Tag Archives: Physical Training

Skill and Tempo

I have been thinking a lot about the difference between acquiring archery technique and acquiring archery skill lately. Taking the chance that I may be oversimplifying this in this post, when you have learned archery technique fairly well, you have learned how to group your shots on a target; moving that group into the highest scoring zone of the target requires skill(s).

I was reminded while walking our dog this morning that if you are out walking with another, if the other wants to walk faster or slower than you do, it is quite problematic. Matching your pace to that of an elderly parent is an exercise in patience (and love, and …). Trying to walk a dog who wants to go at a difference pace is also a struggle.

What we tend not to recognize is that the pace at which we shoot arrows, our shooting tempo, is also a key factor in reaching higher levels of performance … but we are often unaware of our own tempo while shooting. And then when we find our good tempo, that idiot with a timer and a whistle keeps interrupting us to go score and fetch our arrows.

To explore this, you can ask your archers to explore shooting very, very slowly and very, very quickly to see if either “works.” They almost never do work (because, I think, every archer wants to show off a little and overdoes it). I then go into “Goldilocks’ Mode” and give them the “too fast, too slow, just right” speech about shooting tempo.

To get tempo on your side, you need to find the tempo that works for you (or for your student) … and then find ways to hang onto it.

You can count off shots in practice to find your tempo, but this is not advised to do in competition (as counting is conscious thinking) unless you have lost your tempo and are desperate to get it back. Like any other part of shooting, shooting in tempo can be memorized.

There are other things to use (metronomes!), counting off your shots on video, etc. A longish exercise is for you, as coach, to time shots with a stopwatch (I time from stabilizer tip moving upward to release) and then logging those times with arrow scores. If you find a “magic zone,” where high quality shots exist, then you can train around that zone. One way is to simply start the stopwatch at tip raise and if they shoot too early you say “Too early, do it again.” If they get to the end of the time zone, you say “Let down!” Eventually more and more shots will occur in the right time, then the archer can relax and concentrate on shooting quality shots alone.

I suggest to you, that if you have advanced archers in your care, some tempo training may just elevate their skill and performances. (Happy archer, happy coach!)

PS For those of you who object to skill being separated from technique, and who claim that technique is involved in developing skill, I say “Yes, and your point is … ?” My point is that it is not just technique that drives better scores. Shooting perfect shot after perfect shot and getting lousy groups because you possess no tuning ability cannot be solved by working harder on your technique. By calling these things “archery skill” we might just get developing archers to focus on such things and even get them excited to learn more and the higher scores than may result from that learning.

If you want to learn more about all of the things you need to know about target archery that doesn’t involve “how to shoot arrows” may I suggest (Warning! Shameless plug incoming! Warning):




Filed under For All Coaches

Follow-up on “Committing to the Shot”

In a recent post (Committing to the Shot) I made the point that at some point or other, an archer (as well as golfers, baseball players, etc.) needs to commit to what they have planned to do in every shot. In the absence of such a commitment, our subconscious minds may come up with their own ideas on how to achieve the goal. What I did not do in that former post was indicate where this commitment needs to take place.

Golfers have more variables than we do: putts take different tracks at different speeds, the ball can be made to curve left or curve right, as well as go straight, shots can be hoisted up high where the wind will affect them more are shot down low where the wind will affect them less, the turf itself has different textures which affect the roll of the ball (the “fair way” vs. the “rough way”—those are the original terms), etc. In archery, we may have wind to contend with, and a shot clock, but little else, so the physical choices are fewer. Unfortunately, though, some of our choices include previously learned shot techniques, that have been shelved but can be called upon subconsciously.

Because of various factors, I suggest that the commitment needs to go after the shot visualization just before the raising of the bow. The visualization is a plan for the shot transmitted to the subconscious mind. The commitment is the command to the subconscious mind to “stick to the plan” and don’t consider other options (equal to a “Do Not Improvise” command). Either you commit to your shot at that point, with the sight, sound, and feel of such a shot just vividly imagined, or you need to change your plan and start over.

There is an aspect of timing involved here. From the visualization, there are just a few seconds before that “image” fades from short term memory, so it is “commit and go” time right after it.

Training This I do not recommend dumping all of this on an archer from the first moment they think they are serious about archery. I recommend that the shot sequence be taught as a series of physical steps first. When it has been learned then you can spring upon your students that the shot sequence is also the framework for all of the mental activities involved in shooting.

Shot Sequences The shot sequence or shot routine is basically a guide as to where we need to place our attention, not to micro-manage each step of the process but to be there to observe whether anything is going wrong. If you are looking at your arrow’s nock when it is being attached at the nocking point (in the context of a shot, of course), but your mind is on “going to MacDonald’s after practice because boy, are you hungry,” you are ever more likely to attach the arrow in the wrong place or with the index vane in the wrong orientation or…. You just need to be “there” and “paying attention.”

An Aside The phrase “paying attention” is indicative of the feeling we all have that our supply of attention is finite. Our supplies of other mental properties seems not so bounded, e.g. love, hate, finding things humorous, etc. I tend to agree with this as our attention has been woven into our mental processes very deeply. For example, much of the information that comes into our eyes that results in neural pathways being activated is just jettisoned in our brains. The small cone of focus of our eyes that we can control, acquires information that is much less likely to be jettisoned. If one is focused on what one is observing and one is “paying attention” that is attending to that task, the information is even more likely to get into short term memory which is the only pathway to long term memory and from which we can “re-play” events that go wrong for us. If we are not “paying attention,” the information involved is much less likely to be kept. (If you are interested in these phenomena, I recommend the book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders to you.)


Filed under For All Coaches

When Is It Safe for Young Serious Archers to Start Weight Training?

When Is It Safe for Young Serious Archers to Start Weight Training?

This question has been brought up before and this column (linked below) addresses the issue clearly and simply.

When Can Kids Start Lifting Weights?


Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

More on Training Differences Between Males and Females

This article is by a weight lifting coach (aka strength and conditioning coach), an activity which is comparable to archery because we do reps of applying forces to moving objects, too. It is also important because our performances vary from day to day and there are differences between males and females regarding this level of consistency. Give it a read, if you are so inclined, and tell me what you think.



Filed under For All Coaches

Treating Tendonitis

I follow a blog called “Exercises for Injuries” by injury treatment guru Rick Kaselj of Canada. You’ll have to find his blog yourself as I couldn’t find a handy link to it. (I bought one of his shoulder injury products and that’s how I got on his list.) I tend to trust this source because he supplies sources for the studies he mentions and the ones I have checked have checked out. Also, be warned that his web-based ads are of the ilk of those irritating ads that go on and on and on and just when you think it is done, you get “But wait, there’s more.” I assume this kind of marketing works because so many people use it; I just find it tedious in the extreme.

Here is an excerpt form a recent blog post that has very interesting information regarding tendonitis which I believe applies to archers. I suffered from “Tennis Elbow” and a shoulder “inflammation” problem, both of which may not have involved an inflammation at all, which would explain why the treatments didn’t work (including cortisone injection).

* * *

Here they are three surprising things you need to know about Tennis Elbow:

#1 Inflammation
Many doctors and physical therapists still recommend icing and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for Tennis Elbow, in spite of the fact that the medical community has agreed that Tennis Elbow is not caused by inflammation.

This quote comes from a paper in the British Medical Journal: “Tendonitis such as that of the Achilles, lateral elbow [Tennis Elbow], and rotator cuff tendons is a common presentation to family practitioners and various medical specialists. Most currently practicing general practitioners were taught, and many still believe, that patients who present with overuse tendonitis have a largely inflammatory condition and will benefit from anti-inflammatory medication. Unfortunately, this dogma is deeply entrenched. Ten of 11 readily available sports medicine texts specifically recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for treating painful conditions like Achilles and patellar tendonitis despite the lack of a biological rationale or clinical evidence for this approach.”

There was also a study conducted in 2006. It was a controlled clinical pilot trial to determine whether icing decreases pain and helps to heal Tennis Elbow. The study had two groups of people with Tennis Elbow. The control group did exercises only. The test group did the same exercises and iced. Both groups showed the same amount of improvement, showing that icing provided no real benefit for Tennis Elbow.

#2 Shoulders
Many people (and health professionals) don’t realize it, but weak shoulder and scapular muscles can be a significant contributing factor to Tennis Elbow, because the elbows and wrists must be recruited to handle the more taxing, repetitive movements the shoulder and scapular muscles should be handling, but aren’t able to.

When we strengthen our shoulder and scapular muscles, it takes a lot of the load off of the elbows and wrists, thereby decreasing the strain and stress on them, which is what causes Tennis Elbow.

#3 Eccentric Contraction Exercises
There was a study done in 2005 that found that long-term, 71% of people using eccentric had completely recovered from Tennis Elbow as compared to only 39% that didn’t do eccentric and did only stretching (Martinez-Silvestrini 2005).

An eccentric contraction is when a muscle is lengthening while it is moving with resistance. Eccentric contractions produce collagen to help strengthen the muscles and tendons near your elbow, and this is what helps to heal your Tennis Elbow and prevent it from occurring again in the future.


1 Comment

Filed under For All Coaches

Do Your Students Have Balance Problems?

A key element of consistent accuracy is being still while executing shots and a key part of being still is maintaining good balance. Let’s explore this.

Do Your Students Have Balance Issues?
Rank beginners often adopt some interesting body moves at full draw: shuffling their feet, swaying back and forth, etc. Sometimes this is due to simplistic thinking, e.g. “Hmm, I am aimed off to the left so I will move over to the right … shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.” More often it is due to balance issues. The bow is a heavy object for a young child and holding it out at arm’s length is challenging. Most archers who stick with it some develop relatively stable form and we stop thinking about the role of balance in their shooting. This may be a mistake.

So, how do we check to see if they are struggling with balance? I’m glad you asked.

The simplest way is to watch them shoot. Pick out a spot near their head and line it up with a point in their visual background. If they are swaying of moving substantially at full draw, then you will see that pint on their cap (or whatever) moving. Also look for an inability to hold good, erect, full draw posture. If they are constantly shift their weight on their legs or front to back, then they are having problems. For a more sensitive “tell” you can watch the tip of their long stabilizer (if they use one) if it doesn’t settle into a single spot, with slight movements around a center of motion), there may be a balance problem. If they shoot Barebow recurve, the top limb tip can serve for this check.

What to Do About It
For young archers, serious drills are probably not the answer. Often their balance problems are rooted in holding a relatively heavy bow up at arm’s length. If they seem relatively still at full draw, but when the string is loosed either their bow drops like a rock or they tend to tip a great deal to control it, they have a common problem. An adult holding up a six-pound weight at arm’s length is no hard task, but for a 10-year old, holding up a four pound weight at arm’s length is quite difficult. The deltoid arm muscles responsible for holding their arm up haven’t developed much by that time. A partial solution is to have them spread their feet out a bit more. We can’t be specific because we don’t know if their stance was already somewhat wide or quite narrow. If their stance is quite narrow, have them open the width of their stance until their heels (not toes) are as far apart as their shoulders.

A commercial balance board, many of which are available.

In the companion article for archers in this issue, we describe self-exploratory activities based upon balance and stance. One option to address these issues is to lead them through these exercises.

Drilling for Balance There are all kinds of balance training gear available at reasonable costs. These can be as simple as a round disk of plywood with a board or half sphere attached to the bottom to more complicate devices involving inflatable disks. If you are a DIY person, you can make such things yourself. A piece of 3/4˝ plywood large enough to take their stance on, with a small piece of 1˝x 1˝ or 2˝x 2˝ wood running down the center of the short distance (across the stance line) makes a good “wobble board.” Kids have a great deal of fun shooting while standing on such a rig.

An even less expensive piece of drilling equipment can be made from swim noodles (see photo below left). Cut a couple of eight inch pieces of a swim noodle and place one piece cross ways under each of your archer’s feet. Then they shoot while trying to keep their balance standing that way.

All of these pieces of rehab/training equipment work by requiring extra effort to create and retain balance.

Regular drills and scoring games can be used to keep this kind of practice from becoming boring.

Practicing and Assessing by Themselves
There are things archers can do to improve their balance by themselves, even when they are not at the range.

They can take a couple of minutes when they are at the range and while shooting at a close butt. Simply shoot a number of arrows while sighting across a bow hand knuckle. If they are used to shooting off of their arrow’s point or using a sight, they need to shoot a number of arrows to get used to the correct height to hold the bow or they could line up their aperture/arrow point with their point of aim and then switch to looking at their knuckle. The object is to shoot and have the knuckle stay relatively lined up with the mark chosen before, during, and after the shot. Doing five or more shots this way at each practice session will lead to an appreciation for how steady they are and whether progress is being made to becoming more steady. If they are more steady, they are probably more balanced.

Similarly they can play balance games, while waiting for a bus or even watching TV. Simply pick up one foot and count how many seconds they can manage to keep it off of the ground (one thousand one, one thousand, two, . . .). Obviously they need to switch feet so both legs get worked out.

Back at the range or even at home they can draw on a target POA, close their eyes, count to a number (start at three, then move up when that become easy), then open their eyes to see if they are still lined up. If this is done at home, unless there is a home shooting station, this is best done with no arrow on the bow. This can be a game of “how long can you hold still at full draw.” It is a balance workout as well as an archery stamina workout.


Balance and stillness can be trained for. For your youngest charges, simple stance adjustments are suggested but not much more. With serious archers, more complicated training can be done with inexpensive or DIY training aids.

Do realize that balance is something that is invisible until you look for it and just because it is out of sight, it should not be out of a coach’s mind.



Filed under For AER Coaches

Getting Serious: Should I Recommend Physical Training?

At some point, every archer considers getting serious about archery. It is perfectly okay, of course, for them to stick with “just flinging arrows,” after all it is fun! It is also okay for them to explore the idea of becoming a serious competitive archer. Dreams of being at the Olympics are one thing, doing it quite another. They do not have to go “all in,” they can just give it a try, if they want to.

We have taught you our use of the terms “recreational archer” and competitive archer.” They basically cover the categories of archers who shoot just for fun (only for fun!) and those who want to learn how to compete and do well. Serious competitive archers are those who want to learn how to win.

And it is really easy to decide if they are cut out to become serious about their archery, it all comes down to whether or not they are willing to do the boring parts. This is one of those parts: becoming archery strong.

Just What Do They Mean by “Get Stronger?”
If a student-archer comes up to you and says “I need to get stronger,” what are you going to say? They do need guidance because they can waste a lot of time trying to “get strong” only to find out that what they are doing hurts their archery.

Archery is known as a “low arousal” sport. Basically that means archers do not want to get “pumped up” or really excited like one does while playing football. Archery is a repetition sport that requires archers to so the same thing over and over as precisely as possible. Because of that their basic physical platform is a body that uses as few muscles as possible with the rest being relaxed. Sure, they need to be able to stand up and stand steady, calmly, but they do not need immensely strong legs or arms, for example. These are things football linemen need in their strength profile but not archers. Archers do not need big biceps, either. These would get in the way of folding their draw arms at the elbow.

Well, what does need to be strong? You can figure this out by just walking mentally through an archery shot.

In order to be still and clam at full draw (for consistency’s sake), the foundation is a strong bow shoulder and a strong set of back muscles, primarily those needed to swing their draw shoulder around toward their spine. If you aren’t up on archery musculature, try this: stand up and hold your arms straight out to your sides. Now try to swing both arms on an horizontal arc so they would meet behind your back. Don’t worry, we don’t think even a contortionist can do this. You can bring your hands together in front of you, but you can only get so far when you swing your arms back. This is because the muscles responsible for this motion exist between and underneath your shoulder blades. They can contract (all muscles ever do is contract or relax) only so far and then … you stop. When you get to this awkward position you will feel those muscles, in the middle of your back, bunched up (that is contracted as far as they may be). Now you know which one’s we are talking about.

Many people think you need strong arms to be an archer but that turns out to be not true. In addition to those back muscles, you need strong upper arm muscles to hold your bow up. These are called the deltoid muscles (because they are shaped a bit like a Greek letter delta, D). If you stand up again and wrap your right hand around the very top of your left arm, then raise your left arm, you will feel those muscles harden (aka contract).

Archers can start on an “archery fitness program” by making these two sets of muscles stronger. There is more, much more, but they are just getting started getting stronger.

Building the Bow Arm Raisers
All archery exercises are the same for left-handers as well as right-handers. This is because we want to keep their bodies “balanced,” meaning the muscles on the left side are in as good a shape as those on the right side. So, all exercises that use just some side of the body are doubled: after you do one side, you repeat with the other.

Building Deltoid Strength The easiest way to build your ability to hold a bow up and steady is what are called “side raises” using a hand weight. You hold the hand weight to your side with your arm hanging straight down. You raise your arm until it is horizontal and then lower it back. That is “one repetition” of the exercise.

The amount of weight should not be great at the start. You should be able to do 10 repetitions (fairly slowly, do not rush) without getting very tired. Then you switch arms, and do 10 more. That is called one set. The goal is to get to three sets for this exercise. If you can’t get close to repeating this another two times, you have too much weight. Use less weight. If you whip right through and don’t feel it at all, you have too little weight, add more.

Hand Weights You do not need to run out and buy a set of dumbbells, even though that is what a dumbbell set was designed for. The reason you don’t want to rush out and get the “proper equipment” is that you haven’t passed the boredom test yet (see below). If you get bored and quit after a couple of days, what are you going to do with those stupid dumbbells? (They will become “stupid” because their existence will say ‘failure” to you every time you see them. This is why so much exercise equipment ends up in the garage … out of sight.)

If you have a plastic milk jug, you have all you need. Rinse it out and then fill it all of the way up with water. Put the cap on. You now have an 8-pound hand weight. (And it even has a handle!) This is too much for this exercise, we suggest you start with it about one eighth full (a 1-pound hand weight). Put a mark half way up the side of the jug, that is four pounds. Half way up to that mark is two pound and the water reaching up only about half way to that mark is one pound. (It doesn’t have to be exact.)

If you wear out this jug, it is time to get a set of dumbbells.

Building Your Bow String Puller
There is an axiom in training that says “the best exercise is the activity itself.” Why try to simulate the activity with exercise equipment? You got the real thing right there.

There are two approaches to building your back muscles using a bow. And for simplicities sake we will be giving directions for a recurve bow, but this applies to compounds and longbows, too. The two approaches are to draw a heavier drawing bow for exercise or to draw your bow and hold it in drawn position for a longer time. Which you choose to do depends on whether you have the necessary equipment (a heavier drawing bow).

Heavier Bow Drawing You can make a facsimile of a heavier bow but tying stretch tubing along side the bow string and then pulling the bow plus the tubing. Some archers have even practice drawing two light drawing bows at the same time. (We do not recommend this as accidents are too likely to occur.)

If you do have to have a “heavier” bow it must only be slightly heavier (2#-5#). If your regular bow is a 24# bow, trying to pull a 44# bow will be defeating.

Always draw with your absolute best form, hold, and let down. (Letting down is better than shooting this bow as it exercises the muscles involved even more.) A set of 10 of these is the first goal. Later we would like to get to three sets of 10.

Reversals If you have no “heavier bow scenario” you can create there is the exercise called “reversals” (why we do not know). You start with your bow (no arrow) and you draw and hold for a count of, say 3, then you let down. A set of 10 of these is the first goal. Later we would like to get to three sets of 10.

When the task gets easy, you expand the number of seconds of hold time (one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, …). Elite archers have been known to get up to 30 second holds!

When to Do These Exercises
It is best to exercise on a regular schedule. Possibly every other day would be best for now as that gives their muscles time for R and R (recovery and repair). All exercise that stress muscles enough that cause them to grow in responce creates some damage along the process. Repair of this damage is an ordinary function, but it takes some time. Go at it too hard and too often, and bigger injuries will happen. If they are working on both of these exercise, they can leap frog them, first one, then the next day the other, then back to the first. This pattern is what body builders use. On one day they work out their back and legs, on the next they work out their arms and chest, etc.

Set yourself a regular time, like before bed time, or whatever to make it easy to remember to do your archery exercises. You can even do them while watching TV or videos on your computer, but you cannot get so distracted you are not focussed on doing the exercises with proper form.

How to Evaluate Their Progress
So, if they try something like this and they are just bored to tears they will just stop doing these exercises. (You know this. We’ll bet that at one time in your life you obtained a piece of exercise equipment and now it is out in the garage or under a blanket somewhere.) So, now they know. And so do you. Right now they are not a competitive archer. This does not mean they will never be one, they just aren’t one right now.

They can still go to competitions . . . for fun, but not with a goal of winning or placing.

If, however, they can do these exercises, or similarly dull ones, and do not give up and are buoyed up by the idea of becoming a better archer, then they may just well be a serious competitive archer. Whether they will remain one is another simple test: can they make enough progress to feel they are getting better and the “better” they are getting to is good enough to meet their goals.

There are general principles underneath all AER archery instruction. If you are working with youths, remember that we suggest it is not a good idea for 8-, 9-, and 10-year olds concentrating on just one sport. We think they need to explore. If they find nothing they love more than archery, good! If they find something they love more than archery, that is good, too! We also think participation in just one sport isn’t good physically. Think about combining archery and soccer/football. In soccer, they are running, running, running and not using their upper bodies. In archery, they at most walk, and are heavily using their upper bodies. What a great combination! And each sport supports doing the other.

If you do recommend physical training, remember that this is a test and if as a result of their trying, they did not like the experience, deciding they would rather just shoot for fun, they did not fail the test! Do not think less of them. They may decide differently in six months or a year and even if they don’t it doesn’t say anything about them as a person that they did not want to get all serious about archery.

We just can’t take everything they find to be fun and turn it inro a job!




Filed under For All Coaches

Nutrition and Archery … Yeah …

If you haven’t noticed, Lancaster Archery Supply, our favorite on line target archery retailer, has a rather extensive blog running. This is something I have encouraged, so I was intrigued enough over a new post to check it out. The post was Proper Nutrition Fuels The Successful Archer by P.J. Reilly.

Unfortunately, the author lost me almost from the beginning. The first subsection is on “hydration” which begins:

“The human body is nearly two-thirds water. To maintain proper hydration levels, it’s recommended people drink as much as 10 glasses of water per day. That’s especially important if you’re going to be active and outdoors in the sun.

“Studies have found that athletes who don’t drink enough can see as much as a 30-percent reduction in performance.”

Anyone who even mentions the completely bogus recommendation to “drink 10 glasses of water per day” causes my mental ears to perk up. This is not a case of being thorough and including a full spectrum of recommendations; this is including a clearly debunked factoid in a serious publication. (This is so seriously debunked that Oprah highlighted it in one of the issues of her magazine.)

Following a misleading factoid with a misleading claim about hydration, got me to put on the brakes. “Studies have found that athletes who don’t drink enough can see as much as a 30-percent reduction in performance” should be stated as “athletes who drink so little as to experience serious dehydration can see as much as a 30-percent decrease in performance.” Actually, I do not know where the “30%” came from as I have seen archers succumb to heat prostration (severe dehydration combined with overheating due to poor perspiration) who could not perform at all, which is a 100% decrease in performance.

When it comes to the subject of nutrition and archery I have yet to see any formal studies done. They may exist but someone frequently searching for such information (me) hasn’t found even one. Consequently articles about “archery and nutrition” are cobbled together from generic information and information garnered from studies on other sports. The author of this blog post, to his credit, mentions these things at the beginning of his article, but then plows ahead any way.

So as not to be a nay saying nanny with his knickers in a twist, I do have some recommendations regarding competition day eating and drinking. Here they are:nutricious-foods

  1. Since the signs of dehydration are so hard to pick up in its earliest stages, it is best to preclude the possibility. This is especially the case on hot, dry days as can be encountered in desert areas, but hot days elsewhere, too. I tend to sip a prepared beverage frequently during an outdoor competition. The beverage is any sports drink (e.g. Gatorade) that I can stomach, diluted 50:50 with water. The sports drink supplies minerals lost through sweating as well as a little energy (carbohydrates) and, of course, water. The dilution of those drinks with water has been shown to accelerate the uptake of those nutrients.
  2. With regard to eating, I like as much as anyone a freshly prepared hot dog, Sloppy Joe, or any of the other foods prepared for participants at a shoot. But if I am trying to compete seriously, I prepare my own food. I eat a combination of vegetables (carrot sticks, celery, radishes), slices of cheese, and strips of some meat protein (turkey, chicken, beef, etc.). I chose these because they are readily available in any city I might be competing in and because they are very, very unlikely to spike my blood sugar. If you consume a larger number of easily digested carbohydrates, you will get a recognizable “burst of energy” (also called a “sugar rush”) as your blood sugar rapidly increases. This is followed not very long after by a stretch of lethargy (also called a “sugar crash”). In a sport in which our goal is a steady performance, one in which our last arrow is shot identically to our first, such metabolic highs and lows are counterproductive. So, I avoid like the plague sugary breakfast cereals, candy bars, granola bars, sodas, and other too sweet foods, on competition days.

That’s it. With regard to diet in general, not just for competition days, I have been researching the topic for decades and there is very little that can be said definitively, which is sad. The science of human nutrition has been polluted by politics from its inception. Economic interests have held sway over good science. For instance, no mammal has a need for milk after it has been weaning, yet public nutrition “experts” still recommend children drink milk in substantial quantities. The reason: a powerful dairy lobby. To be fair, some nutritionists recommend milk as a more healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks, but the current ad campaign touting chocolate milk as a sports beverage is part of a greater effort to sell something no one needs.good-calories-bad-calories-cover

Then, on top of that, bad science and politics has dominated the science attempted. This is sad to say as I am a scientist. When I first read about some of the shoddy, politicized work in this field I got very angry and had to stop reading (several times). That scientists didn’t follow the facts, going where they lead, because of political reasons is very, very offensive. For example, the “low fat” craze fueled by bogus research into heart health was never correct and has been very harmful, leading to an obesity crisis in the U.S.

If you want to learn more about this topic I recommend Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”

Do check out the Lancaster Archery Blog; there is gobs of good information there. But, like all blogs, including this one, take them with a grain of salt.


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

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.


Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

Do You Work Out?

dumbellsDo you workout to benefit your archery … or just for health and well-being … or even to lose a little weight? Well, there is a syndrome that is prevalent that you need to know about.

Workouts for archery generally focus on strength development, but can include stamina/cardio elements, too. The experience of any number of people, though, in pursuing physical improvements through a regular physical workout routine, is that they don’t always seem to work. Studies show that when ordinary people pursue bettering their physical performance through a workout program, that the average result is almost always an improvement. But more recently, studies have looked more closely at individual variation (one of my favorite topics) and found that there are very wide ranges of results (very wide!). People on simple strength programs got stronger, on average, but for some people in these studies such programs had almost no effect and some even got weaker! Exercise scientists are now calling those who get no benefit from such programs “non-responders” in that they do not have a “normal” response to exercise. (Maybe we just never really knew what “normal” was and now we are beginning to understand.)

This explains the oft-heard complaint, that people “tried going to the gym” but they don’t seem to be any better off, so they quit. Unfortunately the quitting was accompanied by a feeling of failure and some shaming from others for being someone who doesn’t follow through, aka a “quitter.” Now we know that this is not a moral failing or a lack of will (our usual go to’s when we criticize someone else), it is quite probably a lack of effect.

The silver lining to this cloud is a study that was done that took a wide variety of subjects and asked them to subscribe a number of different exercise routines in three-week stretches. When they worked up the results, they again found the wide range of responses to the programs, with there being some “non-responders” in every group, but each and every participant responded positively to at least one of the regimens. So, being a “non-responder” is not a general label, it is just a case in which many people do not respond to one particular program, but they can and will respond to another.

When I recommend exercise to archers, it is usually for strength building, mostly deltoid strengthening for steadiness, but also core and leg strengthening for advanced archers, also some cardio for steady breathing and nerves. If some of these programs do not work, do not take it personally nor should you let your students do so, try looking for a different mode of exercise or a different program to which you or they will respond. And if you/they don’t respond to something straightforward, try something related but different.

For example, I have been told that Tiger Woods doesn’t do visualizations before he takes shots. He was never able to get that to work. Instead his “shot rehearsal” (maybe a better label for what we do) focuses on the feel of the shot, so his rehearsal is tactile rather than visual.

So, if you or a student are not able to increase the strength of your deltoids and holding up a heavy bow is a problem, maybe you should look for a lighter bow? Of course, my standard warning applies: the person we are best at conning … is our self (we have more experience at it). So do be sure you have committed to an exercise regimen, and are performing the exercises correctly, before you look at results. Don’t just assume you are a “non-responder” for an exercise you do not like because it is convenient.


Filed under For All Coaches