Relaxation: How Much and When?

I remember telling a student that any muscles not needed to make a shot needed to be relaxed and he said, “. . . but I would fall down.” I went on to explain that standing did indeed require muscle tension and was also required to make a shot, because “flopped on the ground” is not a solid platform from which to shoot.

Now, I am not sure what I meant back then. I recently saw a golf coach take on the “relaxation mantra” and claim that very little in a golfer’s body is relaxed when swinging a golf club. I tend to think this is true of elite archer’s also, but what do I think now?

And Now . . .
Now I think that it is more complicated that I thought then, but not a great deal more.

We are always talking about unnecessary muscle tension needing to be relaxed away (in golf, too). The goal is always to execute each shot the same way as the previous one and trying to achieve a consistent level of muscle tension is quite difficult. We can only maintain it in our bow shoulder (which is holding the bow up) because the mass of the bow is constant and so is the acceleration of gravity at that locale. So we need enough muscle tension to hold the bow at a particular level and that force is a constant force which creates a constant counter force in your musculature. Similarly the back muscle tension you exert at full draw is based upon whatever your holding weight is, which is a constant because your bow isn’t changing in draw weight (unless something is very wrong).

So, imagine keeping, say, your abdominal muscles slightly flexed. How much muscle tension is involved in doing that? How good are you at setting that level and keeping that level? I suspect not very good, so we . . . in general . . . start from a position of keeping non-essential muscles as relaxed as possible. This is a somewhat identifiable level of relaxation/muscle tension.

If, as an elite athlete, you decide that flexing your abdominal muscles allows you to shoot better (more consistently, more accurately, whatever) then you will have a baseline to work from, which is “as relaxed as possible.”

Whenever we make changes we need to compare the “new” with the “old” to find out if we have made an improvement, rather than just a change. We recommend that when making equipment changes, that you mark everything involved, e.g. clicker position, arrow rest position, number of turns on limb bolts, etc. and document that change in writing in your notebook. The reason for these recommendations is if the change isn’t an improvement you want to have the option to set everything back to that previous arrangement. The “relaxed as is possible” body condition is at least a somewhat findable condition if you want to retreat from some other body condition that was recommended for you.

In archery, we are almost always better off throwing body postures onto our skeletons than our musculatures. For example, Rick McKinney had what he called his “wind stance” (see photo above). In this stance his feet were roughly 80° from a square stance, that is both feet were almost pointing at the target. He then had to rotate his body 90° the other way to get into full draw position. This created a fair amount of torso twist. (I have never been able to even demonstrate this, let alone do it while shooting.) That rotation of the torso creates a very rigid shooting platform that is less susceptible to being blown around by the wind.

How much muscle tension is generated in that twisting? Heck if I know, but it is made regular through the positioning of the feet. Where you place your feet determines how much muscle tension is needed to get into your full draw position. This is what I mean by “loading body postures onto our skeletons.”

The “when” aspect of muscle tension is fairly simple. I argue that the shot actually begins when the bow is raised. Everything preceding that is part of what I call the “pre-shot routine.” All muscle tensions need to be in place before full-draw position is reached. I argue this because if you took a light weight bow and got on target and then flexed a new muscle, any muscle, I think you would see that your aim was affected. I often tell students that I want them to “pause at the top” to see if they have become still. Stillness only happens when muscles are in a fixed state of relaxation/tension. Muscles are to allow you to move. Flex one and you will move. Moving is not being still. So, the pause at the top is to see if you are still (there are signs). You should not shoot until you are still. And then for consistencies sake, you should hold as much of your muscle tension until the shot is over . . . and, boys and girls, how do we know the shot’s over?

The shot isn’t over until the bow takes a bow (as in a theatrical bow).



Filed under For All Coaches

6 responses to “Relaxation: How Much and When?

  1. Hi Steve!
    I have found the “stillness” part as one of the great pieces of advice that I could have gained as a beginner in archery. I’ll definitely try to incorporate in my next training to see how wonderfully it impacts my skill. Thank you so much.


    • There is an exercise I recommend to acquaint one with the stillness I talk about. Set up on a shooting line (you are not going to shoot, this is just a safety precaution). You are going to get into full draw position and then observe your sight aperture or arrow point, whichever you use to aim with, over a fair amount of time. When you first hit your anchor, your aperture will show a fair amount of back-and-forth movement. This is residual movement left over from the large muscle movements associated with the draw. After a fraction of a second to about a second and a half, you will notice the back and forth movements of the aperture will damp down (they almost never stop). Keep watching while holding your best full draw position. Over the next few seconds, you will see an increase in aperture/arrow point movement, this time due to muscle fatigue. When you have seen the whole cycle, let down that arrow. (This time period of stillness varies with fitness level and skill so you might need to do this several times over the years to acquaint you with your current stillness level.)

      There is a period of greatest stillness between the initial agitated state and the final agitated state. That is the segment in time you wish to shoot from. Olympic Recurve archers have clickers as a sign when to shoot and compound archers often have a release aid that determines when to shoot. Both of these need to be set up such that the shots happen in that valley of stillness.

      If you shoot off of the point you are usually not allowed such devices to determine mechanically the time to shoot, so you have to choose and the choice can be a source of anxiety that can even lead to target panic. If you aim off of the point, I suggest that you get on your point of aim as quickly as is possible, basically as you are hitting your anchor. Allow the aim to be subconscious from that point onward and just watch your point to see when the movement in it drops off and that is your signal to “Shoot now.” This can be as good as a clicker as a signal to shoot (but not as a draw check, obviously).


  2. Coach Rama

    Hello Sir.
    As professional coaches, we understand this. I can relate, as I am certified in archery psychology, archery biology, archery physiology and more but what I see most often from other coaches, is that they think that the student is as well and understands what they are talking about. You and I know that this is not the case.
    My group of students, are more understanding of what I say, as I have taught them through white board drawings, short written Q & A’s and associative practical exercises (not many coaches do this) but I have to do it to close the gap between what I see in my minds eye and how they translate that into action.
    In essence, the 3 lessons are ; listen, learn, do.
    Memory of a complete subject, is not found in 1 place in the brain, it is fragmented and scattered throughout that ‘fatty watery’ mass inside the skull and on top of that, we have left and right hemispheres with a bridge lacking in synaptic connections and our mission is to have all pathways connected. That includes the mathematics and unicorns brain areas working together.
    Getting carried away a bit so I won’t talk about error recognition, so I’ll just say :-
    A complete archer, has connected the specific areas in such a way as to create an almost separate identity that is archery exclusive.


    • Hello Coach Rama!

      Always good to hear from you!

      I agree with you! (No surprise!). An archery needs to create an alter ego, almost like a character in a comic book. This character performs under pressure, focusses on the task at hand, etc. Children just think that their alter ego is someone who always shoots tens, which misses the mark. Soom, they learn that they need to know a great deal but that knowledge cannot intrude upon their executing shots, that they are confident in the their skill because they have proved that confidence is earned through practice, and so on.

      I hope you are well my friend. Has the COVID-19 disease reached your shores? If so, how are you coping with it?

      On Fri, Jul 10, 2020 at 10:11 PM A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



      • Coach Rama

        Hello Sir.
        I’m doing well and hope the same goes for you and your family (including archer family).
        The disease did get to us but the island went into immediate lockdown, unlike some other more ‘developed countries’ governed by ‘oddball thinkers’! The island has 2 active cases currently and some 200 being monitored but not active.
        Financially, it has been tough but better half a dollar than no dollar at all. Access to state parks and public training areas are still off limits but coaching at private schools is beginning again, albeit with strict health and safety protocols in place.
        Even though archery is a non contact discipline, it has been lumped in with all other sports for now. Better safe than sorry is the path that we are walking for now.
        The 17th of this month, is the date earmarked for a return to full on sporting activities and all coaches of different sports, are looking forward to getting their hands on a population that is looking decidedly more overweight and less fit than 5 months ago.
        February was the month that I would have started a new era of Para-Archery coaching on the island but it was not to be. Although I will always be a coach to the able bodied, my end game has always been to switch to training people who need adaptive support.
        The universe, gave me a 4 month break to do reports, prepare training programs, work out various strategies and contact various ministry offices to beg them to give me land for the purpose of what I need to take the archers to France 2024.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Coach Rama,

        I love that you have ambitions. I started up private lessons just yesterday. As many an archer who has gotten out of “shooting shape” I have gotten out of “coaching shape!” I am not used to talking that much or standing that much. wearing a mask made me feel as if I had to shout, so my throat is sore today. :o)

        I assume, like many others, I can “play my way into shape.”

        I wish you, as always, success and joy in your endeavors. And please feel free to contact me regarding any advice I may be able to give you. I have just published a book of archery drills and the WA site has coaching supports listing many drills useful to a coach focussing on international competition. (We wrote our drills book for coaches and archers who were serious about archery, but not necessarily upon a track leading to the Olympics or WCs.

        On Sat, Jul 11, 2020 at 10:44 PM A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



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