The Problem of The Creeping Archers

This blog post’s title is an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. (Why? Because I can!)

I got an email from a student (Recurve Barebow, Right-handed) who brought up the phenomenon of creeping. Creeping is a flaw in one’s execution most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent slowly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. It has a more dramatic cousin: collapsing, which is most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent rapidly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. Creeping is subtle, collapsing is not. Creeping is small scale, collapsing is not.

Here is the message:

Dear Coach,
Someone noticed some problems with my form that may or may not be related to my target panic issue: when I reach full draw my right arm is in perfect alignment with my left arm, but less than two seconds later my right arm shifts inward
(actually outward, around and back toward the bow, SR) out of line. Is this a strength problem?
     Immediately after my right arm moves out of line I begin to creep, the arrow moving about a whole inch. I can see it happening but I don’t feel it happening, is this also a strength problem?     I notice after release, my bow swings to the right and I see that the arrow has landed to the left of where it should, I’m moving my draw arm back when I release and I’m almost positive that it’s moving straight back so I don’t quite know why the bow is not swinging straight back.
     Thanks as always coach.

And here is my response:

* * *

Creeping can be a strength problem, but is more likely a technique problem. The ideas in play are that a recurve bow creates its maximum force at full draw, which means the bow is pulling its hardest away from the position you have bent it into at full draw. So, when we reach full draw our technique has to change from drawing to holding. This involves a transfer of the holding force needed, the full draw weight of the bow “in hand,” to the back muscles which hold the rear shoulder back. (The back muscles are not really holding the force of the bow; they are holding the rear shoulder in place and the archer’s arm and shoulder bones are holding the force of the bow.)

Currently you are allowing the bow to pull you back toward where you started. This happens when your focus is in the wrong place. Often we get to full draw and our focus shifts completely to “aiming,” something you are putting extra focus upon now, but what is needed is actually a split in your attention (the only time your attention is split): we must focus upon both aiming and whatever marker of continuing to move the string away from the bow has been adopted. When you reach full draw, there needs to be a focus on aiming and one of two things: either your draw elbow continuing to swing around toward your back or upon the increasing muscle tension between your shoulder blades. Both of these are signs that you are holding well.

Note if you focus on the tensing of the muscles in your back, there is an illusion you need to be aware of. As an example, consider the picking up of a five-pound (2+ kg) hand weight and holding it out at shoulder height. As you stand holding it seems to get heavier over time, in the form of being harder and harder to hold up. Obviously it is a constant five pounds, that doesn’t change, but why does it seem to be getting heavier? This feeling comes from the muscles being used running out of the chemical energy they use to contract and exert forces. Similarly, at full draw, your back muscles seem, in the short time between anchoring and loosing, to be pulling harder and harder to the point the feeling is uncomfortable. Obviously you are not pulling harder and harder at full draw, it just feels that way. We use this illusion as a signal that all is well and good in this part of the shot, so our strategy is to recognize that feeling and not shoot arrows without it.

When you creep, the bow is pulling you back toward where you started. This causes subconscious adjustments in your form, usually some form of muscle involvement that causes the string to be pushed toward your face (the bowstring pulls the string away from your face and back toward the bow on the same arc it came in on … or very close to it). This lateral push is responsible for the followthrough movements and left arrows. Ideally, we are pulling straight back (away from the bow) and pushing straight out (toward the target) and all drawing forces are within the plane of the bow. When the string is loosed, the arrow flies forward and the bow recoils forward, neither to one side or the other. (Note: we use the “left arrows, right bow reaction” as signs that we are losing our back tension. Noting the symptoms, we apply the fix which is increased attention to the marker that we are holding well.)

A way to “fix” this technical deficit is to shoot “blind bale.” This means so close to a target butt that you cannot miss and shooting with your eyes closed. Unfortunately our target butts sit on the floor, so you may want to stack up some floor mats to create a base so the target butt is near shoulder level. Then, making sure your arrow will hit the butt, you close your eyes and draw and shoot. The main focus being on either your draw elbow or your back tension. Find the feeling that gives you an “explosive shot.” The term explosive shot is hyperbolic, but it describes the feeling of a well-performed shot. It feels really powerful because the bow is at maximum draw force and the release is crisp. Of course, you must use the best complete form you can muster while doing this drill, but the primary focus is on the feeling of the draw elbow or the uncomfortable muscle bunching between the shoulder blades. Once you recognize these feelings then you need to develop an awareness of them while shooting arrows for score, that is with a target in practice (Eyes open!) and eventually in competition

Addendum
This might be a strength problem in other archers, but whether or not it is can be determined easily enough. If strength is an issue there should be other signs: shaking at full draw or during the draw (when this is not normal), struggling to draw the bow, adopting improvised techniques to draw the bow, etc. Typically it is not strength, as strength is what gets the string back but not what holds it there. If you get to a good full-draw-position, one in which your draw elbow is directly behind the bow or, better, slightly past being “in line” with the bow, the draw force will be pulling your rear shoulder straight back into your body, providing a natural support for it staying where it is. Some archers report that when they get into this position it feels as if the draw force “in hand” actually diminishes, like the letoff of a compound bow, because the force is thrown off of the archer’s muscles in this configuration and onto the archer’s bones. Bones do their job of resisting forces with no effort needed.

Note If you or your student are left-handed, please reverse all of the left-right references.

11 Comments

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

11 responses to “The Problem of The Creeping Archers

  1. Coach Rama.

    Dear Sir,
    ‘creeping’, is as common as ‘seconds in a minute’.
    The last part of the above statement (‘seconds in a minute’), is where creeping is more noticeable. Those seconds at full draw, include sets of forces that wear us down and cause biological permutations. Holding too long prior to release is often a cause of creep but not the only one.
    Before I proceed, I am of the opinion, that the student appears to not have a coach next to them when practising (correct me if I am wrong).
    Anyway, moving on.
    I teach my students’, that the brain should be viewed as ‘the stupid organ’, that can only only use information that it has been ‘programmed’ with. Let’s call this the concious area and consider the sub concious as the area that is pre programmed within our genetic coding.
    From the moment that we are born, ‘monkey see, monkey do’ environmental (exterospective) brain programming starts. Important, as for the next six years, this programming, becomes a core foundation for movement and reaction to forces, that the brain (stupid organ) will prioritise in its state of ignorance. “Why six years ?”, because I do not coach anyone under that age.
    Attempting to progress without a coach, is not an option. How on earth will your brain be programmed with information relating to; the physical, biological, physiological and psychological areas of archery ?
    Coach Ruis is absolutely spot on with the points that he has put forward and I will add just a few more things for your consideration.
    The brain (stupid organ), has a tendency to prioritise what it considers to be ‘important’ to achieve the given task. In doing so, it may try to take over and use what little knowledge it has been programmed with, to complete it. An example, would be the use of the eyes. When given simple ‘function based’ tasks, the untrained brain, will become focused on just that. As Coach Ruis mentioned, take away the sight and your brain is forced to prioritise internally on each area, used during the shot cycle. A coach is required for this area of learning, as they have the expertise to program the brain with the correct information.
    The final piece of the puzzle, is above and beyond what mere mortals can achieve. It is what makes archery so difficult and archers so unique.
    As a Coach, I had to achieve a diploma in sports science (Bsc), before I fully understood what my students needed. It was for me to teach them all I could about their bodies, it’s functions, the thought processes and how to unite the two. It is taking me longer to reprogram their brains with this new information, than it took me to study the subjects and is working.
    The uniqueness that I referred to, is where the ID, Ego and Super Ego are all aligned and the identity of the archer (and archery requirements) is clearly defined within the brain.
    Once completed, the senses (interospective and exterospective) are prioritised on the physical functions (form in other words) and psychological control, required for the separate areas (self) within the shot cycle.
    Being able to recognise, feel and correct imbalances is more important than hitting the centre of the target, because without them, frustration and self doubt will become the monkey on your back.
    Good luck and try harder but never give up.

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    • Hi, Coach Rama! You are right that there was no coach present at that training session. These students have one session a week with me and then practice throughout the week as they can. The “Korean Miracle” in Olympic Archery was achieved through consistent coaching applied continuously. In this country, this approach is not be used by any but a very few.

      I totally agree with you regarding what we need to teach. I emphasize a great deal that archery is about acquiring self-knowledge, learning about how we learn and how we function (physically and mentally). Any archer thinking it is just about “bows and arrows” won’t get very far.

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  2. My 8 years old son also loves outdoor archery, he always gets ready to go to try something new with compound bows and arrows. I would really appreciate the author of this post for sharing his experience with us.

    Like

    • I am not quite sure of your meaning. If you are asking for advice in helping your son, I wrote two books about that: Archery For Kids and A Parent’s Guide to Archery (both are available on Amazon.com). They may help although they are based upon U.S. experiences. Most countries have a National Governing Body for Olympic Sport with separate organizations for each sport such as archery (ours is USA Archery, in the UK it is Archery GB, etc.). The archery governing body for Olympic archery is World Archery. Each of these organizations have websites and almost all have programs to help young people in the sport.

      Like

  3. I have personally been struggling with this issue of creeping and finally collapsing. I would say that it is due to fatigue in my case, but nevertheless I am determined to improve.
    To begin with I shoot a #68 longbow that is my favorite for distance.
    I try to shoot 50 to 100 shots everyday and it seems the 30 to 60 is my “sweet spot”. I start having to focus more on a full set draw and anchor the more I shoot past 60.
    My “sweet spot” is generally 6-7 out of 10 in the gold at 30 yards.
    I really don’t have a clear picture of what the ideal personal goal should be other than consistent shots into the gold.
    So, any advice would be appreciated.

    Like

    • When you say “My “sweet spot” is generally 6-7 out of 10 in the gold at 30 yards” you don’t mention the target size. A 122 cm target and that is not so good. An 80 cm target and that is quite good.

      In any case, I have to ask Why 68#? The only expert I know of who regularly shot that much was Howard Hill (His favorite shooting demonstration bows were 68# and 87#.) and he exercised almost daily. (He has a 125# weight on a pulley and he pulled that weight up and down for a half hour at a time.)

      I have shot a 30# longbow at distance (80 yards and 100 yards) and it is doable but hard to find a point of aim. Have you tried 55# bows or even 50# bows? None of the Olympians shooting 70 m (77 yd) pulls much over 50#. Admittedly, their recurves are faster than longbows, but modern reflex-deflex longbows are almost as efficient.

      Like

      • Steve,
        Thanks for your reply. A few things, first – my bow is a reflex/reflex and even though it is #68 @28” my draw length is around 26 1/2” so I am pulling about #62.
        The “gold I am referring to is the yellow center out of a NASP target that I put in my cube target – probably 8”-9” diameter.
        A few reasons I chose the heavy bow was for big game hunting and point on center for this thing is like 55 yards with a 710 grain arrow.
        Anyway, I found myself with this setup mostly out of ignorance. I saw how my sons compound bow flings arrows but wanted to stay traditional, and thought if Howard Hill was shooting 80 + pound bows I could handle a little under #70….
        I’m 61 years old and will probably need to get a lighter bow before long but I’ll have to convince the wife. 🙂

        Like

      • Also I meant to mention, I do have a couple recurves from the 1970’s (a #58 and a #64) and I also have a #64 longbow made with the modern bo-tuff laminate. I also have an old 40 lb bow made by Frank Echoltz that I love shooting close targets. But none of these throw an arrow as flat as my 68 pounder. So, I suppose the best solution would be to have the bow maker build me a lighter bow.

        Like

      • Lighter bow … *and *lighter arrows. If you shoot a re-de bow, you do not need to shoot wood arrows, you can shoot carbon. (This is not as much for lightness as consistency.)

        I work with a lot of older students, many of whom are recurve and longbow and almost to a man, they have found success and more fun at lower draw weights. Lower draw weights is the gift we are given from lightweight, stiff carbon arrows. We can get high arrow speeds at much lower draw weights. (I still enjoy shooting wood, but I do so from self-bows that I can compete in traditional longbow. In modern longbow, the way you are going (de-re and lainated limbs, even a samll arrow shelf and tha shaped grip is the way to go.

        On Thu, May 17, 2018 at 4:04 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

        >

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds perfect. I can have my bowyer adjust the draw weight on this bow. It would be nice to be shooting more without pre mature fatigue.

        Like

      • You are a better man than me. I never managed to pull over 55# successfully. I once tried to pull a 100# longbow, and as I remembered it, I did not even manage to bend the bow string. It was like pulling on a piano string.

        On Fri, May 18, 2018 at 10:17 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:

        >

        Liked by 1 person

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