Making the Switch: Compound to Olympic Recurve

I got a question from a new friend, Fern Slack at the Missing Marble Blog ( She says:

I got a great question this morning from a Facebook friend. He shoots with compound and crossbow, but is interested in learning Olympic Recurve, and asked for advice on how to choose a bow to start

“Fred, my husband has given a lot of thought to this question. We are not experts, but his input makes sense to me. Here is what he said: first, buy the best basic riser you can afford to begin. Put your “investment” money there. There is a good selection of mid-priced risers that have a lot of the same features as the chokingly expensive ones . . . which you shouldn’t buy unless you have decided to stick with it after practicing it awhile.

“Your first limbs should be cheap ones. You’ll want to start at a low draw weight in order to get your form right. Don’t let your pride push you to higher draw weights too fast. Start at 15 -20 lbs, and work your way up to 35 or 40 lbs slowly, making sure your form is not compromised by the extra weight along the way.

“So really cheap 15-20 lbs ones, because you are going to outgrow those fast.

“Once you get to goal weight, invest in better limbs.

“After that, consider a better riser. On the riser, consider the form factor of the grip heavily; go hold a bunch of different ones. Whatever form factor you train your hand to is one of the hardest things to change later.

Okay, I am an expert and I consider this really good advice!

Here are some things I can add.

I suggest that the advice on grip shape are point on: most compound archers shoot with a low wrist grip, often off of the riser itself either by the design of the bow or by removing the grip. I suggest that if you are going to keep shooting compound (no reason not to unless you have a passion to go to the Olympics or World Championships in Olympic Recurve) your bow should have a low wrist grip (or low to medium wrist). You have already trained yourself to evaluate the feel of your bow “in hand” with such a grip so use that feel to inform your Olympic Recurve shooting.

As far as draw weight goes, if you have been shooting a 60# compound (typically with a holding weight of 18-20#) I wouldn’t suggest you start at more than 20#s of draw. Try no more than half of your peak weight as a starting point instead. The reason is you have developed your “archery muscles” and form (including the leverage that is more important than the muscles) and you will overpower a 20# bow, that is make it do what you want rather than you learning to do what it is designed for.

When selecting bows consider the bow’s length, a strung recurve standing on your shoe top should reach roughly to your chin to nose height, with a “little long” being better than a “little short.” The limb’s draw weights are listed on the bow’s limbs as measured at 28˝ of draw (for adults). If your draw length is shorter or longer, the draw will be different by about 2# per inch. My draw is close to 31˝ so my “extra” 3˝ of draw makes any limb I chose be about 6# heavier than the listed weight (weight goes up the farther you draw and conversely weight goes down as you draw less).

With a relatively modern riser (one with adjustable limb pockets) you will be able to adjust your draw weight (down from the listed peak value) by about 10% (far less than the 25-33% typical compound bows provide). This allows you to swap limbs in four pound increments (previous pair maxed out swapped for a new pair of limbs four pounds heavier but backed off will create a roughly two pound draw increase). As a rule of thumb you don’t want to change draw length by more than two pounds at a time once your draw weight has been established. The exception being your situation—an accomplished adult archer starting at a “low draw weight.” After you have established reasonable good form at your beginning draw weight (28-30#) it is fine to jump up and try a 34-36# bow, just don’t add so much weight that you find it difficult to execute. (The extreme example of this is I had an archer jump from a 20# bow to a 36# bow but she had expert advice and was really timid about moving up and so shot the 20# bow longer than she needed to.)

You can recycle (actually reuse or repurpose) some of your compound equipment. For example, if you had a long stabilizer on your compound bow and if it is relatively light (or you can take the weights out of it) it will work fine while you are learning. You do not need V-bars from the get go—Butch Johnson, four-time Olympian, does not use V-bars at all.

You do not need “match quality” arrows from the beginning (although you will if you get competitive). Aluminum arrows, properly spined, work quite well. Since you will have to change arrows quite a bit as your draw weight changes (a change of 5# = a spine group difference in arrows) if you can size your initial arrows to be about 2˝ longer than you require (they will need to be one spine group stiffer per extra inch), you can cut these as you need additional stiffness when your draw weight goes up (a cut of 1˝ = one spine group stiffer arrows, so two extra inches allows you to add 10# of draw, roughly, and only need to cut your arrows down a bit as you increase the weight).

You will have to adjust your shot sequence and form a bit. Recurve archers get closer to the bow than compound archers (you will need an arm guard!). Recurve archers are holding peak weight at full draw so, you cannot afford to dawdle there. You are going to want to use a finger sling or wrist sling rather than a bow sling as you can learn a great deal from the bow’s reaction after the release.

Finally, if you are considering using a coach, the absolute best time to do so is when you begin. If you wait, you will probably spend a good many coaching dollars fixing the problems you unknowingly created by teaching yourself. In my opinion, a coach is someone who you pay. If you just take the advice of friends in your club, well the admonition is “advice is worth every penny you pay for it.”


Filed under For All Coaches

2 responses to “Making the Switch: Compound to Olympic Recurve

  1. nelson

    Hello Steve,
    I’ve been shooting Olympic recurve for a little over six months with the guidance of pretty good club coaches [there are several nationally ranked competitors shooting at the range as well, who provide good advice as well]. I’ve been shooting with a 28# bow since the beginning. It was tough initially, I’m now drawing and anchoring easily, and shooting pretty consistently and have started using a clicker for about a month. My question is, I’m planning on going up in poundage next month, how much is safe to go up to? I’m thinking of going to 32# or 34#. Unfortunately, my pro-shop has a limited selection of limbs I can try without actually ordering them and the competitors at my range are all shooting high poundages (38# and up). I have tried stock 30# limbs at the club and it seemed very close to my 28# bow. What are your thoughts?



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