Why Are My Groups Much Wider Than They Are Tall?

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I was watching an Olympic Recurve archer shoot group after group indoors whose height was excellent but the groups were 5-6X wider than they were tall. I finally broached the subject with him. In general, it is not recommended that coaches offer unsolicited advice (it is strongly recommended to not) but I had met the young man prior to this and I knew he had had some coaching in the past.

He apparently had had this problem for a very long time, which is sad because I told him his problem was simple: he need relax both hands (primarily his bowhand). You see, if your hands are tense it tends to cause the bow to jump ever so slightly left and right upon release. This causes a left-right dispersion. A very tiny movement of the bow (twisting it around the pivot point) moves the bowstring even more. A tiny (1mm/1/16˝) movement of the bowstring left or right is going to make several inches difference at 20 yd/18 m.

So, you coaches working with beginners, once you have established a reasonable full draw position for a student-archer, you need to next focus on them having relaxed hands. (Yes, even the string/release hand. The muscles crooking the fingers are in the upper forearm; the hand needs to be relaxed otherwise.) This is one more reason I recommend low draw weights for beginners. (I start adult beginners with a 10# recurve bow.) The less the strain on the archer, the easier it is to learn to relax. Also, to get off the bowstring when the draw weight is very low requires even more relaxation, so such bows give good feedback. Once the proper behaviors are learned, then the draw weight can be cranked up a little at a time while the archer focuses on retaining his/her good form and execution.

Let me know if you encounter puzzling situations you would like some help with.


Filed under For AER Coaches, For All Coaches, Q & A

4 responses to “Why Are My Groups Much Wider Than They Are Tall?

  1. Hi Steve,
    This article on a relaxed bow hand seems to provide an explanation for my current form issues. When I know my release wasn’t pulled, nor did my bow hand thumb flinch and grab the riser, sometimes the arrows went left or right anyway. As with so many things in archery, how do you relax the bow hand when it’s connected to all the forearm muscles that hold the bow arm taut at full draw?


    • Oh, boy! First, the forearm muscles are not used to make the bow arm “taut,” in fact you do not want the bow arm taut/locked-out, etc. The bow arm needs to be straight which is the job of the triceps muscles on the back of the upper arm, but I don’t recommend those be tensed at all significantly. We want a “straight” but relaxed bow arm. The deltoid muscles at the top of the upper arm must be tensed (quite so) as they are the ones holding your arm up and part of the bow (while the bow is drawn) and the arm and the whole bow during the followthrough.

      So, you must practice focussing upon having a straight bow arm with no unnecessary muscle flexing and having a soft relaxed bow hand for several minutes (10-15) at the beginning of every shooting session (blank bale, up close, if possible–why walk farther than you need to). A “good shot” is one with the correct amount of relaxation, a poor shot is one without–no other criteria can be used to jusdge the shots taken during this practice.

      Soft muscles are repeatably soft, tensed muscles are hard to duplicate which is why we want our bow hands relaxed, tensed muscles can repeat only if given the exact same task to do. The prime example is raising the bow and bow arm. Since the weight being lifted is the same each shot, if you lift the bow to the same degree, then you are getting the same amount of muscle tension (which is why people who draw considerably higher than they need to and then lower their bows to where they want them are contributing to their own lack of repeatability).

      Does this make sense?


  2. Absolutely! My coach also suggested reducing the upwards motion of my bow arm as I approach pre-draw. He’s a good coach – former national team – but my studies force me to sprnd most ofthe year away.

    Should my shoulder by ‘rolling’ from 12 o’clock to a 1 or 2 o’clock position as well? I have a feeling that this also adds tension.

    Thanks for everything!


    • I don’t recommend rolling your shoulder. Realize that there are some things elite athletes do that you should not. Some coaches, on the other hand, will have you emulate what elite athletes do until you become one. I do not. I urge my students to adopt good basic form to learn how to shoot with good alignment. If, and when, they decide they want to become very, very good, then I will recommend some of the things the elites do but also realize that those are built upon excellent physical conditioning, too.

      If you have a coach, I would stick with what they are recommending until you feel you are not getting the results you feel you should get. Asking other coaches for advice can lead to trouble (unless you are just checking on the advice you are getting from your coach and then, well, it never hurts to ask).

      Good luck!


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