The question in the title of this post came from my very best student. He is my very best student because he challenges me to support my opinions and not just by asking. He does his research. (I like this!)
This question came from a critique I had of a videoed shot of his. In the video, his bow hand (and bow, of course) went up substantially and then came down substantially before the string was loosed. We had talked about this before and I thought we had an agreement on not doing this.
My recommendation goes like this: if you find yourself raising your bow above where it ends up when the release occurs, you are wasting energy and time during your shot. Doing this, your bow passes through the position where it will end up, is lifted higher against gravity and then lowered into position, a position it has already been in. This, I argue is extraneous motion, which costs energy and time and has no positive benefit.
My student then jumped on YouTube and showed me two of Korea’s finest female archers doing just that: raising the bow up above where it would be finally and then lowering it into place.
Now, I have been told that a study had been done that supported my position. Researchers hooked up an archer’s deltoid muscles (on their upper bow arm the ones that raise the arm) to a myograph and then had them raise the bow and stop it in shooting position. They measured the muscle activity involved in this task. They then had the archer raise the bow higher and then lower it into shooting position and again measured the muscle activity. What they found is that when the bow was raised and stopped where it was supposed to be, they got consistent muscle activity. When it was raised up above that position and lowered into it, they got more variable, less consistent muscle activity. So not only does the second approach to raising the bow waste time and energy, it results in a less consistent shoulder stability. (I asked for a copy of this study but the guy who told me about it couldn’t find it. If any of you know of this study, I will very much appreciate a copy or a link to it.)
So, the question remains, why did these elite Korean Olympic archers perform this unnecessary move when they raise their bows? As I thought about it, I came up with a number of possibilities. From the video, it appeared that the bow height these Korean elites raised to initially was very close to the bow height they would need at 70 m. Since the Korean archery community is obsessed with the Olympics, the 70 m distant target is focused on very much. The question comes then, whether you should have a different draw indoors, where one’s bow is not so high? Their answer may have been: for year round consistency it is better to keep a consistent raise (designed around 70 m targets) and just insert a lowering of the bow step into “indoor position” when it is needed. This is one possibility.
Another possibility is based on the claim many archers who make this move have: they claim that raising the bow up higher makes the draw easier. A cursory look at some additional videos brings this claim into doubt. Several Olympic recurve archers doing the up-down move didn’t complete their draw until the bow was back down. Since the draw weight of recurve bows just goes up and up, this argument would be that the move was made to make the easiest part of the draw easier but left the later, harder part of the draw alone. Again, this makes no sense. Also, one could argue that pulling straight down is more awkward that pulling at shoulder height, so the higher the draw is begun, the more awkward the draw becomes. I do not see how that helps. Maybe some one of you has more expertise in this and can straighten me out.
Now, when we ask our archers why they do things, we should not expect well-reasoned answers or even sensible answers. They may just parrot what they were told or were just making it up as they go (a very common thing amongst humans, I am told). But something apparently feels like a benefit to these archers, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have adopted it in the first place. Also, “sky drawing” or “drawing high” is prohibited by many organizational rules (WA specifically and WA rules are the Olympic rules). If one gets a little carried away one and raised a bit too high could end up either disqualified or required to draw the bow differently than practiced, neither conducive to a good outcome.
My Analysis of the “High Raise”
There is a benefit that is significant in doing this and the benefit goes to those whose bow arm deltoid muscles are somewhat weak: most youths, adults with little upper body development, etc. This is what I see: when the bow is raised and for some of the kids I see doing this, the bow is almost thrown up into the air, and lowered, while it is being lowered the full weight of the bow is not being supported. So a six-pound bow, while it is “falling” down from its high point to its final resting spot, the archer may only need a five-pound force along the way. Actually, when the bow reaches its peak, the force needed at that point drops to zero, then climbs up to the force equal to the weight of the bow when it stops moving. But while that is happening, what if you could transfer half of the load of holding the weight of that bow to your draw arm? Many people do not realize that the draw arm is contributing a sizeable fraction of the force holding the bow up. This is because the bow hand is on the bottom half of the bow (the pivot point being the typical center point) and the force of the draw is back and slightly up (a second order lever is being employed, just like in a construction crane). If the draw force is substantial, e.g. 40# and the portion of it in the “up” direction constitutes 5%, then 2# of the bow’s weight is being held in the string hand! If 10%, then 4# is being held. This is more than half the weight of the bow being held up by the draw side!
So, for an archer who finds holding up a 6# bow or an 8# bow with just their bow arm difficult, if they do this up-down maneuver and draw while the bow is coming down, by the time it comes to rest, the bow arm has to hold up only a fraction of the total bow’s weight!
I think this interpretation is valid because I see a great many young archers who are rushed into a heavier metal-risered bow (either compound or recurve) who have real problems dropping their bow arms post loose. This is because the bow is too heavy for them to support with just their bow arm. And if it is too heavy after the shot, it is too heavy before the shot.
Okay, Should I Change the Way I Teach the Draw?
This is always a complicated question. If you have a student who throws the bow up and then lowers it into position, should you suggest they change? This is the real question. It really depends upon their situation. For the brilliant elite archers from Korea, you would be making a mistake. In fact for any archer with mature form, you should not recommend a change unless what they are doing in this context is causing them problems (they run out of energy, they drop their bow arm later in tourneys costing then points, etc.). The reason is that you must always weigh the training costs against the potential gains. If your student is not struggling, then making such a change might not be a source of better scores at all. They are just wasting energy and if they have enough energy, there is no problem. But, there is also an opportunity cost! While you are working to make a form change for which there is dubious benefit, you are not working on other things that have more significant benefits.
The answer to this question is quite different if an archer is just building good form or rebuilding their shot. Those would be times to consider such changes. It also helps if you can discern whether this “up-down” maneuver was something they learned to cope with a too heavy bow when they were young and just carried it into their adult form. If their deltoids are still too weak (especially true for compound archers who are shooting loaded up bows) this may still be an option, especially if the archer doesn’t want to go to the gym and build up their deltoids. If it isn’t, then why build in superfluous movements into a shot?
This Is What I Teach
It varies somewhat but has the same criteria. At its heart are the facts that compound archers has very heavy bows to cope with, while recurve archers has full draw weight at full draw to cope with. In both cases, we want to minimize the amount of time spent at full draw. The more time, the more energy is burnt while under the stress of the draw or the weight of the bow which one is trying to hold steadily.
I suggest the following procedure: the bow should be raised, such that when one executes their draw and anchor, the bow is properly positioned at the end of those steps … naturally. Why spend time moving the aperture onto the target if you can arrange to have it on target in the flow of normal events.
Here is a drill to find that position: I ask the archer to raise their bow and sight through their aperture, lining it up on a target center. Then I ask them to close their eyes, draw and anchor, and then open their eyes. When they open their eyes, I ask them where the aperture is lined up with respect to the target. If they start dead center and then after executing their draw and anchor movements, the aperture ends up at 5 o’clock in the blue, for example, I ask then, “Where should you start your aperture if you want to end up seeing gold at the end?” For the “5 o’clock in the blue” example, the answer would be 11 o’clock in the blue. (Just go straight through the center and out the other side as far from center as you started aka “same color on the other side of the target clock.”) So, if your draw and anchor naturally moves your aperture slightly down and to the right, as in this example, you would start slightly high and to the left. Easy peasy.
Don’t expect elite level consistency from intermediate archers here (or ever)! The more variable their form, the more variable will be their “starting point” or “pre-aim point.” The idea is to create a situation in which only very minor corrections in bow position are needed at full draw.
This makes a lot of sense for athletes who shoot single distances: indoor archers at 20 yd/18 m, outdoor Olympic recurve archers at 70 m, etc. You would have that one starting point on that one target face at that one distances. But what about field archers where many different sized targets are shot and the same targets are shot at multiple distances? I have found that if your aperture moves “down and to the right slightly” as in the example, then because in general larger targets are used at longer distances, the starting point is fairly similar on most targets and I can leave the exact pre-aim starting point up to my subconscious mind. When I raise the bow, if I am an “above, left” starting point archer, I just start above and left of target center. How much I leave up to my subconscious mind.
In my case, I was an unfit archer shooting a heavy compound bow. Using this technique I became much less antsy about being lined up in time. So when I hit anchor and was checking my scope bubble and peep concentricity, there was just gold in my sight ring. This reduced the amount of time I spent at full draw, conserved my energy, and made me less nervous/anxious—all of which were distinct “positives” for me.
Try this in your own shooting. If you feel a benefit, then maybe this is something you want to teach.