Monthly Archives: March 2017

Paying Attention to Hands

If you have read this blog at all you probably know that I follow golf coaches a lot, mostly because there are few archery blogs of any value (which is changing … slowly). The similarities between golf and archery are many, the primary difference is in golf, the golfer supplies the energy to the ball whereas in archery the bow does that work on the arrows (after being loaded up by an archer). But a comment by one of my favorite golf coaches, Darrell Klassen, really struck a bell:

… your hands are the body part designed to start almost every motion. Doesn’t matter the sport. Baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, football. You start every action with your hands. You don’t even have to think about it. Next thing you know, all the other parts come into play. Feet, legs, hips, shoulders…they all do their bit.

“The kicker is this (and this is where most of the mags just don’t understand). You can’t manipulate the sequence. Thinking about a part (like you shoulder turn) screws up the whole darn thing. There is however, one part of the sequence you can (and should) manipulate. Guess what that is? Yep, your hands. Thinking about changing what they will do (like their speed, direction, angle, start position etc) will change the whole sequence.

“Manipulate your hands, and you can create any shot you want. And your body will just follow.

In archery, our shot sequences have a step called “set your hands” which we often gloss over, but this step is critical to consistent accuracy. If the angle your bow hand makes on the bow differs, or the angle stays the same, but the position shifts left or right, the effect on the shot is significant. If the fingers on the string or release aid, change position or shift in the amounts of force each finger delivers, the effect on the shot is significant.

I work with quite a few Barebow archers who walk the string. A crawl that varies by as little as 1/16th of an inch will change the distance allowed for by 2-4 yards, all other things being perfect.

The positions of the hands on the bow and string/release are critical aspects of archery shots.

The key thing to realize here is seen in Coach Klassen’s comment “Manipulate your hands…. And your body will just follow.” If your hands aren’t quite right, there is a cascade of adjustments your body makes to make the whole movement conform to the desired outcome (the one you are envisioning in your mind).

Our hands contain many, many sensory nerve endings. The diagram (right), common to biology textbooks, is an attempt to show the relative concentrations of these sensory nerve endings. Note that our faces and hands have out-sized concentrations of the ability to feel temperature, pain, and pressure (the only three kinds of sensory nerves). The nerves we use in archery, of course, are pressure nerves. Because so much neural processing is dedicated to the data coming from out hands, a great deal of life energy is allotted to dealing with that information. So, if our hands are not quite right, we will squirm, inch, nudge, jiggle, or flat out shove other body parts to make them right. All of which are disastrous when looking for consistent accuracy with a bow and arrows.

So, if you have a student struggling with consistency, look to their hands; spend some time on their routines of placement, refine these if necessary. More than a few Olympic recurve archers have made a tattoo mark on their bow hand to aid them in lining their bow with that hand. Yes, it is that important.

 

 

 

 

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How Does Remote Coaching Work?

I thought you might benefit from seeing a few exchanges between a student-archer/colleague and a coach (me) showing you how “remote coaching” goes. I did not include all of the photos/videos of the student for reasons of privacy and to keep the length of this post down to something reasonable. Note The student is working with a local coach and learning NTS Recurve and consulting me on the side (because he/she can). This discussion took place over several days.
Steve

* * *

Student
My coach has me working on basically bringing my draw hand down (on the draw) and then back up and under my chin once I was about to anchor. I was kind of hunting around for my anchor. I still am! I was also working on not moving my head around to try and find my anchor too. In trying to make this change to drawing under my chin, I started holding my bow hand too long. Chaos…

Coach
I can’t remember, were you shooting with a “corner of the mouth” anchor before? If so, learning to get to a “low anchor” aka “under chin” or Olympic anchor can sometimes be a struggle. A key point people tend to leave out is that if you are going for a low anchor, your chin needs to be higher than with the side of the face anchor. Ideally we would like to have the jaw line horizontal but not everybody is shaped that way. To give you an idea as to how much the chin has to come up I urge female archers to “channel their inner haughty princess” to get about the right angle.

Also KiSik Lee, or his co-author, confused a lot of people with his first book which had photos and words indicating that one needed to draw 2-3 inches below the chin and then come up. In his second book he corrected that to 1˝ or a tad more … in other words, just under the chin. The key points are you want to get to full draw quickly, into a position you can feel in your back and shoulders, then find your anchor position quickly. Often students, in an attempt to be exacting, work too slowly (trying to be oh, so correct) and as a consequence run out of energy on each shot, hence the feeling of struggling. The draw needs to be smooth and strong and quick but not rushed. Honestly, most men tend to draw too fast (at first) and most women tend to draw too slow (at first).

If you look at YouTube videos of some of the Korean women, you will see smooth, strong, confident draws that are quite quick but there is no rushing involved. Of course, that is what many tens of thousands of practice shots will get you, so don’t expect that level of performance. (They are, in effect, professional archers who train and compete six days a week.) But you can see in their form what the idea is that you are striving for.

Once you have practiced this a lot, you will find it is easier to relax unneeded muscles while executing your draw which will make it even easier.

For some reason, many coaches do not point out that you should do the bulk of your practice on a new form element with a stretch band or a very light drawing bow. (I use a 10# bow a lot in my coaching.) Once the student (You!) gets the hang of the move, then you can move up from 10# to 14 # to 20# to full draw weight quite quickly. It is much harder to try to learn a new move at whatever your full draw weight is.

Student
Yes, when I first started writing to you I was using a high anchor and started having string slap issues when I switched to a low anchor. Soon after I started corresponding with you, I found a coach. I believe I asked if you had heard of him, but I guess the archery world is big (even though it can seem extremely small at the same time). Ah, one thing that is bugging me is that I can’t seem to get my hand snug along my jaw. I do use a stretch band and I’m having success there. But once I put on my finger tab and pull my bow my hand seems to be nowhere near my jaw. I’m getting nice contact between my lips and the string though. I’m not sure if I’m putting too much emphasis where it’s not needed.

I have been watching Khatuna Lorig and Mackenzie Brown. My coach wanted me to especially watch Mackenzie because her coach uses the NTS. You’re totally right about drawing too slowly. I am guilty of this and it does make me tired. When I see pros shoot, they come to full draw so fluidly that it’s hard to see the “steps.”

I still have the 19# recurve bow I borrowed from my summer archery club. I’ll try and work with that after I work with my stretch band more.

Coach
Many people have a steep jaw line and the NTS “recommendation” of a lot of hand contact along the jaw is just not possible. (You need a bit of a square jaw for that to happen—see the photo of Coach Kim Hannah, her jaw line is more vertical, so she can’t do the full NTS anchor position.) Have your daughter take a still picture of your head and shoulders at anchor to see what you have going. A video isn’t necessary (unless you would like that).

Regarding the string slap, did your coach talk to you about rotating your elbow so the crease is near vertical?

And if you are using a ledge on your tab I would suggest you reconsider that. The only use for a ledge is if you are having trouble reaching the target. If not, take it off, put it in a Baggie, label it and set it aside for experimentation later. A ledge really interferes with the NTS “hand along jaw line” position.

Also, these tabs that are providing places to put your thumb and little finger are just providing leverage for digits you do not want involved at all! (IMHO, of course! ;o) We teach beginners to make a Girl Scout salute (same as the Cub Scout salute but I like to tweak the boys). From there, they are to curl their fingers and slide them up under the arrow. This makes a classic three-fingers-under string grip. Once they reach anchor, they are allowed to break the contact between their thumb and little finger (by relaxing them) and voila (see photo—see pad of thumb and little finger nail touching). Once they get used to these positions they can adopt them with little effort and attention. The little finger is loose and is just in a relaxed (curled) position. The thumb is slightly extended but it ends up below your jaw line, out of the way. If the thumb is up anywhere else, it blocks getting into a good anchor position.

Looking at your photo at anchor, you chin is up nicely, maybe a bit too far! If you were to lower your head a tad, you would get a “nose touch” that is the string would touch your nose. As long as this doesn’t affect your release it gives you feedback as to whether your head is in the right position.

Note, also, in the second photo that the string and arrow are gone and your hand has not had time to move much, so who cares what it does thereafter? By observing the movement of your body parts after the release, though, you can infer the conditions during the release. We would like to see the string hand move straight back away from the target and stop with your fingertips just under your ear. This is not something you do, this is something that happens determined by using the correct muscles to pull the bowstring directly away from the target and then your fingers giving way when your back muscles are still flexing. Since you can only move so far in that position (range of motion) your fingers end up under your ear and stop because your shoulders cannot move any farther.

You look good in this photo.

Student
Thank you very much for the feedback. I have been concerned about the nose touch too. I will try to angle my head a bit and see what that does. My coach said it sometime almost looks like I’m moving my head away from the string. I’ve been trying to think about the release too; not plucking the string. I’ll continue to work. 🙂

Coach
If you can pluck, you are either out of line or not pulling with the right muscles. The release is something you shouldn’t think about. Observe it (take videos, whatever) and then adjust things. If your hand moves in any direction other than straight back, it is not your release that needs fixing, its your line or the muscles you have chosen to use.

The nose touch is not an essential. Play with a light weight bow . Get to full draw and move your head around. The key elements are that you have to have your head turned far enough (so your nose doesn’t block your vision), your eyes need to be level (for optimal vision), and your chin needs to be up (just a little bit, as we discussed before). Everything else is nonessential. So, if you can get all of that and a nose touch, it is gravy! Enjoy!

PS One of the joys of archery is you can do some rather hard work and see a benefit in short order. Often in work or family matters, projects go on and on and on (teenagers!).

Student
I picked up my 19# bow to work on this. So luxurious to have more than one to choose from. I find that when I work with the stretch band and I release it, my hand does go back to my shoulder. When I release with my bow my hand ends up somewhere around the right side of my chest. I’m working on it in a relaxed way.

Coach
The key is your draw elbow. If you maintain the arc of your draw elbow through the shot, it stays high and your hand will slide back until your fingertips are no farther back than under your ear (end of the range of that motion). This is the true end of the shot, for your body. We wait until the bow finishes its “bow” as a bit of overkill because that bow’s “bow” has information in it that tells us about the forces acting on the bow at the time of release, and … well … enquiring minds want to know such things. In order for your hand to go back farther, touch your shoulder, etc. your elbow must drop downward, which is a movement unassociated with the shot itself and so does not affect the shot and is, at best, an affectation, but one that misleads because how well you do that movement doesn’t tell you anything about the shot.

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Nutrition and Archery … Yeah …

If you haven’t noticed, Lancaster Archery Supply, our favorite on line target archery retailer, has a rather extensive blog running. This is something I have encouraged, so I was intrigued enough over a new post to check it out. The post was Proper Nutrition Fuels The Successful Archer by P.J. Reilly.

Unfortunately, the author lost me almost from the beginning. The first subsection is on “hydration” which begins:

“The human body is nearly two-thirds water. To maintain proper hydration levels, it’s recommended people drink as much as 10 glasses of water per day. That’s especially important if you’re going to be active and outdoors in the sun.

“Studies have found that athletes who don’t drink enough can see as much as a 30-percent reduction in performance.”

Anyone who even mentions the completely bogus recommendation to “drink 10 glasses of water per day” causes my mental ears to perk up. This is not a case of being thorough and including a full spectrum of recommendations; this is including a clearly debunked factoid in a serious publication. (This is so seriously debunked that Oprah highlighted it in one of the issues of her magazine.)

Following a misleading factoid with a misleading claim about hydration, got me to put on the brakes. “Studies have found that athletes who don’t drink enough can see as much as a 30-percent reduction in performance” should be stated as “athletes who drink so little as to experience serious dehydration can see as much as a 30-percent decrease in performance.” Actually, I do not know where the “30%” came from as I have seen archers succumb to heat prostration (severe dehydration combined with overheating due to poor perspiration) who could not perform at all, which is a 100% decrease in performance.

When it comes to the subject of nutrition and archery I have yet to see any formal studies done. They may exist but someone frequently searching for such information (me) hasn’t found even one. Consequently articles about “archery and nutrition” are cobbled together from generic information and information garnered from studies on other sports. The author of this blog post, to his credit, mentions these things at the beginning of his article, but then plows ahead any way.

So as not to be a nay saying nanny with his knickers in a twist, I do have some recommendations regarding competition day eating and drinking. Here they are:nutricious-foods

  1. Since the signs of dehydration are so hard to pick up in its earliest stages, it is best to preclude the possibility. This is especially the case on hot, dry days as can be encountered in desert areas, but hot days elsewhere, too. I tend to sip a prepared beverage frequently during an outdoor competition. The beverage is any sports drink (e.g. Gatorade) that I can stomach, diluted 50:50 with water. The sports drink supplies minerals lost through sweating as well as a little energy (carbohydrates) and, of course, water. The dilution of those drinks with water has been shown to accelerate the uptake of those nutrients.
  2. With regard to eating, I like as much as anyone a freshly prepared hot dog, Sloppy Joe, or any of the other foods prepared for participants at a shoot. But if I am trying to compete seriously, I prepare my own food. I eat a combination of vegetables (carrot sticks, celery, radishes), slices of cheese, and strips of some meat protein (turkey, chicken, beef, etc.). I chose these because they are readily available in any city I might be competing in and because they are very, very unlikely to spike my blood sugar. If you consume a larger number of easily digested carbohydrates, you will get a recognizable “burst of energy” (also called a “sugar rush”) as your blood sugar rapidly increases. This is followed not very long after by a stretch of lethargy (also called a “sugar crash”). In a sport in which our goal is a steady performance, one in which our last arrow is shot identically to our first, such metabolic highs and lows are counterproductive. So, I avoid like the plague sugary breakfast cereals, candy bars, granola bars, sodas, and other too sweet foods, on competition days.

That’s it. With regard to diet in general, not just for competition days, I have been researching the topic for decades and there is very little that can be said definitively, which is sad. The science of human nutrition has been polluted by politics from its inception. Economic interests have held sway over good science. For instance, no mammal has a need for milk after it has been weaning, yet public nutrition “experts” still recommend children drink milk in substantial quantities. The reason: a powerful dairy lobby. To be fair, some nutritionists recommend milk as a more healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks, but the current ad campaign touting chocolate milk as a sports beverage is part of a greater effort to sell something no one needs.good-calories-bad-calories-cover

Then, on top of that, bad science and politics has dominated the science attempted. This is sad to say as I am a scientist. When I first read about some of the shoddy, politicized work in this field I got very angry and had to stop reading (several times). That scientists didn’t follow the facts, going where they lead, because of political reasons is very, very offensive. For example, the “low fat” craze fueled by bogus research into heart health was never correct and has been very harmful, leading to an obesity crisis in the U.S.

If you want to learn more about this topic I recommend Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”

Do check out the Lancaster Archery Blog; there is gobs of good information there. But, like all blogs, including this one, take them with a grain of salt.

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Back Tension from Different Anchor Positions

QandA logoI got an absolutely fascinating question about anchor points just yesterday. Here it is:

Hi, Coach Ruis:
I am working on my anchor point and back tension. I typically use a split finger/chin/nose anchor point for my Olympic bow and sight. I also recently acquired a Samick Sage recurve I use for roving/stump shooting. I have been trying to figure out string walking/point of arrow aim for my Samick for stumping.

I started to use a three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor to reduce the string walking crawl sizes relative to a split finger, under chin anchor. Using the corner of the mouth anchor and string walking, my crawls decreased ~75% in size. My precision using the corner of the mouth anchor has also improved noticeably over my under chin anchor (and the bow sounded much happier when loosing).

My question really is about back tension. When using the three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor, all of a sudden I can easily feel the barrel of the gun through my upper back relative to the chin/nose anchor. My draw length increased a full inch using the corner of the mouth anchor, so I am guessing this is the cause of the new positive upper back sensation.

I am thinking that if I could get this sensation with my Olympic bow/chin/nose anchor, this would be a very good thing. How can I make this happen?

* * *

There are quite a few changes going on in both of these anchoring positions. One you do not mention is draw arm position. When using a “high” anchor, corner of the mouth or higher, your draw arm position is different. (Stand up, assume the position of your low, under chin, anchor and then switch to the high anchor position and note the different positions of your draw arm at full draw.) The whole purpose of the low anchor is to be able to shoot longer distances. Back when everyone “shot off of the point” the line of sight across the arrow point and the point of aim (POA) fixed the arrow point in space somewhat. To get more distance it was necessary to lower the back end of the arrow, hence the lower anchor position for longer shots. This draw arm position affects the use of muscles in your back.

Shooting long distances also results in upper body tilt, which changes eye angle and lots of other things that affect “feel.”

Another point you do not mention is head tilt. In order to get a workable low anchor, I must tilt my head up slightly. If I use the same head position as I have with my high anchor for my low anchor shooting, my string fingers, positioned under my jaw line are on a surface sloping down, so when the shot is loosed, the top finger slides along the jaw line … downward which creates resistance and drag. By tilting your chin up slightly the path the string follows as the string flicks them out of the way is cleared.

Such are the sources of different feelings (along with the ones you mention).

My impression is that the high anchor encourages involvement of the muscles somewhat higher in your back, which when bunched up due to contraction are easier to feel. The low anchor involves muscles lower in your back which I suspect are somewhat harder to feel. (When archery coaches talk about using muscles lower in your back, they are referring to muscles lower … in your upper back.) So, I suspect that the difference in “feel” is real and you basically do not want to have the same feeling of back tension in both because that would mean you were using the same muscles when your arm angle was different.

If shooting Barebow as you describe (which I love) is relatively new to you, then the sensations in your back are relatively new and hence more noticeable. With time they might fade to the same level of feeling as in your high anchor shooting. Also, in many shooting techniques, surrogates for back tension are employed. For example, many of the Koreans focus on the feeling of the position of their draw elbow instead of the feeling in their backs. To some extent this is because the feeling of tension in the back diminishes due to humdrum regularity.

Another possibility is that you might need to open your stance when shooting Olympic Recurve. If you are particularly flexible, you may not be engaging your back muscles enough to get a strong feeling. In Rick McKinney’s book, “The Simple Art of Winning,” he claims that having an open stance allowed him to “get into his back” better. I found this puzzling at first, until I found some pictures of Mr. McKinney (in his prime) with his open stance and his draw elbow 2-3 inches past line. If he had been using a square stance, his elbow would have been even farther past line which have had negative influences on his shots. Unfortunately, their success lead to the adoption of the open stance by almost everyone, but this is a source of problems. In McKinney’s and Pace’s cases the open stance reduced their ability to get in line, which lead to a stronger feeling of back tension, strong enough that they could use that feeling to tell whether they were in the correct full draw position. If you are not as flexible as they were, this would be a mistake as it would probably reduce the quality of your alignment (as it does for hundreds/thousands of archers, young and old, I observe).

The only way to tell whether this is in play for you is to experiment a bit. I like to use a 10# bow for this, but any light drawing bow will do. Start with a square stance and draw to anchor and see what your back feels like. With a 10# bow you can play a little, moving your draw arm and shoulder around and feeling the effects of those position changes. Then open your stance by 10 degrees and repeat. Then another 10 degrees, etc. McKinney shot with about an 80 degree open stance when he was shooting in stiff wind (the torsion in your trunk helps stabilize your stance), so you can go as far as you want with this experiment … or as far as you can. ;o) The key thing is if you get a better feeling in your back with one of those stances and you can maintain good line, then this is something you might want to incorporate into your shot. The key element, though, is maintaining or achieving good line. In the Chicago area, you can recognize almost any recurve archer who has worked with me as they probably shooting from a closed stance. (Orthodox sources on form and execution do not even mention closed stances any more.) A closed stance makes it easier for you to get in line and after my students learn to shoot with good line I encourage to explore any other stance they want, as long as they maintain good line.

Is this enough food for thought? If not, do note that high and low anchors do change draw lengths (and affect tunes thereby). For compound archers changing from “fingers” to “release” or the reverse also affects draw length.

 

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