Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!

I got the following question on the blog from Ginger:

My son shoots compound in JOAD target competitions. The last few months his hands have started shaking after he starts shooting, usually around the third or fourth round. I noticed at a few competitions other archers, close to his age, 17 yrs, hands were shaking. At one competition an archer’s hands were shaking really bad, nothing compared to my son’s hands. Seeing the other archers hands got me to thinking, is this common for hands to shake sometimes after a archer starts shooting? I am planning to take him to the doctor to make sure their is nothing else going on. If this is common, what can we do to help him stop the shaking, maybe more snacks, or a soda?”

* * *

It is really hard to say anything without seeing what is going on, so I will have to give you a somewhat generic answer.

First, I want to say that some people shake naturally. I remember going to NFAA Nationals (Outdoors) once and saw that my partner’s main competition was shaking like a leaf during warm ups, and I though my partner would win easily. Not only did the “shaker” win that silver bowl but won a number of sectional tournaments as well.

Some people have a medical condition that causes this (involuntary tremors) and some people seem to shake naturally (meaning no pathology indicated). Low blood sugar can result in shaking, so a good breakfast before a competition is recommended. (There are people who are still stuck in a low-fat rut who recommend cereal or pancakes, but such choices result in running out of energy faster than a bacon and egg type breakfast.) If he has been skipping breakfast (due to nervousness, excitement, whatever) or has been substituting a “pop-tart” for his regular breakfast, you have probably found the source. (I have never been particularly steady, so I have looked into this quite a bit for my own shooting.)

If your son is otherwise steady-handed, there may be a number of causes of the shaking. Muscles shake from fatigue and while one’s bowhand is supposed to be completely relaxed (or close to completely relaxed) when shooting, some have adopted an iron grip instead (lovingly called a “death grip” by archers). If your son is squeezing his bow hard, this can result in a great deal of fatigue quite rapidly.

It is unlikely that mere sodas would cause such shaking even though they contain considerable caffeine. While some coaches suggest a soda can provide a “sugar lift” I do not recommend them as they are followed fairly quickly with a sugar crash. (I drink rehydration drinks, aka Gatorade, diluted 50:50 with water at competitions.) Sodas like Mountain Dew or “energy drinks” like “Red Bull” are a whole other thing. If you son is sensitive to caffeine, this might be a source. Most archers avoid caffeinated beverages on shoot days as a key element in archery is the ability to be still under the tension of the draw. I would talk to him about his beverages of choice and be aware that many of the beverages are marketed as if they provided an edge to sports competitors.

The most common source of shaking, I think, is being overbowed. You don’t mention whether your son shoots recurve or compound, but both kinds of archers can be pushed (or pull themselves) to shooting higher draw weights than they can handle. This can be significantly compounded if he shoots a compound bow (no pun intended). Compound bows are quite heavy and the upper arm muscles (the deltoids) used to hold the bow arm and bow up mature late. So, if the bow is too heavy and the draw weight too high, shaking would be normal under those handicaps. Compound archers need to be able to raise their bows up into shooting position (not past) and draw them, release the string, and hold the bow up through the followthrough without grimacing or grunting or gyrating their bodies to be able to pull that off. If they can’t, the bow or draw weight is too heavy (or both).

Let me know if this helped!


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

2 responses to “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!

  1. Joanne Harvey

    My son is 17, has been shooting Olympic Recurve since 12 and has developed shaking, or tremors pulling back to full draw. They became so bad they were interfering with his precision, so he switched to shooting left-handed. We have been to several neurologists at 3 leading hospitals–they don’t know why he is shaking. He’s been to several physical therapists. Doctors have recommended botox injections to calm the tremors; we have not taken these treatments. He now has slight tremors shooting left-handed. I welcome any insight, explanations, help. Thank you, Joanne


    • Hi, Joanne,

      Obviously I cannot help with medical advice as I am not qualified. One thing to consider is that it seems that some people shake naturally and there is nothing wrong with that. When attending the NFAA nationals one year, I noticed that my partner’s main competitor shook substantially while shooting. I thought that Claudia’s championship was in the bag. Guess who won? Yep, the shaky lady.

      A small amount of shaking doesn’t seem to affect accuracy substantially in that no one is perfectly still. There are two “dangers”: one is that the shaking stems from being overbowed. To test this have your son try drawing a very lightweight bow. If the shaking is still there, then he is not overbowed. The shakiness may be proportional to the amount of muscle load or not. If it is proportional (more shaking the higher the draw weight), then the lighter the draw weight the better … maybe. This is something that has to be tested, so if he is considering a draw weight increase, measure group size at some longer distance before and after the change. If group size deteriorates, then the increase is a net negative. If it stays the same or gets smaller, go for it.

      The second consideration is this. When the draw is completed, it takes 1-1.5 seconds for the residual motion of the draw to settle down. Most people notice that their aperture “shakes” much less after the 1-1.5 seconds than before. Most shots are built around this short lag in time before the string is loosed as a confirmation that “stillness has been achieved.” If your son keeps waiting for his “shaking” at full draw to become better, he will be tempted to expand the amount of time he is at full draw which will consume energy and disrupt effective timing and rhythm. So, some discipline is needed with regard to shot rhythm and timing.

      Let me know if any of this helps.


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