Tag Archives: Form and Execution

A Recurve Dead Release Spotted!

Video of the 2017 Shoot Up Finals for the Barebow division at the Lancaster Archery Classic in Lancaster, PA has been posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ppQpTQcz4). Recurve Barebow is more popular around the world than it has been in the U.S. (driven, I suspect, by the popularity of compound archery in the U.S.) but Barebow is on a rebound now and more and more people are attracted to it. Featured in these final matches are: Dewayne Martin, Scott Bills, Bobby Worthington, and John Demmer III.

Interestingly, DeWayne Martin shoots with a dead release, something very few recurve archers can pull off. (More and more I am coming to the conclusion that there are no absolutes in archery (e.g. You must use a “live” release in Recurve.), just some things make shooting “more or less difficult.”

View the video! Flinches! Creeping! Tape on the nose! Tournament nerves! Stringwalking! (Although the announcers were somewhat clueless about the advantages of a crawl.) At 29:18 a close-up of John Demmer III’s quiver (current WA world field champion) shows arrows with two different fletching patterns. This would not be allowed in a WA shoot. The Lancaster Archery Classic uses a mixture of NFAA rules and their own. (It is a private shoot, they can do as they wish. If they apply for a sanction from one of the governing bodies they would have to conform to that association’s rules. Note Many people do not know that the Vegas Shoot, while owned by the NFAA, is a private shoot with its own rules.)

John Demmer III, the eventual winner, and an elite Barebow archer, shoots with a tilted head. You don’t have to do it right, you just have to do it over.

If you shoot Barebow or your students do, watch this video. This gives you a good idea of what is possible, at least indoors. It gives you an idea of what “the best” can shoot under pressure and then you can determine how you stack up or how close your students are.


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Paying Attention to Hands

If you have read this blog at all you probably know that I follow golf coaches a lot, mostly because there are few archery blogs of any value (which is changing … slowly). The similarities between golf and archery are many, the primary difference is in golf, the golfer supplies the energy to the ball whereas in archery the bow does that work on the arrows (after being loaded up by an archer). But a comment by one of my favorite golf coaches, Darrell Klassen, really struck a bell:

… your hands are the body part designed to start almost every motion. Doesn’t matter the sport. Baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, football. You start every action with your hands. You don’t even have to think about it. Next thing you know, all the other parts come into play. Feet, legs, hips, shoulders…they all do their bit.

“The kicker is this (and this is where most of the mags just don’t understand). You can’t manipulate the sequence. Thinking about a part (like you shoulder turn) screws up the whole darn thing. There is however, one part of the sequence you can (and should) manipulate. Guess what that is? Yep, your hands. Thinking about changing what they will do (like their speed, direction, angle, start position etc) will change the whole sequence.

“Manipulate your hands, and you can create any shot you want. And your body will just follow.

In archery, our shot sequences have a step called “set your hands” which we often gloss over, but this step is critical to consistent accuracy. If the angle your bow hand makes on the bow differs, or the angle stays the same, but the position shifts left or right, the effect on the shot is significant. If the fingers on the string or release aid, change position or shift in the amounts of force each finger delivers, the effect on the shot is significant.

I work with quite a few Barebow archers who walk the string. A crawl that varies by as little as 1/16th of an inch will change the distance allowed for by 2-4 yards, all other things being perfect.

The positions of the hands on the bow and string/release are critical aspects of archery shots.

The key thing to realize here is seen in Coach Klassen’s comment “Manipulate your hands…. And your body will just follow.” If your hands aren’t quite right, there is a cascade of adjustments your body makes to make the whole movement conform to the desired outcome (the one you are envisioning in your mind).

Our hands contain many, many sensory nerve endings. The diagram (right), common to biology textbooks, is an attempt to show the relative concentrations of these sensory nerve endings. Note that our faces and hands have out-sized concentrations of the ability to feel temperature, pain, and pressure (the only three kinds of sensory nerves). The nerves we use in archery, of course, are pressure nerves. Because so much neural processing is dedicated to the data coming from out hands, a great deal of life energy is allotted to dealing with that information. So, if our hands are not quite right, we will squirm, inch, nudge, jiggle, or flat out shove other body parts to make them right. All of which are disastrous when looking for consistent accuracy with a bow and arrows.

So, if you have a student struggling with consistency, look to their hands; spend some time on their routines of placement, refine these if necessary. More than a few Olympic recurve archers have made a tattoo mark on their bow hand to aid them in lining their bow with that hand. Yes, it is that important.






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How Does Remote Coaching Work?

I thought you might benefit from seeing a few exchanges between a student-archer/colleague and a coach (me) showing you how “remote coaching” goes. I did not include all of the photos/videos of the student for reasons of privacy and to keep the length of this post down to something reasonable. Note The student is working with a local coach and learning NTS Recurve and consulting me on the side (because he/she can). This discussion took place over several days.

* * *

My coach has me working on basically bringing my draw hand down (on the draw) and then back up and under my chin once I was about to anchor. I was kind of hunting around for my anchor. I still am! I was also working on not moving my head around to try and find my anchor too. In trying to make this change to drawing under my chin, I started holding my bow hand too long. Chaos…

I can’t remember, were you shooting with a “corner of the mouth” anchor before? If so, learning to get to a “low anchor” aka “under chin” or Olympic anchor can sometimes be a struggle. A key point people tend to leave out is that if you are going for a low anchor, your chin needs to be higher than with the side of the face anchor. Ideally we would like to have the jaw line horizontal but not everybody is shaped that way. To give you an idea as to how much the chin has to come up I urge female archers to “channel their inner haughty princess” to get about the right angle.

Also KiSik Lee, or his co-author, confused a lot of people with his first book which had photos and words indicating that one needed to draw 2-3 inches below the chin and then come up. In his second book he corrected that to 1˝ or a tad more … in other words, just under the chin. The key points are you want to get to full draw quickly, into a position you can feel in your back and shoulders, then find your anchor position quickly. Often students, in an attempt to be exacting, work too slowly (trying to be oh, so correct) and as a consequence run out of energy on each shot, hence the feeling of struggling. The draw needs to be smooth and strong and quick but not rushed. Honestly, most men tend to draw too fast (at first) and most women tend to draw too slow (at first).

If you look at YouTube videos of some of the Korean women, you will see smooth, strong, confident draws that are quite quick but there is no rushing involved. Of course, that is what many tens of thousands of practice shots will get you, so don’t expect that level of performance. (They are, in effect, professional archers who train and compete six days a week.) But you can see in their form what the idea is that you are striving for.

Once you have practiced this a lot, you will find it is easier to relax unneeded muscles while executing your draw which will make it even easier.

For some reason, many coaches do not point out that you should do the bulk of your practice on a new form element with a stretch band or a very light drawing bow. (I use a 10# bow a lot in my coaching.) Once the student (You!) gets the hang of the move, then you can move up from 10# to 14 # to 20# to full draw weight quite quickly. It is much harder to try to learn a new move at whatever your full draw weight is.

Yes, when I first started writing to you I was using a high anchor and started having string slap issues when I switched to a low anchor. Soon after I started corresponding with you, I found a coach. I believe I asked if you had heard of him, but I guess the archery world is big (even though it can seem extremely small at the same time). Ah, one thing that is bugging me is that I can’t seem to get my hand snug along my jaw. I do use a stretch band and I’m having success there. But once I put on my finger tab and pull my bow my hand seems to be nowhere near my jaw. I’m getting nice contact between my lips and the string though. I’m not sure if I’m putting too much emphasis where it’s not needed.

I have been watching Khatuna Lorig and Mackenzie Brown. My coach wanted me to especially watch Mackenzie because her coach uses the NTS. You’re totally right about drawing too slowly. I am guilty of this and it does make me tired. When I see pros shoot, they come to full draw so fluidly that it’s hard to see the “steps.”

I still have the 19# recurve bow I borrowed from my summer archery club. I’ll try and work with that after I work with my stretch band more.

Many people have a steep jaw line and the NTS “recommendation” of a lot of hand contact along the jaw is just not possible. (You need a bit of a square jaw for that to happen—see the photo of Coach Kim Hannah, her jaw line is more vertical, so she can’t do the full NTS anchor position.) Have your daughter take a still picture of your head and shoulders at anchor to see what you have going. A video isn’t necessary (unless you would like that).

Regarding the string slap, did your coach talk to you about rotating your elbow so the crease is near vertical?

And if you are using a ledge on your tab I would suggest you reconsider that. The only use for a ledge is if you are having trouble reaching the target. If not, take it off, put it in a Baggie, label it and set it aside for experimentation later. A ledge really interferes with the NTS “hand along jaw line” position.

Also, these tabs that are providing places to put your thumb and little finger are just providing leverage for digits you do not want involved at all! (IMHO, of course! ;o) We teach beginners to make a Girl Scout salute (same as the Cub Scout salute but I like to tweak the boys). From there, they are to curl their fingers and slide them up under the arrow. This makes a classic three-fingers-under string grip. Once they reach anchor, they are allowed to break the contact between their thumb and little finger (by relaxing them) and voila (see photo—see pad of thumb and little finger nail touching). Once they get used to these positions they can adopt them with little effort and attention. The little finger is loose and is just in a relaxed (curled) position. The thumb is slightly extended but it ends up below your jaw line, out of the way. If the thumb is up anywhere else, it blocks getting into a good anchor position.

Looking at your photo at anchor, you chin is up nicely, maybe a bit too far! If you were to lower your head a tad, you would get a “nose touch” that is the string would touch your nose. As long as this doesn’t affect your release it gives you feedback as to whether your head is in the right position.

Note, also, in the second photo that the string and arrow are gone and your hand has not had time to move much, so who cares what it does thereafter? By observing the movement of your body parts after the release, though, you can infer the conditions during the release. We would like to see the string hand move straight back away from the target and stop with your fingertips just under your ear. This is not something you do, this is something that happens determined by using the correct muscles to pull the bowstring directly away from the target and then your fingers giving way when your back muscles are still flexing. Since you can only move so far in that position (range of motion) your fingers end up under your ear and stop because your shoulders cannot move any farther.

You look good in this photo.

Thank you very much for the feedback. I have been concerned about the nose touch too. I will try to angle my head a bit and see what that does. My coach said it sometime almost looks like I’m moving my head away from the string. I’ve been trying to think about the release too; not plucking the string. I’ll continue to work. 🙂

If you can pluck, you are either out of line or not pulling with the right muscles. The release is something you shouldn’t think about. Observe it (take videos, whatever) and then adjust things. If your hand moves in any direction other than straight back, it is not your release that needs fixing, its your line or the muscles you have chosen to use.

The nose touch is not an essential. Play with a light weight bow . Get to full draw and move your head around. The key elements are that you have to have your head turned far enough (so your nose doesn’t block your vision), your eyes need to be level (for optimal vision), and your chin needs to be up (just a little bit, as we discussed before). Everything else is nonessential. So, if you can get all of that and a nose touch, it is gravy! Enjoy!

PS One of the joys of archery is you can do some rather hard work and see a benefit in short order. Often in work or family matters, projects go on and on and on (teenagers!).

I picked up my 19# bow to work on this. So luxurious to have more than one to choose from. I find that when I work with the stretch band and I release it, my hand does go back to my shoulder. When I release with my bow my hand ends up somewhere around the right side of my chest. I’m working on it in a relaxed way.

The key is your draw elbow. If you maintain the arc of your draw elbow through the shot, it stays high and your hand will slide back until your fingertips are no farther back than under your ear (end of the range of that motion). This is the true end of the shot, for your body. We wait until the bow finishes its “bow” as a bit of overkill because that bow’s “bow” has information in it that tells us about the forces acting on the bow at the time of release, and … well … enquiring minds want to know such things. In order for your hand to go back farther, touch your shoulder, etc. your elbow must drop downward, which is a movement unassociated with the shot itself and so does not affect the shot and is, at best, an affectation, but one that misleads because how well you do that movement doesn’t tell you anything about the shot.


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Back Tension from Different Anchor Positions

QandA logoI got an absolutely fascinating question about anchor points just yesterday. Here it is:

Hi, Coach Ruis:
I am working on my anchor point and back tension. I typically use a split finger/chin/nose anchor point for my Olympic bow and sight. I also recently acquired a Samick Sage recurve I use for roving/stump shooting. I have been trying to figure out string walking/point of arrow aim for my Samick for stumping.

I started to use a three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor to reduce the string walking crawl sizes relative to a split finger, under chin anchor. Using the corner of the mouth anchor and string walking, my crawls decreased ~75% in size. My precision using the corner of the mouth anchor has also improved noticeably over my under chin anchor (and the bow sounded much happier when loosing).

My question really is about back tension. When using the three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor, all of a sudden I can easily feel the barrel of the gun through my upper back relative to the chin/nose anchor. My draw length increased a full inch using the corner of the mouth anchor, so I am guessing this is the cause of the new positive upper back sensation.

I am thinking that if I could get this sensation with my Olympic bow/chin/nose anchor, this would be a very good thing. How can I make this happen?

* * *

There are quite a few changes going on in both of these anchoring positions. One you do not mention is draw arm position. When using a “high” anchor, corner of the mouth or higher, your draw arm position is different. (Stand up, assume the position of your low, under chin, anchor and then switch to the high anchor position and note the different positions of your draw arm at full draw.) The whole purpose of the low anchor is to be able to shoot longer distances. Back when everyone “shot off of the point” the line of sight across the arrow point and the point of aim (POA) fixed the arrow point in space somewhat. To get more distance it was necessary to lower the back end of the arrow, hence the lower anchor position for longer shots. This draw arm position affects the use of muscles in your back.

Shooting long distances also results in upper body tilt, which changes eye angle and lots of other things that affect “feel.”

Another point you do not mention is head tilt. In order to get a workable low anchor, I must tilt my head up slightly. If I use the same head position as I have with my high anchor for my low anchor shooting, my string fingers, positioned under my jaw line are on a surface sloping down, so when the shot is loosed, the top finger slides along the jaw line … downward which creates resistance and drag. By tilting your chin up slightly the path the string follows as the string flicks them out of the way is cleared.

Such are the sources of different feelings (along with the ones you mention).

My impression is that the high anchor encourages involvement of the muscles somewhat higher in your back, which when bunched up due to contraction are easier to feel. The low anchor involves muscles lower in your back which I suspect are somewhat harder to feel. (When archery coaches talk about using muscles lower in your back, they are referring to muscles lower … in your upper back.) So, I suspect that the difference in “feel” is real and you basically do not want to have the same feeling of back tension in both because that would mean you were using the same muscles when your arm angle was different.

If shooting Barebow as you describe (which I love) is relatively new to you, then the sensations in your back are relatively new and hence more noticeable. With time they might fade to the same level of feeling as in your high anchor shooting. Also, in many shooting techniques, surrogates for back tension are employed. For example, many of the Koreans focus on the feeling of the position of their draw elbow instead of the feeling in their backs. To some extent this is because the feeling of tension in the back diminishes due to humdrum regularity.

Another possibility is that you might need to open your stance when shooting Olympic Recurve. If you are particularly flexible, you may not be engaging your back muscles enough to get a strong feeling. In Rick McKinney’s book, “The Simple Art of Winning,” he claims that having an open stance allowed him to “get into his back” better. I found this puzzling at first, until I found some pictures of Mr. McKinney (in his prime) with his open stance and his draw elbow 2-3 inches past line. If he had been using a square stance, his elbow would have been even farther past line which have had negative influences on his shots. Unfortunately, their success lead to the adoption of the open stance by almost everyone, but this is a source of problems. In McKinney’s and Pace’s cases the open stance reduced their ability to get in line, which lead to a stronger feeling of back tension, strong enough that they could use that feeling to tell whether they were in the correct full draw position. If you are not as flexible as they were, this would be a mistake as it would probably reduce the quality of your alignment (as it does for hundreds/thousands of archers, young and old, I observe).

The only way to tell whether this is in play for you is to experiment a bit. I like to use a 10# bow for this, but any light drawing bow will do. Start with a square stance and draw to anchor and see what your back feels like. With a 10# bow you can play a little, moving your draw arm and shoulder around and feeling the effects of those position changes. Then open your stance by 10 degrees and repeat. Then another 10 degrees, etc. McKinney shot with about an 80 degree open stance when he was shooting in stiff wind (the torsion in your trunk helps stabilize your stance), so you can go as far as you want with this experiment … or as far as you can. ;o) The key thing is if you get a better feeling in your back with one of those stances and you can maintain good line, then this is something you might want to incorporate into your shot. The key element, though, is maintaining or achieving good line. In the Chicago area, you can recognize almost any recurve archer who has worked with me as they probably shooting from a closed stance. (Orthodox sources on form and execution do not even mention closed stances any more.) A closed stance makes it easier for you to get in line and after my students learn to shoot with good line I encourage to explore any other stance they want, as long as they maintain good line.

Is this enough food for thought? If not, do note that high and low anchors do change draw lengths (and affect tunes thereby). For compound archers changing from “fingers” to “release” or the reverse also affects draw length.


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More on the Mental Game of Archery

Regular readers of my scribblings will know that I raid golf instruction for ideas regarding archery. And my last post was on the Mental Game of Archery involved some golf stuff. Well, here is some more: a post by mental game (golf) guru David Mackenzie of Canada. As you read, see if you find anything that applies to archery. (If you don’t end up with “all of it” you need to look closer. Steve)

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The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Golfers
September 25, 2013
David MacKenzie

In my opinion, the top players in the world share 7 things in common beyond having a good golf swing. Here, they are.


Life is short. So why anyone would want to spend hundreds of hours trying to improve in the wrong way is crazy. Beating ball after ball at the same target at the driving range and coming away thinking you’ve mastered the game only takes you backwards. How many golfers wish they could take their range game to the course? 99% of them. The other 1% (the elite), practice in a way that is challenging and simulates course conditions. Hitting a bucket of balls to the same target over and over is easy and it’s nothing like playing on the course. The top players make every second count when practicing, so they’re working all areas of the game to the max. The first thing to do in trying to get better at golf is to think about the way you practice, and change your routine. I’ve worked with many players of all abilities and one of the major factors in success is the way you practice. Make practice hard and as much like the golf course as possible.


Staying in the present means that you give whatever you are doing your complete, undivided attention with no distractions of the past or future. In golf, this means you’re not thinking about your score, how your playing partners might be judging your performance, why you think you just sliced that tee shot or 3 putted the last hole. All your energy is on the process of hitting shot at hand and then enjoying the walk in between.

It’s easy to see how counter-productive it is not to be in the present – just think back to your last round where you started playing well and then thought about shooting your best score (into the future), only for your game to unravel. The same thing happens when you start to think about bad shots you hit (in the past). Being solely in the present is easier said than done I know (like everything else it takes practice), but there are good techniques to prevent these tension causing shifts in thinking. I’ve got plenty of techniques for getting better at staying in the present and relaxing in between shots in my Ultimate Mental Game Training System (2016 Edition).


Good players understand the importance of the fundamentals as it’s the foundation for a good golf swing. How you grip the club, how far you stand from the ball, how good your posture is, how good your ball position is and how well you align to the target are all way more important than just trying to swing the club correctly. The fundamentals need to be worked on continuously as it’s easy to get into bad habits, even for Tour players. It’s always worth a check up from your local pro to make sure you have these right. Alignment is the one that requires the most maintenance. You could argue that a consistent tempo is also “fundamental” to a good swing.


The eyes are probably the golfer’s most important asset. Once they commit to a target, the top players imagine exactly how the shot will look, even what the ball’s going to do when it lands. How clearly you define your target and your shot shape before playing each shot will have a huge impact on how well you execute it. It quietens your mind and allows your subconscious play the shot, as opposed to conscious control with technical thoughts, which just doesn’t work as well.


The top players in the world all go through the exact same routine before (and after) every shot, even down to the number of practice swings and looks at the target. The routine acts to prepare you as best as possible for the shot, and going through the same sequence right up until you swing, means there’s no time for negative thoughts to creep in. Focusing on your routine also distracts you from the importance of the shot you are about to play – it makes every shot feel the same regardless of the situation. Your mind stays quiet.


I’ve worked with enough players to know that the good ones know powerful techniques to calm themselves down to prevent nerves turning into panic and negatively affecting performance. They are very self-aware and know how guide their minds away from negative thoughts and towards positive ones. They use nerves to their advantage. There are many ways to do this such as breathing techniques or having special thoughts/places to go in your head in between shots. This could be looking up at the sky or the trees, anything to switch off your golf brain so you’re not thinking about your score or swing. I recently heard of a player that would try to solve math problems in his head when it all got too much out there! So there are countless ways to do it.


Being able to accept every shot whatever the outcome should become a key part of your game. The optimal state for golf would be to become emotionally indifferent to good and bad shots. Most Tour pros have acceptance built into the routine and they tell themselves that although they have a positive intention for the shot, if it doesn’t go where they want it to, it’s better to accept it and move on, than get disappointed or frustrated. Try verbalizing this in your head before your next shot. Also, try making a deep breath or the action of putting the club back in the bag your signal that the shot is over and it’s time to get back into the present. There’s plenty of time to analyze your round when it’s over!

Ingrain these things and make them a habit!



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Thinking While Shooting

Occasionally I run into a student who has been thinking his way through every shot. It is always shocking when I discover this as I don’t look for it. I have been doing some writing about this topic lately and while doing so ran across this tidbit:
In a 2013 survey, 28 PGA Tour golf professionals we’re asked about what their favorite swing thought was.danger-sign-b

“Here’re the results:
•  18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing.
•  10 who did have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through, instead of hitting at the ball or they focused on the desired shape of their shot.
•  None of them said they had any technical thoughts about their swing.”

From Darrell Klassen’s Cut the Crap Golf Blog

I also recall baseball great Yogi Berra being asked what he thought about while hitting and his answer was (approximately) “If I had to think while hittin’ I couldn’t hit nothin’!”

If you have students who are talking themselves through their shots (mentally), you need to find ways to discourage that practice. It is a real barrier to better performances.


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Principles-Based Archery and Coaching

I work with a few coaches who are trying to expand their archery knowledge so as to be able to work with more students. (Mentoring coaches is important. If you aren’t doing it—either as a mentor or being mentored—think about it.) In one case I am teaching a recurve archer/coach about compound archery. Some coaches are more comfortable sticking to what they know best and that is fine. You do not have to learn about multiple styles, you can specialize. I do think, however, that a principles-based approach can help coaches apply what they know to different styles of archery (for those interested) as well as different variables within their chosen style and my intent for this post is to give an example of this.

This comment is based upon a very good archery instructional video: “How to Find a Recurve Anchor Point” hosted by Archery 360 (a site of the Archery Trade Association) and this video was made in conjunction with World Archery. It is available on YouTube here.

This video is wonderfully made, with excellent production values and high quality presentations. The archers shooting demonstrated excellent form (this is not always the case). And, of course, I had a quibble.

In discussing the characteristics of a high quality recurve anchor position they made the claim that the nose touch by the sting is intended as a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position. This is debatable at best, actually I think this is wrong. Rather than a mechanism to set the bow into a vertical position, it is a mechanism to make consistent one’s head position. In the video, a illustration was drafted of how the bow being placed off vertical somehow changes the position of the string on the nose as a “tell” and this allows the archer to straighten his/her bow up so that it contacts the nose correctly. This might be true if the archer were struggling with holding his/her bow anywhere near vertical. It also might be true if archers didn’t put such a premium on the nose touch that they will tilt their head to make the nose touch the string no matter what. (Have you seen this? I have.) I think this concept of what the nose touch is for is misleading. For one, the nose touch is not calibrated such that one could detect a canted bow at all well. For example, could you determine a 3 degree bow cant at the tip of your nose? Our sense of touch is limited in the first place and the tip of our nose is not anywhere near as sensitive to touch as, say, our fingertips or lips. In other words, the tips of our noses are not up to this task. In fact, without our eyes, we are very limited in determining plumb or level positions of our own body parts.

A "nose touch" can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlinghead position, primarily head tilt.

A “nose touch” can be incorporated into a side anchor or a center anchor (as here) or in a totally screwed-up anchor. Its primary function is in controlling head position, primarily head tilt.

The actual context for the nose touch, I believe, is that the bow is raised into a vertical position after we set our heads to be level (we hope)—a level head is needed because the eyes need to be level to function optimally. The nose touch occurs at anchor, confirming that both head and bow are vertical and the head is not tilted up or down. One can keep one’s eyes level and tilt ones head up and down (do it now and you will be agreeing with me, aka nodding). But tilting one’s head up and down changes the distance from the nock to the pupil of the aiming eye, which changes one’s sight marks. One does not, I believe, adjust the verticality of the bow based upon the touch of the nose. The nose touch is almost all about head position, not bow position.

These things are not minor quibbles because they can mislead archers as to the procedures they are to follow. When should the bow be made vertical? I think this needs to be done at the end of the raise. (Keeping the bow vertical as long as possible locks in the feel of the bow being vertical when shooting. Compare this with, say, trying to make the bow vertical just before the loose.) When should the head be made vertical? I think this is just before the raise. After that point, there are many other things to do and we do not need to add to that list. Since we want to “bring the bow to us and not move our bodies to our bows,” we need to establish where we want the bow to go.

Note The entire shot sequence is based upon a “set and move on” basis, that if done quickly enough, the things done earliest stay where they were set.

So, the sequence for recurve archers is: set head erect, eyes level (establish line of sight to target), raise bow to be vertical, draw and anchor, establishing nose touch which confirms verticality and sets head tilt to be consistent shot after shot. Having to wait for “nose touch” to check bow verticality and adjustments if necessary is inherently imprecise and also wasteful of time and energy at full draw.

Compound archers, on the other hand, check whether their bow is plumb after they hit anchor. This is facilitated by letoff, creating a draw weight at full draw that is a small fraction of the peak weight passed getting to full draw (a 60# bow can have a holding weight as low as 12#), thus allowing more time at full draw to check things, plus the fact that their sight apertures have bubble levels set in them that allow bows to be set perfectly plumb (if the bubble level is correctly set up).

As you can see, I think there are sound physical reasons for doing these things at these times. It may be a small point, but an archer mislead leads to difficulties later when sequences need to be shifted around and a “new shot sequence” learned.



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Shoulder Problems Shooting Low Indoors?

QandA logoAn Olympic Recurve student has been struggling a bit with bow shoulder soreness and emailed me the other day with this question:
I have been doing many tests to understand why sometimes my shoulder hurts and I believe I found out why. I should keep my shoulder down, but sometimes I don’t and I don’t even notice. It happens more often when I’m shooting the lower target indoors. And a archer I meet at competitions told me that it happens to him as well and he is taller than me, so it should be even worse for him, and he has been shooting for some years. I believe that when shooting at 70 meters it is easier to control. Am I wrong?”

* * *

They are two sides of the same card. When shooting at close range and your target face is low, archers tend to try to shoot with level shoulders and just holding their bow lower. This changes the angle of the arm entering the shoulder arm joint, which exerts an upward force on the shoulder which can result in a “raised shoulder” which can lead to injury. (The injury stems from throwing this upward force at the shoulder onto the relatively small rotator cuff muscles, whose job it is to stabilize the shoulder joint, but which are not up to this task, especially if high draw weight is involved.)

The solution is to keep one’s upper body geometry the same and make tilting adjustments using the lower body.

“The solution is to keep one’s upper body geometry the same
and make tilting adjustments using the lower body.”

To shoot the lower targets indoors without disturbing your upper body geometry, you have to tilt your upper body downward slightly from the waist (only). This is done by slightly (slightly!) pushing one’s hips away from the target (rear hip moves to the right if you are right-handed). Did I say slightly?

At 70 m it is necessary to do the reverse, push one’s hips slightly toward the target to tilt the upper body up slightly, thus keeping your upper body in the same geometry.

In this fashion we can shoot low and short using the same geometry as high and far … by tilting the platform (our lower body) from which we shoot.

When shooting up and down at extreme angles, there are other techniques but those are a different topic.


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Are You or Your Students Suffering from the Instant Gratification Cycle?

One of my colleagues dropped a student he was working with because in between coaching sessions, his student would either solicit or accept coaching direction from other archers and when they got back together he had done none of what they agreed upon he needed to do to get better. Instead the student would want to discuss a long list of things he had been trying suggested by fellow archers. Requests to have the student check in with the coach before just trying things, but that did not happen.

This student was suffering from a malady common in amateur athletic circles. Desiring instant results, if something appears to not be working, they would try something else. The “something else” may be something they just made up or something suggested by another archer.

As archers we are often in the advice business for myriad reasons: archery is a social sport, we all want to encourage newbies and those struggling so they will get better and stay in the game, etc. (As coaches, we are not supposed to offer advice unless asked!) In fact, there is such an established pattern of giving advice, especially older archers to younger archers, that we equip our younger archers with a canned response. If someone offers them advice, we suggest they say “Gee, thanks, mister, I’ll tell my coach the next time I see her/him.” If a young archer merely brushes off such attempts to “help” them, they can get a reputation for being aloof or “stuck up” or worse.

When an archer is trying to get better, they are trying to do things differently from what they had been doing which is always awkward. Whether or not those changes are successful can’t be determined until the “new moves” are practiced until they become “normal.” This means that serious archers need to be patient. Coaches need to explain what “being patient” means in terms of practice time and clock time so there are no misunderstandings. Coaches need to explain to archers that if they flit from one tip to another like a bee harvesting pollen, they will end up with a whole mess of nothing.

Archers need to know what to do with such tips when they are offered. In addition to the above canned response we teach to younger archers, we suggest that they write down such tips so they can discuss them with us via text/email or in person. Sometimes something valuable is suggested. Knowing that Coach is open to suggestions helps build trust in the coach-athlete relationship.

Whatever happens on the relationship front, an archer has to avoid like the plague the Instant Gratification Cycle:

a problem occurs → something new is tried → something works somewhat better  → another problem pops up → etc.

A basic fact of human behavior is the Hawthorne Effect: which is that when something new is tried, things tend to get better … for a short time. The first time this effect was described it was used to explain an experiment done on office workers. The office workers were told that if the lighting were slightly better, it would help their work and when it was brightened a bit  office productivity increased. Then they were told that if it were made even brighter, etc. … and their productivity increased again. Then they were told that the optimal amount of lighting had been determined and the lighting was changed once again, and productivity went up again. The final change was to lighting exactly as it was when the experiment first began. But, after some weeks, the measured productivity dropped back to what it had been before the experiments began.

Some say that the Hawthorne Effect is just a result of expectations on the part of the participants: if you expect to do better (reasonably, not magically, there needs to be a reason) you tend to do better. But the “improvements” are short-lived. This has ramifications when archers are looking at form changes and equipment changes, etc. First impressions are not always valid as they tend to be better than one will get in the long term. So, patience is required to make rapid progress in archery form or in one’s equipment/equipment setup. (Yes, you have to slow down to speed up.) The sure way to slow down someone’s progress is to work on something for only a short time and then switch to another thing, and another,…

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When I Raise My Bow, How High Should I Raise It?

QandA logoThe question in the title of this post came from my very best student. He is my very best student because he challenges me to support my opinions and not just by asking. He does his research. (I like this!)

This question came from a critique I had of a videoed shot of his. In the video, his bow hand (and bow, of course) went up substantially and then came down substantially before the string was loosed. We had talked about this before and I thought we had an agreement on not doing this.

My recommendation goes like this: if you find yourself raising your bow above where it ends up when the release occurs, you are wasting energy and time during your shot. Doing this, your bow passes through the position where it will end up, is lifted higher against gravity and then lowered into position, a position it has already been in. This, I argue is extraneous motion, which costs energy and time and has no positive benefit.

My student then jumped on YouTube and showed me two of Korea’s finest female archers doing just that: raising the bow up above where it would be finally and then lowering it into place.

Now, I have been told that a study had been done that supported my position. Researchers hooked up an archer’s deltoid muscles (on their upper bow arm the ones that raise the arm) to a myograph and then had them raise the bow and stop it in shooting position. They measured the muscle activity involved in this task. They then had the archer raise the bow higher and then lower it into shooting position and again measured the muscle activity. What they found is that when the bow was raised and stopped where it was supposed to be, they got consistent muscle activity. When it was raised up above that position and lowered into it, they got more variable, less consistent muscle activity. So not only does the second approach to raising the bow waste time and energy, it results in a less consistent shoulder stability. (I asked for a copy of this study but the guy who told me about it couldn’t find it. If any of you know of this study, I will very much appreciate a copy or a link to it.)

So, the question remains, why did these elite Korean Olympic archers perform this unnecessary move when they raise their bows? As I thought about it, I came up with a number of possibilities. From the video, it appeared that the bow height these Korean elites raised to initially was very close to the bow height they would need at 70 m. Since the Korean archery community is obsessed with the Olympics, the 70 m distant target is focused on very much. The question comes then, whether you should have a different draw indoors, where one’s bow is not so high? Their answer may have been: for year round consistency it is better to keep a consistent raise (designed around 70 m targets) and just insert a lowering of the bow step  into “indoor position” when it is needed. This is one possibility.

Another possibility is based on the claim many archers who make this move have: they claim that raising the bow up higher makes the draw easier. A cursory look at some additional videos brings this claim into doubt. Several Olympic recurve archers doing the up-down move didn’t complete their draw until the bow was back down. Since the draw weight of recurve bows just goes up and up, this argument would be that the move was made to make the easiest part of the draw easier but left the later, harder part of the draw alone. Again, this makes no sense. Also, one could argue that pulling straight down is more awkward that pulling at shoulder height, so the higher the draw is begun, the more awkward the draw becomes. I do not see how that helps. Maybe some one of you has more expertise in this and can straighten me out.

Now, when we ask our archers why they do things, we should not expect well-reasoned answers or even sensible answers. They may just parrot what they were told or were just making it up as they go (a very common thing amongst humans, I am told). But something apparently feels like a benefit to these archers, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have adopted it in the first place. Also, “sky drawing” or “drawing high” is prohibited by many organizational rules (WA specifically and WA rules are the Olympic rules). If one gets a little carried away one and raised a bit too high could end up either disqualified or required to draw the bow differently than practiced, neither conducive to a good outcome.

Should the bow get raised higher and then lowered to this point or should you just raise to this point, that is the question!

Should the bow get raised higher and then lowered to this point or should you just raise to this point, that is the question!

My Analysis of the “High Raise”
There is a benefit that is significant in doing this and the benefit goes to those whose bow arm deltoid muscles are somewhat weak: most youths, adults with little upper body development, etc. This is what I see: when the bow is raised and for some of the kids I see doing this, the bow is almost thrown up into the air, and lowered, while it is being lowered the full weight of the bow is not being supported. So a six-pound bow, while it is “falling” down from its high point to its final resting spot, the archer may only need a five-pound force along the way. Actually, when the bow reaches its peak, the force needed at that point drops to zero, then climbs up to the force equal to the weight of the bow when it stops moving. But while that is happening, what if you could transfer half of the load of holding the weight of that bow to your draw arm? Many people do not realize that the draw arm is contributing a sizeable fraction of the force holding the bow up. This is because the bow hand is on the bottom half of the bow (the pivot point being the typical center point) and the force of the draw is back and slightly up (a second order lever is being employed, just like in a construction crane). If the draw force is substantial, e.g. 40# and the portion of it in the “up” direction constitutes 5%, then 2# of the bow’s weight is being held in the string hand! If 10%, then 4# is being held. This is more than half the weight of the bow being held up by the draw side!

So, for an archer who finds holding up a 6# bow or an 8# bow with just their bow arm difficult, if they do this up-down maneuver and draw while the bow is coming down, by the time it comes to rest, the bow arm has to hold up only a fraction of the total bow’s weight!

I think this interpretation is valid because I see a great many young archers who are rushed into a heavier metal-risered bow (either compound or recurve) who have real problems dropping their bow arms post loose. This is because the bow is too heavy for them to support with just their bow arm. And if it is too heavy after the shot, it is too heavy before the shot.

Okay, Should I Change the Way I Teach the Draw?
This is always a complicated question. If you have a student who throws the bow up and then lowers it into position, should you suggest they change? This is the real question. It really depends upon their situation. For the brilliant elite archers from Korea, you would be making a mistake. In fact for any archer with mature form, you should not recommend a change unless what they are doing in this context is causing them problems (they run out of energy, they drop their bow arm later in tourneys costing then points, etc.). The reason is that you must always weigh the training costs against the potential gains. If your student is not struggling, then making such a change might not be a source of better scores at all. They are just wasting energy and if they have enough energy, there is no problem. But, there is also an opportunity cost! While you are working to make a form change for which there is dubious benefit, you are not working on other things that have more significant benefits.

The answer to this question is quite different if an archer is just building good form or rebuilding their shot. Those would be times to consider such changes. It also helps if you can discern whether this “up-down” maneuver was something they learned to cope with a too heavy bow when they were young and just carried it into their adult form. If their deltoids are still too weak (especially true for compound archers who are shooting loaded up bows) this may still be an option, especially if the archer doesn’t want to go to the gym and build up their deltoids. If it isn’t, then why build in superfluous movements into a shot?

This Is What I Teach
It varies somewhat but has the same criteria. At its heart are the facts that compound archers has very heavy bows to cope with, while recurve archers has full draw weight at full draw to cope with. In both cases, we want to minimize the amount of time spent at full draw. The more time, the more energy is burnt while under the stress of the draw or the weight of the bow which one is trying to hold steadily.

I suggest the following procedure: the bow should be raised, such that when one executes their draw and anchor, the bow is properly positioned at the end of those steps … naturally. Why spend time moving the aperture onto the target if you can arrange to have it on target in the flow of normal events.

Here is a drill to find that position: I ask the archer to raise their bow and sight through their aperture, lining it up on a target center. Then I ask them to close their eyes, draw and anchor, and then open their eyes. When they open their eyes, I ask them where the aperture is lined up with respect to the target. If they start dead center and then after executing their draw and anchor movements, the aperture ends up at 5 o’clock in the blue, for example, I ask then, “Where should you start your aperture if you want to end up seeing gold at the end?” For the “5 o’clock in the blue” example, the answer would be 11 o’clock in the blue. (Just go straight through the center and out the other side as far from center as you started aka “same color on the other side of the target clock.”) So, if your draw and anchor naturally moves your aperture slightly down and to the right, as in this example, you would start slightly high and to the left. Easy peasy.

Don’t expect elite level consistency from intermediate archers here (or ever)! The more variable their form, the more variable will be their “starting point” or “pre-aim point.” The idea is to create a situation in which only very minor corrections in bow position are needed at full draw.

This makes a lot of sense for athletes who shoot single distances: indoor archers at 20 yd/18 m, outdoor Olympic recurve archers at 70 m, etc. You would have that one starting point on that one target face at that one distances. But what about field archers where many different sized targets are shot and the same targets are shot at multiple distances? I have found that if your aperture moves “down and to the right slightly” as in the example, then because in general larger targets are used at longer distances, the starting point is fairly similar on most targets and I can leave the exact pre-aim starting point up to my subconscious mind. When I raise the bow, if I am an “above, left” starting point archer, I just start above and left of target center. How much I leave up to my subconscious mind.

In my case, I was an unfit archer shooting a heavy compound bow. Using this technique I became much less antsy about being lined up in time. So when I hit anchor and was checking my scope bubble and peep concentricity, there was just gold in my sight ring. This reduced the amount of time I spent at full draw, conserved my energy, and made me less nervous/anxious—all of which were distinct “positives” for me.

Try this in your own shooting. If you feel a benefit, then maybe this is something you want to teach.


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