Expand: How and For How Long?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I have discovered the secret to shooting small groups for me. All I have to do is ensure that I expand after full draw. I realized this a couple months ago, but I overdid it and tore my rotator cuff. How can I get the benefits of expansion without excessively straining my rotator cuff? Rather, how much expansion should I do and how do I know when I should stop expanding?

* * *

This student is a Barebow Recurve and archer and, for those of you on the compound side, the “expansion” is a euphemism for the compound term “back tension” which is a euphemism itself. I can remember a while back when, in compound circles, someone would use the term “back tension” and everyone would respond with “What’s that?” The idea of engaging the back muscles to draw the string of a bow has been around for at least 500 years, but our communication on these topics has been so poor, that generations of archers have had to learn this as if it were recently discovered. <sigh>

The “expansion” is really just the use of the back muscles to swing the rear shoulder around toward the spine so that the shoulder line ends up pointing at the bow. (These are the same muscles we use to eShoulder anatomy #1xpand our chests, hence the source of the term.) This shoulder alignment is required to make the now famous “archer’s triangle.” This flexing of the muscles in the middle of the upper back continues through the release with no let up. To make sure that it happens that way, most recurve archers continue that action all the way to the end of the shot (1-2 s past release). This, in no way, should involve the rotator cuff of your bow arm and only slightly affects the one in your draw/string arm. The purpose of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the upper arm bone’s position vis-à-vis the shoulder socket (which is part of the scapula). Only if these bones are poorly aligned do the rotator cuff muscles get invoked significantly.

At full draw, you should only have a small amount of movement in that direction left (see my former post on range of motion), so little should happen because of that (unless things are out of alignment in the first place). When the loose of the string occurs, though, the entire weight of the bow must be borne by the bow arm alone (prior to that it could be supporting as little as 50% of the weight of the bow) and if there is any misalignment there, a problem could develop.

Now, and of course, this doesn’t address the myriad things archers do post release. If this phase is done correctly, the shoulders squeeze a little closer together in your back and your draw hand moves back a couple of inches (finishing with the draw/string fingers under your ear). If your hand finishes in any other place, then you did something that was neither necessary nor effective. Paying attention to your body position post release is an essential skill for archers: you can decipher all kinds of things about how your body was aligned at full draw from where the bits and pieces ended up later.

PS How come I get all of these questions from recurve archers? Are there any compound archers out there? Steve

PPS I know that I just opened myself up to all kinds of snide comments about compound archers; please restrain yourself.

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