# Are the draw weights of 90# to 100# realistic for women archers?

I have a clan in early middle ages when both man and women of a military aristocracy train for war. All the daughters of the warriors train archery from the early age. It is expected they should be able to protect their fortified homes together with the boys when the men are on campaign.

In the emergency situation when numbers are against it and the battle can't be avoided daughters join in the battlefield in full weapons and armor. Something like women of ancient Scythians.

From my research men used warbows of 100# to 180 pounds. The olympic archers use mostly 45-50# but they value accuracy instead of lethality. The heaviest draw weights used by woman I found on the world archery website was 60#.

The height of average woman in the clan is around 5'10"(178cm) with athletic build.

Are the draw weights of 90# to 100# realistic for women archers who train for war?

I'm thinking about traditional recurve bows like the one used by Scythians, Huns, Avars, Magyar etc Culture is based on Scythians.

taken from Grozer archery

• @Criggie Good thing you need neither speed nor accuracy when raining down arrows en masse Braveheart style Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 13:29
• @F1Krazy do not edit. That is the standard way to express draw weight in a bow. Tipically you will see: #50@26" which means that the draw weight is 50 pounds at 26 inches of draw length. Of course for the same bow different draw lengths will have different draw weights. Till you overdo it and the draw weight becomes instantly 0! ^.^ Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:21
• @DuncanDrake Thank you for clarifying, I wasn't aware that this was standard notation. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:27
• Side note: 5'10" is tall for a woman today - the average is around 5'6" or less. 5'10" is about the average height of men in a modern developed country. If you're looking at a medieval economy, you may want to drop your heights by a few inches. Note that aristocrats will have access to better nutrition, so being taller than peasants might be a possibility regardless. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 17:57
• @BlokeDownThePub I've never once seen # used to mean £. Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 7:00

## Yes, it is completely believable.

First modern comparisons are not helpful. Historic war-bows were a lot more powerful (draw weight wise) than modern bows, war and hunting have very different needs, and modern compound bows are built to reduce power needed at the worst(hardest) part of the draw. 200lb bows are known to have existed. English longbows commonly ranged from 80-150lbs. It is rare to find a modern bow with anywhere near that pull weight. Modern bows are almost exclusively hunting bows and such power is just not all that useful for hunting, historic hunting bows were also significantly lighter for the same reason. Few modern archers can draw a 150lb longbow yet we know they were common, the ones that can draw them train with them regularly, training with a longbow matters a lot for ability to use it.

Women on average have less muscle development in the upper body, but this is an average without training. There is no reason trained archers would have a comparable difference. Training matter much more than sex for muscle development so the difference will be much less than a simple untrained average would predict. Even if you don't believe that you are looking at bows half or more lighter than those known to have been used (so it would still be possible). Average differences are not representative of differences with training. At worst you can say the average trained female might be slightly weaker than the average trained male archer, and the bows proposed are the lightest of common bow weights so that would make it very possible.

90-100lbs is at the low end of common war-bows so it is absolutely plausible for well trained women to be able to use them.

Additional source thanks to Leo

• Can't recall which historic-weapons YouTube channel it was, but the male presenter was recounting how he was struggling with a 100-ish lb bow in a shop when a middle-aged, 5-foot-nothing woman who happened to be there demonstrated the correct technique for him by drawing it back relatively easily. Unsubstantiated, but I have no trouble believing it given the abilities of the women in the archery club I'm in. Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 23:29
• Do not forget that english longbows where drawn and released nearly immediatly. They did not aim, but fired a much arrows as possible. If you want to aim, you can have much less pounds. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 7:09
• Bow drawing is not a "natural" motion. You need to know which muscles to pull, and which muscle to tighten. Do it wrong and you're pulling against your own muscles. It is sort of like when I started using the leg press. I started at around 150 lbs, and 4 months later I was hitting over 450 lbs. There's no way my muscles grew by 200%, but I learned how to use the muscles and how to brace against the machine. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 8:46
• @JulianEgner It's possible to aim before you draw (or as part of the drawing action) if you're well trained enough. You pick a target and point at them, then draw, possibly making minor adjustments while drawing to account for the target's movement, and then release. The "fill the air with arrows" technique is suitable mainly for full battles, one big army vs. another, but bows were also commonly used in smaller skirmishes where accuracy is far more critical. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:50
• @KerrAvon2055: Also saw that. 99% sure it's one of the Tod's Workshop series, not sure which one (saw it at least two or three months ago): youtube.com/user/todsstuff1 Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 16:32

Premise: I personally love longbows, an elegant weapon from a more civilized era.
I suggest this book to anyone interested. It's recent and with new tests:
Mike Loades - The longbow
So do not take the following as dissing the longbow or bows in general but
It is not that it is impossible. It's just not the wisest thing to do.

You do not mention the kind of bow your culture use, and many of the replies have assumed the longbow. For good reason, but let's go orderly.

First of all don't assume two different bows with the same draw weight are going to produce the same energy on the arrow or the same damage to the target. There are a lot of other variables at play.

The longbow for instance is efficient due to its long draw (around 30" depending on the archer) and long limbs. Observe how at full draw the angle formed by the string and the tip of the limb is smaller than with much a shorter bow. The bigger that angle the higher the stacking. Stacking is 'fictional' draw weight. Imagine pulling a piece of wood with a 180° degree angle. How much energy will be transferred to the arrow? None.
Still the archer feels that stacking and strains his muscles for it.
That is why bows that HAD to be shorter (for instance because used on horseback) were heavily recurved. To lower stacking and allow storing higher energy in the system while drawing.
Other designs (e.g. recurve, reflex / deflex) are even more efficient than the longbow but they need longer construction times and were more expensive to produce. Longbows could be mass produced, with several bows obtained from a single stave.

When it comes to defending a fortified position crossbows are going to be more effective than bows. Higher energy in the shot, easier to move around in tight places and to exploit cover and most of all easier to train with and to shoot for an extensive period of time, for instance in a siege which is most likely to happen when a force is attacking a fortified position. In the middle ages sieges were far more common than open field battles.
Of course your clan may have not discovered crossbows for some reason if you don't like them, it's your world.

But since you add the tag medieval I take you want some historical comparison. In England aristocracy would not train with the heavy longbow (they may use lighter bows for hunting) and would dedicate themselves to their proper role in battle. Archers were commoners. And were duly encouraged to train.

And so 1363 marked the first of a series of ordinances and parliamentary statutes meant to compel Englishmen to spend their Sundays and holidays “not in pointless amusements such as football, bowls, tennis and dice, but in shooting at the butts.” Archery in Tudor England

Do you really want your daughters of the aristocracy to mix with the rabble?
Extensive training with heavy bows leads to a number of cartilage problems. Not something the aristocracy would impose on their daughters I wager.

Also consider their opponents, what kind of armors do they wear? As plate armor became more common the effectiveness of the longbow declined. Also chain mail with textile additional protection proved effective.

In 2011, Mike Loades conducted an experiment in which short bodkin arrows were shot at a range of 10 yd (9.1 m) by bows of 140 lbf (620 N) - powerful bows at less than normal battlefield range. The target was covered in a riveted mail over a fabric armour of deerskin over 24 linen layers. While most arrows went through the mail layer, none fully penetrated the textile armour.[35]

Brigandine armour instead proved vulnerable to bodkin arrows.

P.S. Your clan must be made up of huge people! 1.78 as average for women? What do they eat?

• While a nice history lesson it does not seem to address the question.
– John
Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 3:25
• @DuncanDrake Also in England archers were yeoman, they are prosperous farmers, lower than aristocrats but far from rabble. However in Japan Samurai were elite that used bow. So in the OP culture bow seems like a weapon of the elite, or at least not against it. If the culture is based on Scythians that means lots of horse archers. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 11:15
• Yes, I wrote that.... "Other designs (e.g. recurve, reflex / deflex) are even more efficient than the longbow". Do you make bows too? Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 11:16
• @slobodan.blazeski because the English Longbow was an infantry weapon. It was not a problem if it was as tall as the archer. And the tips of the limbs would become very narrow, which adds to the speed of the arrow. If you want to recurve to store some more energy you need to make the bending area wider and/or thicker (thicker is better if feasable) which adds mass on the limb which takes away speed. No free meal in Nature ^.^ anyway I have seen longbows with slightly recurved limbs (the last 1/4th or so). Right now can't say how much of an advantage (if at all) this recurving would give. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 14:09
• All good info. However, the OP explicitly said the example culture is modeled on the Scythians, which means they are looking for the exact kind of horseback bad-at-sieges warfare most of this answer dismisses. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 18:29

A good rule of thumb is that in purely strength based exercises women are ~25% weaker with comparable training in the same weight class. Compare Men's Powerlifting Records with the women. The difference decreases the more endurance heavy the exercise is (for the marathon the world record difference is only 9%, I think for long distance triathlon it’s even less).

If men can use war bows with 180 pounds draw weight then 135 pounds for women is completely realistic.

• in the same weight class Women and men rarely occupy the same weight classes, and this discrepancy contributes to a much larger sexual dimorphism in strength than the 25% figure you posited. For a more accurate spread, compare the SHW (super heavy weight) records for men and women. To put it another way, the ability of a 100lb woman to be 75% strong as a 100lb man is irrelevant when in fact she's trying to compete with a 200lb man. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 17:26
• @guenthmonstr: OP said that their average woman is 178cm tall which is comparable to most men in developed countries in the real world. I assume their weight would be similar as well. And even if: For 135 pounds of draw weight you don’t have to be a 180kg mountain of muscle. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 18:02
• @Michael Nope. Height for height women are generally quite a bit lighter than men. By generally I mean there are skinny dudes and chunky girls but it's unusual. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 20:45
• @BlokeDownThePub: Weight is mostly a matter of nutrition. Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 5:07
• @Michael nutrition is often a matter of hormones. If you sit on the couch (even without lifting) and take anabolic steroids, you will still find yourself being hungrier, eating more, and gaining muscle. Compared to women, men are on anabolic steroids. IDK about the draw weight; practically everything I know about archery I learned from reading this question, but in any activity that requires physical strength, men will enjoy a great advantage ceteris paribus. If you're saying that drawing such a bow doesn't require much strength, I'll happily concede the point. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 16:11

According to wikipedia tallest women are in the Dinaric Alps with height of 171cm, the woman of this clan are 178cm tall. Being of athletic build I will compare them with basketball players. Quick glance at WNBA guards it seems that many of similar height weigh around 175 pounds. Joe Gibbs said that he could shoot 160# whole day without a problem, and few shoots of 200# bow. I can't find his height and weight but from the video he doesn't look that much heavier than 175 pounds.

Assuming that woman has upper body strength of 40% of the man, it seems that 160*0.6=96 pounds your numbers seems plausible.

I use a height as proxy for weight class, since taller people are generally heavier and have more muscle mass. Comparing people of similar body type.

Draw weight relies a lot on the muscle of back, thus people who are very fit but never trained archery, and never trained those muscles will have problem with low draw weights. Famed archers in antiquity trained since childhood and have sceletal deformations that makes that easy to recognize them. image taken from this thread

The draw weight is one part of the explanation that other is draw length. Longer draw length means better transfer of power, since arrow stays longer in contact with the delivery system. That's why bows with average draw length of 30" are far more efficient than crossbows who have half of draw length. That's why crossbows compensate with larger draw weights, and in modern times with reverse draw crossbows.

How this affect woman archers in this clan. 80-100# is something like a maximum that very few woman could pull, but being very tall, training since childhood, having best food & source of proteins, and right genetic stock being descendants of warriors make the situation plausible.

• Height doesn't really have much relation to upper body strength. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 0:05
• @jamesqf thats true, but to draw a longbow it helps to have longer arms, short enough arms you wont get close to the max of a 100lb bow, long enough arms and you can reach that before you run out comfortable travel with your arm. So while height doesn't grant you upper body strength, longer limbs can make using a longbow more efficient and short limbs could prohibit you from meeting the question's requirements. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 7:00
• @jamesqf Taller people are in general heavier and have more muscle mass, think point guard vs center. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 10:30
• @hamsolo474-ReinstateMonica If weight is the same its acually the opposite according to world record holder Mark Stretton. People with shorter arms and stocky build think t-rex are able to draw heavier weights. My google fu fails me to find the article and navigation at his site is abysmal markstretton.blogspot.com On the other hand longer arms allow you longer draw length which makes it for more efficient transfer of power since arrow is longer in contact with the bow. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 10:37

I would hazard the guess that 90 to 100 pounds is a bit much, assuming the people you're talking about are ordinary humans and the bows you're talking about are ordinary bows. A quick survey of a number of archery forums suggests that even physically fit (but otherwise untrained) women fall short of your goal.

Since this is a warrior culture, I'd expect that they would know, intuitively if not scientifically, that grown women & men have different physical strengths and would arm their home guard accordingly. They'd train boys and girls from a young age and they would almost certainly follow Hugh Latimer's wisdom:

[My yeoman father] taught me how to draw, how to lay my body in my bow ... not to draw with strength of arms as divers other nations do ... I had my bows bought me according to my age and strength, as I increased in them, so my bows were made bigger and bigger. For men shall never shoot well unless they be brought up to it.

It's entirely possible a woman could bend a bow she might not otherwise be able to draw.

Also, I'm sure the girls will be tested against ever stronger bows, just as the boys will be, until they reach a point where they can neither bend nor draw the bow. They should be wise enough to ultilise each woman with a bow she's able to draw or bend.

You could also consider thinking about bows other than the usual war bows or English long bows. I see no reason a woman couldn't effectively bend a heavy foot bow for example. Regardless of gender or strength training, the legs are much more powerful than the arms. Bending such a bow would be much easier, as you're not relying solely on leg strength, but also on arm strength and even more importantly, on gravity assist.

• modern untrained women is hardly a good comparison to historical trained archers. the difference in muscle mass between men and women is only an average. also there are few modern MALE archers that can use common medieval war-bows so again modern comparisons are not very useful.
– John
Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 22:06
• The question did not ask whether some exceptional women could work as archers but whether an average woman could be expected to do so to protect the home. So the average matters.
– Mary
Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 22:15
• @John - Even with the training of a military culture, there is still the matter of women - in general - being weaker than men as regards upper body muscle mass. Which is why I specifically mention the foot bow. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 0:51
• @Mary no it asks if a woman who spends her entire life training for archery could do it, that is not an average woman.
– John
Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 2:56
• @John -- I don't think the OP means constant Spartan training. These women are, most likely, the last ditch defense rather than front line troops. Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 6:23

Several people have pointed out that using a bow requires years of training, starting in childhood. Would you go to that effort with girls if they're only going to be used as a kind of last ditch militia/Volksturm?

• Because the OP says they have, this sounds more like a comment than an answer.
– John
Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 17:43

I believe that if they are trained from childhood, even girls can use 100 pound bows consistently with enough conditioning, especially on an 178cm frame, which is as tall as the average modern man. The females in your clans could probably go toe to toe and even overpower most men in that period.