It seems that everywhere I look people are reporting about how important the transfer element is in archery shots, for both recurve and compound shooting. It seems to one and all that this sucker is important and my response is: if it is so damned important, why aren’t they telling us how to do it? Since no one has seen fit to do this, I decided I will give it a whack. I do this in full knowledge that people who are really in the know may rise up in righteous indignation, roaring “Ruis, you have it all wrong!” That, I think will be a good thing because then those others will start doing what they should have been doing all along, explaining how to do the transfer.
Getting Prepared to Understand “the Transfer”
If you have a very light drawing bow, that is what you need to understand what is going on. I have a recurve bow with a 10# draw for this purpose, but I assume a cranked down Genesis would work, too, and in a pinch, a stretch band could be substituted.
If you execute a relaxed draw, your draw elbow moves in an arc from its starting position to where it ends up at full draw, basically straight back from the bow. The arc moves your elbow up and also away from your body and then down and back toward your body, because your upper arm separates your elbow from your shoulder. There are people who do this incorrectly (I see them all of the time). When they draw they kink their draw wrist so that the arrow stays pointed in the direction it was in the setup. This is a mistake. If the draw wrist is relaxed as is recommended, the tension between elbow and bow will bring the wrist into a straight line between those points. If a long rod is being used, during the draw the tip will point to the side slightly as the elbow takes its path around to its place in your full-draw-position. The tip will swing to the side slightly and then come back to point in the plane of the target. The arrow does the same thing. Another aberration is for the archer to use his/her bow hand to keep the bow from doing this little motion, but we don’t want a tense bow hand.
So, take your light-drawing bow, address a target and see if you can pull the bowstring back from brace using only back muscles. You are just trying to draw the bow by rotating your rear shoulder around using the same motion that occurs at the end of your normal draw, just from the get-go here. You will find this does not work at all. You might get a one or two inch draw out of it.
So, can you draw a bow only with back tension?
If you answered “no,” you were paying attention. The reason you could not do that is you had no leverage. If you think of your upper arm bone as a lever, it works best when it is at right angles to the thing being levered. (For the technically minded, this is a second order lever.) Basically your back tension only becomes an effective “puller” of the bow when your upper arm is poking straight out at a right angle from your torso (roughly).
So, on to another experiment. Set up to draw your bow, but this time draw the string back until your elbow is straight out from your shoulder. Now try to continue that draw using just your back muscles (envisioning your rear shoulder being swung around toward your back). Many of you will be able to pull this off. But we are not all alike. Some of you will be able to do this before your upper arm reaches that right-angled position. Others won’t be able to until a little past that right-angled position.
Play with this!
Prove to yourself that there is a point in your draw arc before which application of back tension is futile and after which you can finish the draw. See if you can find the exact point in your or your student’s draw stroke at which it becomes effective to apply those back muscles.
This is just a matter of leverage and not a character flaw or physical attribute one way or the other. It is just a matter of physics or biomechanics, if you will.
How to Perform “The Transfer”
Now that you have learned about the leverage aspects of the archery draw and have discovered your “magic point,” you can now execute transfers fairly easily. The key is training this in so that it is near automatic.
You can start with the light drawing bow if you want or a stretch band, etc. and then move to more and more resistance until you can do this drill with your bow.
Setup to draw. Draw the string back until your draw elbow reaches the “magic point,” then rotate your rear shoulder around toward your back while also relaxing the muscles you used to get up to the “magic point.”
That’s it. That’s how you transfer the force needed to resist the bow’s force onto those muscles in your back. (I haven’t described how to engage the correct muscles, but basically if you perform the movement correctly, you will engage the correct muscles. A key signifier of a correct technique is elbow height. If it is too high or too low the wrong muscles will be engaged.)
Which are the muscles you used to get your draw elbow to your “magic point?” Figure it out. They are generally in the arm and shoulder but people often pick up quirks in their draw, including drawing with a kinked wrist or tension in their string hand. If you are coaching, get your athlete to stop just before the “magic point” and check to see if their string hand is tense or their string wrist is, or the muscles in their lower arm and upper arm. The deltoids at the top of the upper arm are needed to hold the arms up, so those should be tense. Tense muscles tend to be hard, relaxed muscles soft, so wiggle things, poke around and help your archer identify what is tense what is not.
Do the same check at full draw. The draw hand, draw wrist, and most of the draw arm muscles should be “soft.” The exception is the muscles in the upper part (near the elbow) of the lower arm which are responsible for holding the fingers in the curled positions to wrap around the string or a handheld release aid.
Addendum In USA Archery’s National Training System (NTS), the rear shoulder is swung around into almost full-draw-position during “set” and then the bow is raised. When the bow is up, you are then in position for application of back muscles at that point. I do not see any particular advantage to doing that because it means that the first half of the draw stroke is done and then the muscles raising the bow are employed. The shoulder joint is one of the weakest in the human body and I would rather not manipulate that joint under load. I would rather position the shoulder joint and then load it. (Here I am referring to both shoulder joints.)