Tag Archives: Physical Training

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

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.


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

How Many Things Can I Work On at a Time?

QandA logoI got a query from one of my students which asked:

That leads me to something I meant to ask in the last email … what happens when you have a list of things to work on? I know from our lessons you can only effectively work on one thing at a time. So how do you choose what? The thing that is most wrong? The thing that is earliest in your shot sequence? The thing you think will give you the most bang for your buck (or time spent working on it). There are so many aspects to a shot sequence it seems inevitable that you will end up with a list of things. Oh, and, of course, each step builds on the previous, so if there is something you are working on early in your shot sequence it has to be there, done the new/different/correct way in order to practise something else.

* * *

I have the most wonderful students! (Good students ask good questions, that’s one of the ways you can tell which are the good ones.)

There is a common misconception that equates “work on only one thing at a time” into “work on only one thing until it is better before you tackle another,” which is wrong. You can work on many things at once, just not two at once. It has to do with feedback.

If you try to work on your bow arm and release at the same time and a group of arrows is better than before, was it due to an improvement in your bow arm or release or both? A potentially awful outcome is that one of those changes made it better and the other made it worse but not enough to not make the whole group better. In this latter case, you are getting a mixed message. When we do something differently we only have a “better” or “worse” outcome to judge whether the change we are exploring is a good one or not. We want to be able to attach those “better or worse” judgments to just one thing. This is my definition of getting good feedback.

So “work on only one thing at a time” limits how many things you can work on simultaneously but not how any things you can work on concurrently. (Sorry for the big words, but being accurate sometimes requires them.)

I do not have any good science to back up my recommendations but here is what I recommend: keep a list of things you think need work but limit those you are working on currently to three. I also recommend that before you shoot an arrow during any practice or competition session that you read that list, the whole list. When you are “warming up” you want to pay special attention to the three items you are trying to change at the moment. If you do not do this and just “warm up,” you will end up gravitating back to the shot you have practiced the most, what I call your “old normal” shot and you will then be send this message to your subconscious mind “it is normal that sometimes we shoot the ‘new shot’ and sometimes we shoot the ‘old shot’.” We want, rather, the message to be “we are committed to the ‘new shot” and no longer shoot the ‘old shot’.” So, read the list with special attention to doing the top three the new way … do it … do it every time you shoot.

As soon as you are warm, the best time to spend working on your top three items is right away. This will lay a foundation for the rest of the practice session being based upon your new shot and not your old one.

Now, as to what order to take on these changes in your shot, you have some choices to make. There is logic and some science behind each of these and I haven’t been able to determine which is better, so my default position is “whichever feels better to you.” My thinking is if you think something is the right way to proceed, you will make better progress than if you are not sure, certainly better than if you are convinced you are going about it the wrong way.

Here are the two approaches that seem wise to me.

Tackle the Changes from Greatest to Least Effect If we could put a score impact rating on any prospective change, under this rule, you would tackle the issue that would have the greatest positive effect on your score first. So, if Change A would improve your score by 7%, it is more worth your time than Change B that might only improve your score by 1%. What this means practically, is that the effect of Change A would also be easier to see while it was happening and that improvement would strongly guide the process and supply motivation. Something with a tiny 1% improvement potential would be hard to see in the first place and would provide little motivation.

This plays out, interestingly, in the history of each and every serious archer. When they first begin, their scores are quite low and they make progress as they learn in leaps and bounds. As they get better, though, it becomes harder and harder to improve and each improvement requires more and more effort. This is, in general, why there are so many really good archers, but few great ones.

The hard part if you adopt this order of making changes is how to assign a scoring improvement potential to each potential change. If you figure out how to do this, please, please let me know!

Tackle the Changes in the Order of Your Shot Sequence This option, I think, benefits archers who most recently have chosen to become serious archers. The previous procedure, I think, benefits archers who have established their shot and are making smaller changes therein. The reason I believe this is twofold: for one you will be making improvements in your scores that are substantial as you work anyway; for another since you don’t have a settled shot yet, you do not want to be practicing a later aspect of your shot that will be changed when an earlier step is modified.

This approach, of course, makes it much easier to identify which you do first, second, third, etc.

When I work with a new Recurve student (my questioner is an Olympic Recurve archer) I work from what I call the “Three Pillars.” The three foundations (aka pillars of support) for consistent accuracy are a relaxed bow hand, a relaxed string hand, and good full draw body alignment (in this case delineated by the archer’s triangle—see illustration). So, the thing I most often address with a Recurve archer first is his/her … stance. It seems that most beginning Recurve archers have been told that an open stance is somehow required. But rotation your feet counterclockwise when your shoulders need to rotate clockwise to get into good FDP is working against what you want. A closed stance, at least to start with, doesn’t result in an archer’s shoulders fighting with his/her stance to get into position. So, I work to get their hands relaxed, and their body in position. (The same is true for compound archers, with a few details being different).force-triangle-finished

If  that archer is still building his/her shot, I then work through the shot sequence, helping them find their form as they go.

So, you have to decide which route you want to take and commit to it … and … (you knew there would be an “and” didn’t you) I think the best way to proceed is to make an improvement and then move on from each thing on your list. You do not need to make something perfect. If you think you do, you will be spending a great deal of time working on just a few things and you will feel as if no progress is being made.

Make an improvement and then move on. Your shot is an organic whole; you cannot change part of it in isolation and like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link, so think of the changes you are making as being on an upward spiral. You will go around and around, through your shot, paying extra attention to each part over and over. But you will feel the progress being made (the list of items you have crossed off as having improved should not be discarded; it is an indicator of progress made). And, each time you come back to the same item (e.g. I need to improve the solidity of my anchor.) it is not an admission that you didn’t fix it before but that you have made sufficient improvements that your improved anchor is no longer quite good enough (Hooray!). Having to work on items again are indicators that you have reached another level.

In order to tell whether you have reached another level or are just going “round and round getting nowhere” you have practice and competition round scores. If they are getting higher or more consistent where they are, you are making progress.

I hope this helps!

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

How Fast Should You Shoot?

I came up through field archery and didn’t shoot with a clock running until I had been shooting quite a few years. Boy, the first time I did it made me very nervous. (I am one of those people who shows up early for everything; you know the type.)

So, after ending up a nervous wreck from my first exposure to a shot clock, I felt I had to do something about it, so I did.

Most youths who grow up with a clock running don’t have my problems, in fact the clock almost never affects them, because they shoot like Machine Gun Kelly, rat-a-tat-tat; a 3-arrow end takes 24 seconds, a 6-arrow end is done in a minute and a half.

Since archery is a repetition sport, tempo is a key factor in how consistent we can be. If one shoots too quickly or too slowly (than your optimal tempo) your scores will go down. So, a scoring strategy must not interfere with keeping a consistent shot tempo. For example, some recommend a 6-arrow end be broken into two 3-arrow ends with a short rest in between to recover the energy lost from shooting the first three. But, if after shooting three arrows quickly, one takes a break and then shoots the other three arrows quickly, one ends up shooting the first arrow of an end twice and the first arrow does not have a very recent shot to imprint upon. The natural timing of a shot generally sets the second arrow to be shot within 30 seconds of the first because there are limitations to how long you can hold a feeling or thought in memory (and I think, but cannot prove, that 30 seconds is pushing it). If you cannot use the last shot as an example for a pre-shot visualization, you are left with using something you’ve cobbled together from long-tem memory, which is generally considered to be less accurate and therefore less helpful. Because of this limitation, most elite archers shoot each arrow the same way in the same time and one after the other until done with the end.

Most young archers do tend to shoot too quickly but that is a relatively simple problem that involves no particular strategy (like shoot three, rest and then three more). To help deal with time pressure, it helps all archers to know how much time a let down costs. A let down takes about as much time as a shot, so if a three-arrow end (2 minutes allowed) takes 60 seconds to shoot your three arrows, for example, you have enough time to execute three letdowns, but not a fourth before time will run out. I can remember feeling that letdowns cost way more time than they did and I started to feel time pressure very early in the end (clocks are not always visible, especially if one is left-handed). For this reason I measured how much time it took me to shoot three and six arrow ends and then figured out how many let downs I could safely make without fear of running out of time. (For me it was one and two, respectively. If I made two let downs in a 3-arrow end, I had better hustle on that last arrow and it … must … be … shot.) I also taped a count down timer to my spotting scope tripod which I triggered as soon as the “shoot” signal was given. That way I would know how much time I really had.

With regard to actual shot tempo, there is a way to find out if you are shooting too quickly and if it is affecting your scoring. Label a set of arrows (1, 2, 3 …) and then shoot them in a practice round in that order. Record the score of arrow #1 of each end in the first box on the score card, arrow #2’s score goes in the second box, etc. (Not from highest score to lowest, just in the order they were shot.) When done with the practice round, average all of the box’s scores giving you an average score for your first arrow, your second arrow shot, etc. If the scores steadily decline, you are shooting too fast, consuming too much energy that is not being replenished before you shoot another, digging yourself an energy hole that guarantees poor scores later in the round.dual_vegas_fntdual_vegas_fnt

We are not robots, so you might have to do this drill several times to see if you are being consistent. Of course, one must also avoid other sources of score variations while doing this (pressing to get better scoring arrows, struggling with the clicker, etc.).

It is not a simple prospect, changing your shooting tempo. The reason for this is that tempo is one of the last things addressed when building a high quality shot. (Who cares how fast you are shooting
if you are shooting incorrectly in the first place?) So, by the time most archers get around to addressing tempo they have shot many thousands of arrows and have constructed a shot with a “normal tempo” that is based on who know what. The simplest approach to making a temp change is through feedback. If your normal shots take 10 seconds, for example, from release to release but you now have evidence that is too fast, pick a new time frame, say 15 seconds, but give yourself a range instead, like 15-20 seconds (or 13-17, etc.). Any shot made within that framework is considered “good” during this exercise (we are not robots). Have somebody time you. If you shoot in less than 15 seconds, your timer tells you “too soon.” If you reach 20 seconds, your timer tells you “let down” and you must let down. Don’t try to “do” anything, just take the feedback and let your subconscious mind do all the work. All you need do is be disappointed when you shoot too soon or not soon enough, do not try to do anything
else. (Try? There is no “try.” Do or do not. Yoda)

Obviously the time frame you choose can be too small or two large and you may need to refine it. This is how that is done: the above exercise is probably best done blank bale because the arrow scores are not really the point. But when you have achieved some consistency there are still two questions: “Am I still shooting too fast?” and “Is this my optimal shot timing?” For the first question you have the practice round drill above, for the second, that requires a target. I will use the example of 6-arrow ends and since it is indoor season, we will shoot indoors. You can obviously adjust this drill for any distance you prefer.

So, set up two three spot target faces, so you have six spots, one for each arrow. Have your “timer” play the same role as in the previous drill except this time he/she must keep track of three categories: shots that are “too quick,” shots that are “too slow,” and shots that are “just right,” no “let down” commands are given. These ratings can be coded on a score card by your helper. Record the arrow scores for each arrow so that you know what the shot timing was as well as the arrow scores. Then you must compile the average arrow score for each of those three categories. If “too quick” and “too slow” got significantly lower score averages than “just right,” then “just right” is probably about right. If “just right” timing got the highest average but “too fast” was almost as good and “too slow” was way behind, then maybe you would benefit from speeding up a tad. There are far too many possible outcomes for me to go through all of them but I hope these examples are enough to give you an idea of how to proceed.

I hope you realize that you have to shoot fairly well to address the topic of shot tempo. If you do not shoot relatively small groups, adding a concern about shot timing may cause your groups to degrade until the results of these exercises are all by meaningless. In the drill just described, compare your group sizes with your normal group sizes (or score the first 30 arrows, or …) to see if they are roughly the same. If so, then you know that the focus of the drill/exercise isn’t adversely affecting your shooting.

A basic aspect of “getting good” at archer is that it takes more and more time to do less and less for your shot. Progress gets made in leaps and bounds when you first start shooting, but the rate of progress slows to a crawl as you reach a high level of proficiency. One example of that is the amount of practice needed to move you from a score of 100 to 110 in a 300 round compared to the amount of time need to move from a score of 280 to 290 in a 300 round. Both changes are just ten points, but the first challenge is blown through, while the latter one defeats some archers altogether.


Filed under For All Coaches

I am currently reading a 1643 treatise on archery, written by a Chinese expert, and it sounds quite modern (not so surprisingly as the bows will teach us what we need to know).

I am fascinated by fact that they used quite heavy bows, but of course these were a military weapons, not just a target toys. Once they developed good form they would begin exercising to build up their ability to draw heavier drawing bows. Some of their practice bows went over 200# of draw! These were bows that were designed not to be shot, just to train with, but there were occasionally bows with such draw weights that were designed to be shot. Just thinking about that causes me to ache!

So, do you know any exercises designed to be able to increase the amount of draw weight you can handle? If so, I would like to know about them.


PS I will be writing a review of this book for Archery Focus magazine as soon as I get it done. Interestingly the author was shooting off of the point 200 years before Horace Ford popularized that practice in the western tradition. I think westerners could learn a few things by looking at Asian traditions.

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

If I Just Had Better . . .

As regular readers of my diatribes know, the literature for archery coaches is quite sparse and so I often find myself slogging through materials designed for golf instructors and coaches for inspiration, knowledge, wisdom, etc.

Recently I was reading an article entitled The Biggest Myths in Golf  by Adam Young, the author of The Practice Manual, and as I am wont to do, I translated as much as I could into archery to see if it held up. One segment of this article is this:
The main messages I want everyone to get is that
• There are much wider acceptable boundaries of swing style which will produce function
• Lots of things held dear as technical ‘musts’ are nothing more than old wives tales
• Pros have more skill – let’s work on developing skill
• Skill is different to technique
• Form can (and does) arise from function.
• Using motor learning research, we can figure out better ways of learning
• Direct technical changes should be a supplement to a good training program – not dominate it
• There is more to a golfer than their swing style. Trying to get good at golf by only improving your swing style is myopic, at best.
I understand that many of you will have strongly held beliefs challenged after this article.
Good. Maybe it will open your eyes to why you are not as good as you should be.

As you can see golfers obsess over their swings and their equipment, like archers who obsess over their form and their equipment. And by so doing, both golfers and archers miss out on a great deal.

Now, Translating the Above into “Archery”
The main messages I want everyone to get is that:
• There are much wider acceptable boundaries of form and execution which will produce function (aka results)
• Lots of things held dear as technical “musts” are nothing more than old wives tales
• Pros have more skill – let’s work on developing skill
• Skill is different from technique
• Form can (and does) arise from function.
• Using motor learning research, we can figure out better ways of learning
• Direct technical changes should be a supplement to a good training program – not dominate it
• There is more to a archer than their technique. Trying to get good at archery by only improving your technique is myopic, at best.

What do you think?








Filed under For All Coaches

Fitting Young Recurve Archers

QandA logoThis begins often enough with an email:

Good Morning Steve,
My daughter met with you a few months ago for one session and she said that you mentioned the wooden riser she has is lighter than the ones being purchased today. Her coach has recommended a new 23˝ riser for her and an increase poundage with new limbs. My daughter wanted me to run this by you and ask what type of riser would you recommend? The one she is being recommended to purchase is <link provided>. Which riser would be good throughout her growth? She has also had another coach tell her that magnesium risers are lighter and would be good for a long time. Will she always outgrow a riser? Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank You in Advance,
<name withheld>

* * *

Equipment purchases are a minefield for archery parents, which is why I am sharing this rather normal request and my answer. (The student in question is a rather new and young but promising and enthusiastic archer. Also, her coach is a friend and student of mine.)

I have a prejudice I must admit to: young archers are attracted to the “bling” of a metal riser. Metal risers are what all of the best recurve bows sport, and for good reason: the heavy metal riser is a major contributor to being able to hold the bow still while it is being shot (the largest contributor in fact). But there is a cost to that stability. The stability comes from the riser being heavy. The heavier the riser, the less likely it will be to be moved while the arrow is leaving the bow.

The conflict is with the muscle development of young archers. The muscles needed to hold the bow up (and steady) are primarily in the upper arm (the deltoids). One of the last muscle groups that get developed as a youth makes the transition into their adult strength is … drum roll please … the deltoids. So getting a young archer into a heavier bow too early creates a situation in which they are unable to shoot correctly, so all of their practice involves the creation of bad habits (dropping bow arm during shot, etc.).

Wooden Riser recurve Bow

What’s wrong with this bow? (Absolutely Nothing)

Now, having admitted that to you I will address your daughter’s case: I have no idea whether she is ready for a heavier bow. There is a test, though. Let us say that her “new” bow and stabilizer, and sight, and … and … weigh in at about five pounds (adult rigs are heavier than this, 6-9 pounds). So, here is a test: take a five pound hand weight (you can substitute a plastic milk jug with five pints of water in it) and ask her to pretend it is her bow and ask her to stand in her normal “full draw position.” She should be able to hold this weight up while you count (normal speed) to five (simulating the time needed to take a shot). She should be able to do this repeatedly without getting tired (short rests in between, <10 sec, simulating the time it takes to load another arrow and prepare to shoot).

If she passes this test, then a metal-risered bow should be okay. magnesium risers are marginally lighter than the “ordinary” aluminum risers (wood is lightest, then polymer, and finally the metal risers).

If not, then either wait and/or order heavier drawing limbs for her current bow if that is desirable. An alternative is to do some exercises to build up the upper arm muscles (both arms—and be aware that if she has not gone through puberty, such exercises are less effective).

Whether she will outgrow any new riser depends. How tall is her mother? Typically children exceed the height of their parent of the same gender somewhat. If her mother is of “ordinary” height, then your daughter will probably be somewhat close to that height when she is fully grown and a 25˝ riser would be appropriate (23˝ risers are for shorter adults and youths—they are lighter but also have a smaller “window” to look through, which can be a problem for taller archers). Waiting has the advantage in skipping over the 23˝ riser if it has the probability of being a source of problems. (Many of the Korean Olympian females are 5’6˝ or even shorter and many of them shoot 68” bows which are recommended for archers 6’ tall. There are some advantages to having a longer bow (created with a longer riser and/or longer limbs) but, of course, that is predicated to being able to handle the mass of those bows. Of course, if her mom is short, she may find a 23˝ riser perfectly appropriate.

Regarding models, I would follow her coach’s recommendations as he is closer to that market at this time than am I. Be sure that you share your recreation budget limitations, etc. to help him give you the best recommendations. Part of his thinking may be “why buy new limbs for a bow she will give up when she gets strong enough for a metal-risered bow” (this is the same thinking as buy shoes a little large for a growing child). Talk to him about this.

And, if you are looking for a performance boost, the best source of that is providing a set of arrows fitted to her bow and skill, not a new bow per se. These do not have to be expensive arrows, just arrows of the right size and length (and fitments) to match her bow and skill. Of the two (bow and arrows), the arrows are by far the more important in delivering consistent accuracy.

I want to reinforce that her coach <name withheld> is a reliable source of equipment recommendations, I just always have the concern that youth archers not get into a too heavy bow too quickly.


1 Comment

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A