Tag Archives: Physical Training

We Are All Elites Now!

I just got back huffing and puffing from a walk of the dog. The huffing and puffing is partly due to wearing a mask across my mouth and nose and, well, the fact that I have asthma.

Long distance runners have known for long that training at altitude produces benefits. The argument goes: at altitude the atmospheric pressure is less, so each breath contains less of everything, including oxygen. So prolonged training at altitude causes an adaption to a more efficient respiratory system, capable of capturing more of the oxygen breathed in. A return to sea level results in more atmospheric pressure, more air in each breath, more oxygen in each breath, and a greater ability to capture that extra oxygen which leads to more stamina, more power, and presumably better performances. (It is like supercharging an automobile engine.)

In the past few years elite athletes, including LeBron James, rather than taking a trip to Colorado have adopted using air-restricting masks to simulate the same kind of training.

Well this pandemic has made us all elite athletes now . . . if you are wearing the recommended masks when you go out.

I am still searching for a mask that meets all of my requirements and, I suspect, that I won’t find “the one” until we no longer need to wear the masks. Actually, the mask requirement will be lifted only after I have bought a supply of the new masks, which will be expensive of course, thus keeping Murphy’s Law alive and well in the new millennium.


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Archery in a Time of Pandemic

Here in Illinois we are confined to our homes until the end of April (so far). This is the time of year in which archers normally get a touch of cabin fever, wanting desperately for the weather to turn so we can go shoot outside. Well, our local ranges are all shut down (with the beaches and parks, etc.) so that’s not going to happen with just a change in weather.

Claudia’s take on our “self-isolation” is that it is very close to our normal lifestyle, so is not so much of an imposition on us. I do appreciate, however, that this is not the case for many of you.

Since we moved from three and a half acres in rural California to a high rise on Lake Michigan, we brought some of our practices from there to here, so we had water, dried foods, extra toilet paper, etc. all stashed away when this whole thing began. We even had some N95 breathing masks in our “emergency supplies” (purchased long ago, so not contributing to the current shortage).

So, what can you do to support your addiction hobby while confined as we are? Since I was in horrible shooting shape at the beginning I have been doing reversals with a recurve bow to try to build up some strength in my draw before shooting again when the social distancing restrictions are lifted. So, strength training is one option. Mental training is another. I am reading a number of books on mental aspects of physical performances. Please do realize that you are not limited to “archery” mental game books. Any physical performance has a mental game much the same as ours. So, if you are a musical, look up mental aspects of your instrument performances, or singing, whatever. If you dabble at golf, golf has a very active mental game. Darts? Yep. Go for it. And, of course, the old “tried and trues” are available: fletching arrows, cleaning up bow cases, organizing all the spare bits you have accumulated, etc.

I will admit that if the Internet goes down I am going to be in a hard way in that we do all of our businesses through it and I get much of my mental stimulation thereby, also. I have been enjoying a number of Jake Kaminski’s posts of late (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYMJYC6hEKaaTXjzK4Y521g). Jake has an entire new series of videos on tuning recurve bows, and while his approach is different from mine, it certainly is effective. You also can’t go wrong pursuing NuSensi’s video archives (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4IL0laJkpzH9JHmxNqjjMg). And, Lancaster Archery Supply has a growing educational segment on their website and they do a good job for Compound and Barebow archers.

Since I cannot hold my usual coaching sessions I have offered remote coaching at no charge for all of my students banging away in their basements and garages in the hopes they can stay on track. I certainly do not want to leave them hanging. If you have a problem you need help with, drop me an email (ruis(dot)steve(at)gmail(dot)com).

I do wish all of you safety and good health and, well, a dose of common sense if that is something you lack. One of the things that is rooted in human beings is an agency detector. We impute “causes” for things happening around us whether they exist or not and that helps us stay alive. (Animals only interact directly with their environment, we interact with an imaginary environment.) And evolution taught us that “false positives” have very little cost, so if you thought that rustling in the long grass was a tiger and moved away and it turned out to be a zephyr of wind, you didn’t really lose anything. (This is how we got fairies, and river spirits, etc.) So, please do think that this virus is out to get you and take precautions. If it turns out those precautions weren’t necessary, you have wasted very little. If the precautions are necessary and you ignore them, the cost could be very, very high.

Stay safe as I hope to see you on the range soon.


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The Damned List

In our sport, we commit to a routine, then if we want to change any part of that routine we have to commit to a revised routine. The problem with that is the almost magnetic appeal of the thing you have practiced the most recently, which is the old routine. Because of this I ask all of my students to keep in their notebook what I call “The List” which is a list of the things they have committed to change (this is just the top three if the list is longer than that). They are instructed to read this list before they shoot an arrow, in practice or competition, to remind them that they are going to be doing a few things differently, and to do this religiously.

Reading The List raises the probability of shooting the new way and lowers the probability of shooting the old way and thus makes learning faster. Shooting the old way and new way alternatively, which one can do just by warming up mindlessly, is a way to convince your subconscious mind that these two ways of shooting are alternatives.

I keep the list of things actively being worked on at three or fewer because I think that keeps things doable, plus a long list of things needed to be done can be depressing.

Two or three pages down in the notebook is “The List (con’t)” which has items #4 through whatever listed upon it. Whenever reasonable progress is made on an item on The list, that time gets lined out (with single thin line) and something from the #4 – #n list is promoted. (The numbers aren’t priorities and one should always promote that thing that gives the most “bang for the buck” as is said.

The reason for the thin lineouts is to be able to see what it was that progress had been made upon. Often, grinding away at getting better seems like a never ending task and it helps to see a list of things that one has improved. One can also see that elements pop up again on The list. This is because we make progress and move on. If that amount of progress isn’t enough we go back to work on some of the things we worked on before, but this time to make them even better.

The criterion for “good enough for now” is “of the same quality as the rest of the shot.” Making one link very much stronger than the rest in a chain, does not make the chain stronger (it being only as strong as the weakest link), so working on something already strong enough, to make it better, is counterproductive. As a student-archer improves, the standard of “good enough for now” goes up, so we do need to cycle though items more than once.


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More on Talent

I have written before that I do not think there is such a thing as “archery talent,” and I do not want to rehash those ideas here and now. Instead I want to pursue what it means to have “talent” when it comes to archery, whether that talent is an inherent “gift” one is born with (I think not.) or some other thing.

Consider the following quote from Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance: “Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

Now she and I use skill and talent differently but the point is spot on . . . Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. This is the core of having a growth mindset. belief in a pool of some mysterious talent inside of you that you cannot change is the core of a static mindset.

“Persistence in trying to improve one’s
skills is the key to achievement.”

Have you ever heard a professional athlete proclaim “I can’t get any better; I am the best I can be!” Ever? Every elite pro athlete I am aware of, to the contrary, spends the off season every year trying to expand and/or improve their skills. This is true even of athletes past the peak of their arc in the sport. Trying to hang on to the level of skill they have exhibited takes effort; otherwise the decline in one’s skills is all the greater.

To paraphrase another quote of Duckworth’s “Enthusiasm is common. Persistence is rare.” (She said “endurance is rare.”) Persistence in trying to improve one’s skills is the key to achievement. I do grant that people bring various abilities to our sport. Some come with amazing physical abilities. More rare are those with amazing physical abilities and the mental abilities to maximize the former. Everyone I know has a story about a spectacular archer who just wasn’t interested enough to “put in the time/effort.” Archery is littered with young archers who won medal after medal and championship after championship and then drifted away (for reasons we have never bothered to discover).

No matter the sport, if you want to do something special, you need to persist and you need to make the effort needed. Is there a more important message we need to send to our serious competitive students? I don’t think so.

Now, having said this, I want to emphasize that this needs to be based upon the desires of the archer, not anyone else: parent, coach, friends, etc. I see plenty of students taking lessons because parents think they are supporting their child’s efforts. But taking lessons because you like your parents trying to help and taking them because you have a passion to “get better,” are two very different things.

I do not want to turn a young archer’s interest in archery into a job they feel they “have to do.”





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What Constitutes a Safe and Effective Warm Up for Archery?

From a blog I follow comes this tidbit:

“What most people do to warm up before a workout actually relaxes your muscles and decreases your power and energy . . . which decreases your performance during your workout, and the gains and benefits you get from it, and increases the chances of you getting injured during your workout . . . because your muscles and joints just aren’t ready!”

So, if you conclude we shouldn’t warn up before shooting I think you are getting your exercise by jumping to conclusions. The key words here are “What most people do to warm up. . . .” The person who wrote this is suggesting we are doing it wrong.

So, what constitutes a safe and effective warm up for archery?

Does anybody know?


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Less is More . . . More or Less

A question asked of coaches often enough is “How much should I practice?” and “How many arrows should I shoot?” If you work with youths (I recommend this as it keeps you fresh and immersed in the fundamentals if nothing else) you often find yourself just encouraging them to practice more. So many kids will attend a group lesson, say, once a week and that’s it. But this is not what I am addressing here. Here I am addressing this question as if it were coming from a serious archer, one who is going to try whatever you recommend. In my parlance, a serious archer is one training to win.

An Aside—If you aren’t sure what kind of archer you are working with, give them an extensive, preferably boring, drill to do. If they don’t do it, they are a recreational archer (who only shoot for fun and drills aren’t fun). If they do do it, they are a competitive archer. If they email/text you between coaching sessions asking for what else they can do, they are probably a serious competitive archer.

There are some discussions available in the literature regarding arrow counts and training loads. Archers are encouraged, for example, to vary their shooting loads (aka number of arrows shot per day) in “high, medium, and low” sessions. I use as a rule of thumb that a high load day is at least twice as many arrows as you would shoot in one day of the competitive rounds that are current. But there is a large scheme at work here. Consider the three phases of learning archery:

Phase One—Creating Your Shot
One could get the impression form all of the how to shoot books that an archery shot is like a suit of clothes. You find one that fits your needs and then you try it on and wear it. In reality, you have to make your own suit. An archery shot is personal. And, while there are many, many similarities in archer’s shots (created by the use of common equipment and the laws of physics) everyone’s shot is unique to them (some being uniquer than others).

So, Phase One is always the creation of a shot. This is best done using dedicated practice techniques involving low volumes of shots but high intensity of focus. Errors are corrected immediately. Drills are often done for extensive periods. (If a coach is to be employed at all, this is the best time.)

Phase Two—Memorizing Your Shot
Once you have created a consistently accurate shot (a sign of which is shooting consistently good groups) it is time to memorize your shot, that is learning it to the bone. In this phase you will shoot “your shot” so often that it becomes second nature. I should be able to wake you up at 3 AM and shove your bow into your hands and you should be executing good shots immediately because it is “normal” for you to shoot that way.

This memorization process involves shooting high volumes of shots. This is the first time high volumes of shots are to be attempted. Important Point—If volume shooting is a memorization technique, why would you do this before your shot is built? You would just be memorizing something you will be changing shortly.

This is not the mindless flinging of arrows so often mention as something to avoid (rather, one should never do this) but shots with full focus. How many shots per session is a variable to be winkled out. There are no tables to consult here! Archers are too variable in size, strength, ability to focus, etc. Arrow counts might stay low while the archer does physical training to increase strength or stamina. One has to feel one’s way along here. Archer’s need to learn to monitor muscle soreness; it’s location and intensity. (The wrong muscles being sore indicates the wrong muscles are being used!)

Phase Three—Maintaining Your Shot
Shooting high arrow counts is not done forever. Once an archer’s foundation is built (this often takes years, estimates I have seen being in multiples of 10,000 shots) the arrow volumes are cut back. First, there is no need for memorization and second, you risk repetitive stress injuries from over work. Occasionally, in preparing for major events, high arrow counts may be brought back as stamina tests and to reassure the archer that they still have it, that is the ability to function consistently during a long competition.

And . . .
Throughout all of this there are minor technique tweaks, often significant equipment changes, and injuries to work around, but these are all performed in the context of “your shot.”

You have probably heard the admonition to “Shoot your shot.” This is a warning to young archers to avoid improvising, to shoot the shot they have practiced. For a serious competitive archer, we try to help them make “not shooting their shot” difficult, abnormal, awkward, etc. And this does not necessarily involve high volume arrow shooting, which is only done when it is appropriate and is not a virtue in itself. (Yes, I am talking to you, Macho Man Archer.)

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What Do You Think?

On a golf teacher blog I found the following regarding practice:

The cycle that I recommend that you go through while practicing is called Learn, Trust and Test. During the Learn phase, we are learning how to improve our technical skills. During the Trust phase of practice, we are developing trust in those skills, and then in the Test phase, we are going to Test the skills with pressurized or “performance” practice. You’re far better off testing your game in practice, than you are on the course!

As a golf teacher, the author was talking about developing a new or different shot and this pattern is to create a larger set of available shots while playing. Archery is different in that we “play” almost the exact same shot each time and don’t need a vast array of versions of our shot.

I have advocated for some time now that the overarching approach of archery development has a similar structure. Here that is:

Stage One—Create a Shot
In this phase one works diligently to create a consistent technique and a consistent shot. The goal is being able to shoot small groups consistently. High volume shooting is to be avoided. High intensity learning is the focus, aka deliberate practice. (This is not the process of learning an off-the-shelf shot, it is the creation of a personal shot, unique to you.)

Stage Two—Learn Your Shot to the Bone
Here is where high volume shooting comes. This is a process of memorization and, unfortunately, too many of us end up memorizing a poor shot, which makes for a great deal of work later on (fix the shot’s weakness, memorize that shot, then fix that shot’s weaknesses, and . . .). This results in more than one shot being in long term memory (which explains why “old habits” pop up in moments of high stress, they are still available to be turned to when what we are doing now isn’t working).

Stage Three—Develop Archery Skills
Through practice rounds and competitions we determine benchmarks of our development. These benchmarks are to prove to ourselves that we can “score well” in practice (and then in competition) so we can believe that we can do that in competition. Here we also develop skills that improve our scoring abilities (compensating for wind and weather, developing a tune, dealing with disappointments, finding our personal scoring weakness (lacks of strength, stamina, concentration, focus, etc.) and rectifying those.

Stage Four—Getting to Higher Levels
This is for advanced archers only and involves analysis of form, execution, scoring patterns, mental habits/patterns, and more, plus exploring competitions with higher levels of personal value.

Throughout each of these becoming “one with one’s equipment” is an ongoing skill development process. Even if one doesn’t repair/modify/optimize one’s own equipment, one needs to be able to adjust and work through malfunctions during scoring rounds.

What do you think?

PS Where do you think the help of a coach is most valuable? (I think it is in stages 1 & 4.)

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Recommended Reading?

I read a lot. I therefore end up buying archery-related books only to be disappointed. One I was not disappointed in is:

Archery Fitness: Physical Training for The Modern Archer by Mr Ashley Kalym Author), Mr Chris Frosin (Photographer)
This book fairly straightforwardly addresses how conventional weight training can up your archery game. I haven’t finished it yet, but I think I will be recommending it for what it does. We needed this book.

Another find is:

The History of Archery by Theodore R. Whitman
I just started this and I have have read a great many books with this same title. Whether it can improve or even add to what I have already read I will have to see.

Modern Archery: Advanced Tuning Techniques by Vernon A Coop
I am going to have to read this again carefully because it seems as if to understand what the author is saying, you have to already know what he is trying to tell you.

This next book is more than a little strange.

Archery: Pull In Better Scores & Results by Tummala, Crystal
This book has very few words (very) and its two recommendations are to apply the Law of Attraction and prayers to improve your archery. I have a problem with one of these two and you will probably be surprised as to which. The Law of Attraction I have no problem with in this context. I think it is basically an application of Bassham’s first law, namely: the more you talk, think, and write about something, the more likely it is to happen. Where I have a problem is with praying for archery improvements. With thousands of children dying from starvation every day and other atrocities occurring worldwide, I find praying for the outcomes of football games or archery performances to be vastly wide of the mark. (Not Recommended)

All of these are available form Amazon.com (Actually, I got The History of Archery on eBay.) and probably not your local bookseller who is being put out of business by Amazon.com.

What’s on your book stand?


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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):



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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.)


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