Note I have not been posting much lately because I have been very busy and also caught the danged flu, the one that hangs on for weeks and weeks. I hope to be posting more frequently again. If you have questions you need answered, please send them to me either through a comment or via email. Steve
A fundamental of good archery form is to have good alignment, often referred to as having “good line.” A simple glance at the shooting line at any local archery tournament will show you that good line is not easy to find. There are a number of reasons for this but I want to focus on one major cause of poor line.
When shooting a recurve bow, the optimal posture at full draw is described by the Archer’s Triangle. Looking down on the archer’s head, we would see the archer’s drawing forearm in “line” with the arrow, the two forming one side of the triangle. The archer’s draw side upper arm forms another side and then the archer’s shoulders and bow arm make the third, easy peasey. The key visible aspect of this body position is the archer’s shoulder line and bow arm point to the bow. Coaches are taught to sight along that line (from away from the target and archer) to check the archer’s alignment/“line.” (Compounders are somewhat different, see below.)
To illustrate a major source of the inability to adopt this full draw position I offer the following book cover:
As such covers go, the participants in the photo are shown as having a great deal of fun. (What the young man is looking at is beyond me.) In any case, you can see one of the results of poor line is the “flying elbow” of the young lady, a draw elbow that is pointed off to the side rather than straight back. The reason we want the elbow to be pointing straight back (at the loose) is so that the force on the bowstring is directly away from the bow. This cause the bowstring, when released, to move back toward the bow in as straight a line as possible. If we are pulling off to the side, then the path the bowstring makes back to the bow is more circuitous and less consistent. For the physics buffs, to get the string against the face at anchor with the elbow out there, the string hand must be pulled in toward the face, giving a force vector toward the archer to be added of that toward the bow. (Compounding these forces is the tendency of the string hand to move away from the face during the loose (a pluck!) as the force into the archer’s face is no longer needed. The coach’s shortcut you may know is “a flying elbow leads to plucking the bowstring.”)
Now, the source of the poor line? The bow shoulder. Most coaches think poor line stems from the archer not having swung the draw shoulder around far enough, but simply put, if the bow shoulder is not open far enough (to approximately 180°) the rear shoulder cannot possible compensate. If the young lady were standing more to the side (facing down the line, less open), her front shoulder would be more open and the rear shoulder would have a chance of forming up on a line pointing to the bow.
A common source of that open bow shoulder is the ideological adoption of an open stance. (I say ideological as there is no physical reason for it.) Beginning archers are taught an open stance as a matter of course, which I believe is a mistake. An open stance is an advanced bit of archery form that shouldn’t be taught until later. When I see an archer with poor line, the first thing I do is I close up their stance until they are back to square (feet and chest pointing down the shooting line at full draw) or past that to a closed stance (feet and chest pointing slightly behind the shooting line at full draw). After all, the Archer’s Triangle has the archer’s shoulders pointing at the bow on a line which is 10-12° closed to the line to the target (the arrow has to point at the target if you want to hit it). The strongest biomechanical body position (to resist gravity, the only other force present) would be to have the hips, knees, and feet directly under the shoulders, which would place the feet 10-12° closed to the shooting line. This is a neutral body position, without special positioning, which the square stance is not and an open stance is certainly not.
So, if you have a student struggling to get “in line” or who has a “flying elbow” focus on getting the front shoulder, the bow shoulder, fully opened. (The archer will feel his/her bow side chest muscles stretch is a good guide.) A lever to help get there is to move the archer’s stance toward being square or even past that. I will close an archer’s stance as far as needed until they get in line, then ask them to shoot that way until being in line feels “normal.” Then other stances can be experimented with, with the prime consideration of always keeping that good line.
A Note on Compound Form While recurve and longbow archers have prescribed to them that their shoulder line point to their bow, compound archer’s standard form has their shoulder line parallel to the arrow, so they have an Archer’s Trapezoid rather than an Archer’s Triangle. This means their front shoulder will be slightly open when in this position. This is more comfortable for the archer and can be gotten away with because the holding weight of the compound bow is only a third or so of the peak weight, so less bracing is needed at full draw. If a release aid is used or not, the archer still wants to be pulling directly away from the bow at the moment of release to line of the force vectors behind the arrow and not to the side. And, an open stance works against this upper body position.