only when your grip strength is good enough can you achieve a relaxed hook with consistent finger position and a good connection to the draw elbow and back. Otherwise, the draw hook and arm will feel tense, similar to the heavy dumbbell example I gave above. This can also result in letting the fingers slip off the string in an attempt to make the hook feel ‘relaxed’.
Obviously, archery technique relies heavily on good shoulder movement and being able to repeat this thousands of times. Now comes the interesting part though. Grip strength is actually closely linked with proper shoulder function and health.
There are widespread studies documenting this correlation.
One study  found that “grip strength had a significant correlation with the muscle strength of 45 degrees shoulder abduction and external rotation in the affected side”. External rotation is a key function of the shoulder. Another study  also found that people with a hand injury or disorder were more likely to display a rotator cuff weakness on the same side as the injury.
In simple terms grip strength affects proper shoulder function. This is crucial in archery, and indeed many sports. Improving your grip strength not only helps your hooking technique. It helps your shoulder movement and function, and will help keep you injury free.
One of the common symptoms of your grip strength being too weak is a feeling of lots of tension in the forearm and hand, and the fingers wanting to slip off the string. However, the fingers can want to slip off the string because of your hooking position, so you have to make sure this isn’t the cause first. Take a look at our hook and grip section for technique on this.
Other key indicators of a lack of grip and/or forearm strength can be the draw wrist kinking or buckling. If you find it hard to expand consistently and in the right direction, grip strength can also be a factor in this. The proper movement of the draw elbow continuously through the Expansion phase is something to look out for too. The elbow should continue to move away from the target at all times, which you can see in the video below.
A good coach will be able to see if your grip strength is affecting your shot.
It’s worth mentioning that even if you don’t particularly struggle with these areas, improving your grip strength is a good thing to work on regardless. The vast majority of archers can benefit from improvement here.
There are so many ways to work on grip strength for archery. I like to loosely think about exercises in two groups when it comes to grip and wrist strength. These are ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’.
These exercises focus on other muscle groups but also heavily involve your grip. Typically the wrist is in a neutral position. They are a great way to get some grip strength work in your normal gym program without taking any extra time. If you want the biggest impact from a short gym session, try using these types of exercises to make up a session and you will have hit your normal gym requirements as well as working on your all important grip strength.
If you want to increase the difficulty for your grip, try making the grip surface for exercises fatter. Putting a towel around the pull up bar is an example of a simple way to do this. It makes it much harder!
Try and spice up your gym training with some added focus on your grip strength. Your hook and your draw shoulder will thank you for it.
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