I am once again plodding where angels fear to tread. The last time I reviewed some videos, I got flamed … oh, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
My main point in all of these “reviews” is to encourage you to view all archery videos (and magazine articles, and books, including my own) critically and not just accept them at face value. The videos I address here are from the Archery Winchester site (ArcheryWinchester.com) which I recommend to you highly because they take a science-based approach and use a lot of high speed and stop motion video in their explanations. I do not, however, find their videos to be perfect.
The Archer’s Hook
In this video, they cover a lot about a recurve archer’s finger hook. I will comment about one misstatement and one omission in this otherwise good presentation.
The misstatement, or at least what I hope was a misstatement, concerns the position of the bowstring on the fingers. The statement made was that the string needed to be “as far out on the fingers as possible.” The picture accompanying this statement is for some strange reason using a slack bowstring, with the string lying on the pads of the top and bottom fingers so how far out is “far out” is debatable. Maybe it is the phrase “as possible” as needing definition.
My recommendation is the more load there is on a finger, the less on a finger tip it should be. To show you what I mean, pick up a strung recurve and place the bowstring on the pads of all three drawing fingers. Pull slightly on the bow string and you will find that the back of your string hand will become arched and tense. This is because of a lack of leverage. The fingers have to be held in this awkward position because if they relaxed, the string would slide off of the pads. And if the entire hand is going to be tense, well tense is synonymous with “slow” and the fingers will not be easily pushed away by the bowstring when you want to loose … and action-reaction, the bowstring will be forced farther out of the plane we want it to be in and we get a highly variable loose. This is called a “tip hook” and it has been tried and rejected. (It is likely the cause of the early retirement from competition by one of the most famous archers in the western tradition, Horace A. Ford, through severe tendonitis.)
The best hook involves being able to relax the string hand completely (relaxed fingers are quick fingers). The muscles making the finger hook are in the upper forearm, so they do not make the hand tense per se.
With regard to the angle of the string on the fingers, that is determined by two things and neither involves fingers. One is the height of the draw elbow. The “ideal” height (according to biomechanics) is the one that has the string forearm in line with the center of pressure of the bow hand on the bow. This line is called the “primary force line” (PFL) and to pull exactly on the line requires either the forearm to be on that line or several other forces to be involved, created by muscles we really do not want tensed. But, for some reason, quite a number of archers have elbow up above that line. Moving the elbow up away from the PFL turns the fingers so the third finger is harder and harder to engage and the first finger is pressing down on the arrow. If the elbow is lower that that line (a worse sin according to many), the top finger is pulled off of the string and the middle finger is pressed up against arrow.
The other factor is the rotation of the hand along the PFL. Classic archery technique recommended the back of the hand be flat (indicating the hand is relaxed … it gets pulled flat) and that it be perpendicular with the ground. This means that the fingers are square (sideways) to the string. This position, however, is very close to the edge of our range of motion, so is stressful to maintain. USA Archery’s national Coach Kisik Lee recommends that the hand be rotated … slightly! … to relieve this stress. The net effect, though, is that the string is no longer square to the fingers and must be on a slant to the fingers with the string out on the finger pad of the bottom (third) finger and the top finger wrapped more around the string.
Since everything … and I do mean everything … in archery is a compromise, this one may make sense. You buy a little comfort in the rotation of the hand about the string forearm (which equates to relaxation) and you give a little with regard to optimal placement of the fingers on the string. have your archers try both positions to see which they prefer.
Archery Form -06- Release and Follow Through
In this video which seems a bit inconsistent to my eye (the same releases seem to be being used as examples of a good release and a bad release) is good but fails to mention an important aspect of this discussion.
In target archery, our goal is consistent accuracy. The equipment can be set to be accurate (sights, set up, tuning, etc.) so the archer is responsible for the consistency as the equipment doesn’t vary (unless something breaks or loosens). This means we are fighting “Bell curves” in space and time. A Bell curve is a Gaussian distribution with is a natural distribution of many things in nature. For the repeated shots of an archer, this manifests itself in target hole patterns. Most of the arrow holes are closer to the center and fewer are encountered as one moves away. This distribution shows up in all of our body positions. If we were to photograph our draw elbow from away for a long series of shots and then superimpose them, would you expect all of the photos to overlap perfectly? No, you would not. (The phrase is “we are not robots.”) Most of the elbow photos would be clustered around an “average” position, and the few that differ from that position differ very little, the more difference from the average, the less likely is that to occur.
In order for us to be consistent, those photos need to be tightly group together.
The Bell curves are in space, like the photos show, and also in time. If we take a stopwatch to the shots, you will see that some shots go off more quickly than others and some more slowly. We are trying to make these Bell curves in time less spread out like we want the Bell curves in space less spread out. we want to repeat our process as exactly as possible because that is what produces the best results.
This has consequences for our form.
For example, when a shot is made we are taught to keep our bow arms in position until the shot ends. (I say “The shot’s not over until the bow takes a bow.”) The arrow leaves the bow in under 20 milliseconds (that’s 2/100 of a second) so it seems unlikely it will have any effect on our shots if we do no not keep our bow arms up. Letting your bow arm drop upon release is a form flaw called “dropping your bow arm” and it will result in low arrows. The reason? Well, when your bow arm drops “immediately” upon release, “immediately” is actually a Bell curve distribution of when the bow begins to drop. Since there is no exact signal for when this is supposed to happen, it can happen quite early, so early that the arrow is still on the bowstring and letting the bow fall is taking the arrow with it, resulting in low shots.
So, we keep our bow arms “up” through the followthrough (see the poster below).
What this video doesn’t suggest and could have that archers need to keep their string arms “up” through the followthrough also. If we do that the range of motion, the funky motion that is an archery shot, is constrained so that the string hand can get back no farther than the ear. if the draw elbow is dropped, the range of motion becomes quite large and the number of possible movements also becomes quite large and subject to the archer’s desires (this is where fake followthroughs, like touching your shoulder at the end of the shot, come from).
Confusing something that just happens with something you are to do always creates problems for archers. If both arms are kept “up” until the bow takes a bow, everything else happens as a consequence of the forces in play at the loose of the string. This leads to a major benefit to the archer! If the forces on the bow are consistent from shot to shot, the movement of the bow during the followthrough will also be consistent (as it is behaving as a simple, mechanical object). Your followthrough thus becomes a consistency meter. If your followthrough is consistent, you are being consistent. if you had a weird followthrough, you did something different on that shot and you need to look into it.
Elite archers deliberately do things weird in their shots, trying to “help” an arrow into the ten that was on the edge of a nine when the clicker clicked, for example. So, you will see bows pushed out to the left or right, creating weird followthroughs. I haven’t seen any evidence that these attempts to “help” an arrow score better actually work, but I have talked with compound archers who say they do it often and it works for them. (Compound bows, being substantially more massive than recurve bows are a different beast. Since they are more massive, compound bows can be pushed harder and will move less, so more control is available.)
I think the conclusion as to whether this is helpful is still out, so I do not recommend this to any of my students.
A Strong Bow Arm is a Must
Note the position of the cuff of Ms. Han’s bow arm sleeve
as she progresses through her shot.