More Barebow Questions

There seems to be a resurgence of Barebow archers lately and that makes me happy. That doesn’t mean Barebow is simple or easy. Here are some questions!

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Coach Ruis:
I have a couple of questions. My first question involves blank bale practice. Winter is here, so I am shooting blank bale in the garage several nights a week, and going to the indoor range once a week. I am a string-

Barebow Recurve archers (right) get a bow and an arrow, none of the sights, stabilizers, clickers and other gewgaws that Olympic Recurve archers (left) get.

walking Barebow archer shooting an intermediate ILF bow with a plunger and wire arm arrow rest.
     While blank baling, I work on activating lower and middle traps when expanding as I focus on the draw arm LAN2. After a few days of blank bale, and I go to the range, I notice I have picked up a couple of ticks. First, I find I drop my draw elbow while expanding, and shoot high by a few inches. I have to concentrate on keeping my elbow at it’s draw height when I expand to correct this error. (I am actually not sure if this isn’t something going on with something else, like my bow arm/shoulder.) Second, my head position and/or draw hand at anchor seems unstable. It takes me a few ends to stabilize my anchor, and get my horizontal precision back. What is going on here, and how should I change my blank bale practice to be a force for good?

My second question involves shooting my secondary bow. I have an inexpensive three piece recurve I use for occasional stump shooting. I recently went on a trip for a couple of weeks, and brought the three piece along. I ended up shooting it a bunch of times over two weeks. Even when string walking I have to aim low and right to get the arrow to hit the mark. Once back at home and shooting my ILF bow, it took me a couple of weeks to regain both precision and accuracy. Obviously, I picked up some bad habits using this bow. I am guessing switching bows is a bad idea? I started out thinking that using different bows would increase my adaptability to different archery conditions, but now I am not so sure.

And here are my answers.

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The difference with regard to your secondary bow is arrow spine. Unless you have a separate set of arrows matched to that bow, the odds of being able to use the same arrows with two bows is vanishingly small. You can mitigate the difference between the two aiming points by mentally telling yourself you are practicing “aiming off.” In the absence of wind, all points of aim (POA) of a well-tuned bow should be on a vertical line going through the center of your target face. (I call this the 12 o’cock-6 o’clock line.) If the wind is blowing, you may have to “aim off” of this line to allow the wind to blow your arrows into the center. I have people shooting sights deliberately mis-set their sights and find out how to still hit center as practice for this event. Mentally, then, you will not automatically blend in this shooting with your other bow’s shooting.

If your POAs aren’t on the 12 o’clock-6 o’clock line, your bow is not well-tuned.

Equipment-wise, if while string walking, your arrows hit to the left or right of your POA, and you can’t tune those out with your plunger, your arrows are either too stiff or too weak. Since you are aiming to the right (I assume you are right-handed) that means your arrows are flying left, which means they are too stiff for that bow. This may simply be a manifestation of your secondary bow having a lighter draw weight than your primary bow. (Can’t tell from here, of course.)

Regarding your first point. I have a problem with the National Training System of USA Archery (NTS) and you are demonstrating it clearly. (I assume you are learned in NTS as you are using their phraseology.) In this case, it is based upon the fact that we do not chose to use muscles consciously, but the NTS documents, which seem to be written for coaches but are foisted onto archers, offer way too much detail, including which muscles to use. Archers need to be put into proper positions and encouraged to use proper movements (what we call form and execution), which then limit the muscles that can be used … automatically. For example. If you draw the bow with your elbow at roughly nose height, it blocks out the biceps of your draw arm from being used. (Hold your hands and arms up in “pre-draw” position and then flex your draw arm biceps—careful, you may whack yourself in the face!) Subconsciously you know the biceps cannot help to draw the bow when in this position, so the biceps are not called upon. If you draw with your elbow quite a bit lower, it requires you to use your biceps. So, does an archer need to know about the biceps (the muscle that bends your arms inward)? I say no. They need to know that a better way to draw the bow is with their draw elbow “high” (meaning roughly at the level of your nose).

I believe your attention to things like the “middle traps” is really inhibiting what you want to do. If you put your body into the proper positions (form or posture) and then proceed freely (execution), you will automatically use the right muscles.

It is important to know these postures for this reason. At full draw we want a relatively straight line to run up the bow arm and across the shoulders (see the shoulder line in illustration below). Why? Bracing. A recurve bow exposes the archer to its full force at full draw (unlike a compound bow). To provide enough time under these conditions, we prefer to have our bone structure aligned to take that compressive force (you expand the bow, the bow compresses you). The bones can accept this force easily by opposing the force with compression resisting forces, but in the absence of the proper alignment of the bones to do that, we need to use muscle to supplement that. And muscles get tired and so over time their performance varies. Why do we need time at full draw? We need 0.5-1.5 sec (my estimate) of time to determine that we are being still. If you watch your arrow point carefully, it starts out being somewhat jittery when first at anchor, but then becomes more still (never perfectly so) after that time period. If you just wait, it will become more and more jittery again, as the muscles you are using to maintain your bone alignment fatigue. Why do we need to be still? If we are not still and are “shooting on the fly,” we will have variation not only in space (aiming is not perfect spatially) but also variation in time (we need to time the shot so it is properly aligned when we release). Stillness is better than not being still and we do not want to take this for granted.

If you observe this “settling” into your full draw position through the lessening of the motion of your arrow point, you can use this as a signal to release the string. Once you have become still and are on your POA, there is no benefit in waiting any longer. In effect, you have the equivalent of a built in “clicker” telling you it is time to loose.

We also want to have a relatively straight line from the centers of pressure on your bow hand and string fingers and on through to the point of your draw elbow (see the primary force line in the illustration above). Why? Biomechanically the COP of your bow hand is where you are pushing the bow handle and the COP on your string fingers is where you are pulling on the string. By aligning the draw forearm on that axis, you automatically throw the force of maintaining that posture on your upper back muscles (when archers say “back muscles” they mean the upper back, not the lower back, so the “mid-back” to an archer is the mid-upper back to others). The key is keeping kinks out of those two straight lines. This is what having “good alignment” or “good line” is all about. Any deviation from straightness of those two lines, requires muscles to be added to the equation, muscles to resist the draw force instead of just to maintain posture.

Whenever muscle is recruited to replace the role of bone under compression, we automatically make our shot more athletic. On good days, you can pull this off. On not so good days, your performance suffers. If you have large swings in your performances, it may be your shot is too athletic. A shot based upon bone is more consistent than one based upon bone and muscle (to resist the force of the bow). Muscle is always needed to maintain posture/body position, so we are not talking about that in this case.

I know I am going on and on, but the trap I hope you can avoid is in getting too focused on this muscle or that whatever. (I still have not seen a reference to LAN2 in any other source and do not understand how a reference to that point is superior to just using the point of the draw elbow. They are just a few inches apart and move together.)

Oh, with regard to you dropping your draw elbow. Your focus on your mid-back is allowing that (not causing it per se, but at least allowing it). Many successful archers use a focus on their draw elbow to get them through the shot. (Which you just discovered … it is not a bug; it is a feature!) The draw elbow is to move around (toward your back) and slightly down through the latter stages of the shot. This you can feel. Keeping both elbows “up” is a good focal point for successful recurve archery. If you are too focused on your back you may feel your elbow moving but it may be moving down rather than around. When the elbow moves down, it relieves the stress of the draw, something our bodies automatically do (relieve physical stress, avoid pain, etc.). You can draw farther, with less tension, dropping your draw elbow than not. But the build up of muscle tension in our back muscles (we call it back tension) is something we use as a sign that we are in the proper position. Allowing this tension to be bled off by lowering the draw elbow, removes this ability to determine if things “feel right” for loosing.

I hope this helps. Since diagnosing such things based upon written descriptions is kind of “iffy” do let me know if this works for you or not.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “More Barebow Questions

  1. Bill latimer

    I found this to be a very useful article. I am an intermediate Barebow archer of about 4 years and always looking to improve. I had read some of the NTS materials but found them a bit complex (though they are aimed at the more elite archer). It is good to get solid common sense advice which will get same end result and also based on sound theory. As a teacher I often found the the greatest challenge was making the complex simple.

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    • Your perception that NTS was designed for elite archers is, I think, spot on. I have asked repeatedly as to how to teach this to less advanced archers and the response has been “just teach it.” This seems shortsighted. I tend to think the whole idea of “superior technique” is a selling point that really has no value to the customer. Who makes the best automobile tire? I think it depends upon the application and then it is debatable.

      Technique is something we develop until it becomes personal. Parts of it need improvement and there is a process for that. The idea that one technique will make all archers better seems strange to me, almost bogus.

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  2. morehice

    Thanks, this was very well said. And I really like the option of saying “point of the draw elbow” rather than “LAN 2”. Makes so much more sense to people.

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