Q&A How to Adjust Draw Weight (Olympic Recurve)

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I got the following question from “nelson” through the blog. “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?”

This is not an uncomplicated question. Since your draw length wasn’t included, I don’t know how much you have “in hand,” so I will assume the measured draw weights on your limbs is close to their labeled strengths. You also didn’t state your age or fitness level so I will assume you are “youngish” and reasonably fit for archery. (Elite archers are often incredibly fit for archery and pull quite high draw weights. Brady Ellison stated on his blog he was shooting 52# in hand, but I don’t recommend you emulate an elite archer until you are one.)

And I have to ask another question: do you have a goal in sight for your draw weight? If you only plan on shooting indoors, you have enough now. If you want to shoot outdoors at 70m, then more is probably needed to “make distance.”

The general principles are that you need enough draw weight so that your form is near what it is when you draw with the arrow horizontal. If you must tilt up a great deal, in makes your form more inconsistent, never a good thing. Also, if your sight is as low as you can make it and you can’t place your aperture on target center to have it go there, then you need more cast/arrow speed and the two most common places to get it are: lighter arrows and heavier draws.

“I don’t recommend you emulate an elite archer until you are one.”

I must assume some more things: one, that your arrows are reasonably light (comparable to Easton ACEs) and that you want to shoot long distances. (What your mates shoot in club is fairly irrelevant because so much depends upon your form and execution. Two, I assume you do not own top-of-the-line equipment (which is good, you should not). One of the benefits of top flight bows is that their limbs tend to be superior in the two things that matter: restoring force and stability, that is you want the limbs to act quickly and move in repeatable, fairly straight patterns, but the differences between those and less expensive limbs will only show up at the elite level.

A draw weight in the high thirties and low 40’s of pounds is typical of intermediate archers exploring competition, so the question is, how to get from 28# limbs to #38-40 pound limbs. Well if you are made of money, you could just buy top-of-the-line limbs for every change you want to make but that is neither necessary nor advisable as there is a cost (a high one) without a corresponding benefit. Here is the general plan: if your bow has ILF limb pockets, you move up 4# at a time, borrowing limbs if you can, purchasing them if you must. You can just buy the least expensive ILF limbs you can find of the correct length and weight; they will be fine. Any of the correct length and draw weight you can borrow will be fine. (You will only need them for a couple of weeks at most.)

To make a draw weight change, plan on taking several weeks to make it. Assuming your limbs are bottomed out at 28#, swap them for 32# limbs. (I recommend that you always keep a pair of light drawing limbs around for training, but if you have very little money you could sell the old ones.) The 32# limbs should be backed off as much as the riser will allow (not necessarily as much as the bow manufacturer claims, but as much as is possible) which is about 10% of the rating of the limbs, in this case about 3#. So you would have, in effect, 29# limbs. Shoot these limbs for two to three sessions until they feel comfortable, then crank them up another 1-2# (Never more than 2# at a time!) and shoot them for two or three more sessions until you again feel comfortable, and then repeat until these limbs are bottomed out and you are shooting them comfortably. Since 5# of draw is the equivalent of a spine group difference in arrow size, you do not want to re-sight in, tune, and maybe buy new arrows if you really want to go higher in draw weight (which would require even stiffer arrows, etc.).

“Never more than 2# at a time!”

So, try 36# limbs next, using the same step-by-step procedure. I suspect you may want to stop at 40# limbs as that will give you a range of 36-40# of draw to refine your form, etc. You will need new arrows unless your original arrows were way too long and way too stiff (which is what I recommend to newbies in your situation, because you can then cut them to the correct stiffness).

So, new arrows or not, the bow needs to be tuned and sighted in and then you need to take it out for a spin to see how you do. If you find yourself struggling with the draw weight, you probably rushed things and you must go back down in draw weight. The worse thing you can do is overbow yourself as it will destroy your form.

If the draw weight is good for all you want to do, then look into higher quality limbs (and/or arrows) to invest in. You will probably pick up a little performance with better limbs, even at the same draw weight rating, but only just a little, don’t expect miracles. And if any of my assumptions aren’t right, well, as they say “results may vary.”

Let me know how it goes.


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

2 responses to “Q&A How to Adjust Draw Weight (Olympic Recurve)

  1. nelson

    Thanks Steve!

    I’ve seen a couple of shooters at my range, half my age who’ve had to stop practice for weeks-on-end because they tried to make bigger leaps in poundage and injured themselves by over bowing (the kids all want to be Brady Ellison). I’m a late bloomer, quickly sliding into my mid-40’s, shooting a Hoyt Formula Excel (with Excel limbs) 68″ 28# with a 28″ draw length. I’m in pretty good physical condition, as I’ve learned to efficiently use my back muscles I’ve found drawing horizontally and anchoring the 28# bow pretty easy, never skying the bow (I’m able to shoot ~90 arrows without fatiguing). My near term goal is to start competing in my club’s in-door league tournaments, so I’m working on getting tighter groupings, more consistent release and building my stamina, however my motivation to go up in poundage is to begin training to shoot outdoors this spring at 50 and 70 meters (purely recreational, non-competive). At my age I have no illusions of becoming a Brady Ellison or Oh Jin Hyek, I just want to hold my own in the league.

    I can get Excel limbs at a good price through my club, so going up in small increments won’t be a problem, as some of the ranked shooters in my club have also said, I won’t see any of the benefits of the more expensive limbs until I’ve progress more.


    • Sounds like you are pretty well set. You have two options: use the entire indoor season to effect the weight change (either without competing or only competing with process goals in mind) or waiting to the end of indoor season to effect the weight change. If you try to do the weight change while having outcome goals for competing, you will struggle at best. So, it looks like you have taken the second path, so good judgement there.

      During indoor season, don’t get too involved in scores. Instead look to your shot distributions (draw vertical and horizontal lines through each target spot and count how many hits: left, right, high and low. Over a largeish number of shots you should get equal distributions. Also, track how many 10s, 9’s etc. you get. Some I know use a spread sheet to monitor such distributions (along with practice round scores and competition round scores, separately). The idea is to learn about your own form and execution. If you are getting more lefts than rights (etc.) do you have a form problem (riser torque?) or a tuning problem? And so forth.

      And good luck. One of my favorite students is 73 years old and about five years into Olympic recurve and he is still getting better. Wonderful sport!


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