Tag Archives: Physical Training

An Excellent Summary of the Role of Practice

I don’t think this is behind a pay wall and I recommend it as an excellent summary of the role of practice in archery or any other performance sport or art

Does practice make perfect?



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Got Another One!

A really good question came in as part of a comment: “Any thoughts for practices that have been virtual for a while?”

So, if we do get allowed out on our ranges and have been practicing solo or just working out, is there a good way to get up to speed again? What is we have been idle for quite some time?

My suggestions apply to anytime you have had a forced or voluntary layoff.

The danger is in trying to get too far, too fast. Your mind remembers how you shot before and won’t accept anything less . . . if you allow it full rein. Here’s just one scenario.

The danger is in trying to get too far, too fast.

Compound Archer—Compound archers often crank down their draw weights or switch to a lighter drawing bow for indoor competition and practice. So, two things are going on: a lower draw weight and fewer repetitions, both of which need to be cranked back up slowly.

It should take more than a few days to crank your bow back up. Maybe a half turn or a full turn on the limbs every other practice day is the max.

Similarly, too many shots in a session is also a no-no. When you get fatigued, your form and execution tend to decay, which is what you do not want to happen. Actually, this is a primary principle:

While recovering from a layoff, you must focus on retaining or regaining your good form.

This is the ultimate guiding factor in this process.

Recurve Archers—It is not unusual for recurve archers to swap out their limbs to a lighter pair during indoor season or a layoff. Cranking back up is not easy. If the draw weight difference is very small, say 2-3 pounds, one can safely switch back to the heavier limbs, or outdoor bow, and just ramp up the number of shots slowly. But if there is a large difference, 5# or more, then more care is needed. This may be able to be done by adjusting the weaker pair to the highest draw weight and when comfortable with that, switch to the heavier limbs, backed off as much as they can be adjusted (assumes an adjustable limb pocket bow) and then crank up those limbs slowly with practice.

You also have to look at your frequency of practicing. If you were practicing in your basement two days a week and then, excited by being able to shoot outdoors, you practice four or five days a week, you are asking for trouble.

Focus on short practices, fairly often, with the goal of maintaining or recovering your former form and execution.

I recommend that recurve archers retain at least one set of limbs when they move up in draw weight. Having a weaker pair to switch to when injured or after a layoff can be very helpful.

Listen to your body! I use a Rule of Thumb: if you are sore the day after a workout, that isn’t unusual. If you are still sore a day later, you probably over did it. If you are still sore one more day later, you definitely over did it. If you exceed this standard, wait until you feel better before working out again and take it a bit easier. And, if you feel pain while shooting—stop! See if you can identify the source of the pain (blister on string fingers, string slap on bow arm, etc.). If you cannot and try again, but feel the pain again, you are done for the day. If you resolve the issue (properly place your arm guard so as to not get hit by the string, adjust your tab or tape your fingers, etc.) and you can shoot without pain, you may continue.

I hope this helps somewhat.

Oh, it really helps if your coach is there to video you shooting, to compare with pre-pandemic form, etc. Or they may be able to do this from memory if they know you well.

Oh, oh, oh, oh—you can get started on these process before the ranges become available.

When I originally wrote this is was thinking of a short layoff, but the pandemic may be responsible for year long layoffs. If this is the case, I suggest that you start very slowly . . . very. At first, no bow, no arrows, just a stretch band/tube. Use a mirror to check your form. If you have a number of stretch bands of different resistances, start with the lightest and work your way through, up to the stiffest over several sessions. Get to full draw position with the band/tube, and pause there. Flex the muscles you use to hold while there, then let down. This is a form of the Reversal Drill.

Give your body time to report back. So, light session after light session—paying attention as to whether you get sore and where. Always allow time between sessions to allow your muscle fibers to repair themselves.

Work your way out of the bands/tubes into a light drawing bow as above.

If you have a coach, now is a good time to consult them.

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The Wisdom of Your Body

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Our bodies in archery contexts are very dependable, but problems arise when our minds drift off topic. This is why mental programs are usually just things to do with your mind to keep you on topic but not micromanaging.

In archery we have the aphorisms “trust your shot” and “shoot your shot.” How the heck would you shoot something other than your shot? Can’t you trust in that?

Actually, no you can’t. You cannot just leave your body on “autopilot” to do a complicated task. This was reinforced in me while walking our dog. The dog is on a leash as we walk down to the beach or park. And every few seconds he looks over his shoulder as if to confirm that we were still with him. The pull from the leash, while not great, is still there and should be a sign that there is still someone holding it, but our dog takes a peek every 5-7 seconds to check just in case. This is kind of how we operate. We have a trained-in procedure but subconsciously we keep checking to see if this is still what we want to have done. We know we can change our mind and a sure sign of that is our conscious mind is thinking about something other than what we are doing. So we, like that dog, seem to have a regular check in to see what the conscious mind is thinking about. It is where much of the subconscious mind’s orders come from, after all.

So, we need to follow along as our bodies do what we trained them to do, not being in control of those movements, but monitoring them.. Then we can trust our bodies.

A second aspect of this topic is that we can’t train our body to do something it cannot do. We can train it to do things we didn’t know we could do. Discovering we can do something we didn’t know we could do almost always flows out of actually doing that thing.

When we ask our bodies to do things it cannot do, what we get are: discomfort, pain, injury, etc. When we ask our bodies to do something it hasn’t done in a while, we can get some confusion. This is why I suggest to my students that they start their shooting warm-up, practice or competition, with a couple of letdowns. This acts as a wake-up call to your archery muscles in the form of . . . Remember this? I don’t recommend shooting either of the first two shots for a number of reasons. First, since your muscles are unlikely to have been activated before shooting, no matter what you did to warm up for your shooting session, these shots are not going to feel at all right, nor will the arrows land in reasonable locations. I recommend that my students’ first warm up shots be blank bale (or off target in a more formal setting). The reason is that our minds cannot ignore the target. If you shoot your first arrows at a target face and score an 8 or 9 (or 4 on a five-point face) your mind will immediately start thinking about adjustments. But this is when we are trying to get our shot process up and running as memorized. We need to be focused on shooting our memorized shot, not on tweaks we might make during competition. And we especially don’t want to start tweaking our process based upon the outcomes of low quality shots.

Part of learning how to score is recognizing phases our bodies go through when shooting and working within those. Also, learning to listen to our bodies is very important. I teach my students that if something hurts when shooting they should stop as something is wrong. There are more subtle signals than pain to learn to hear also.

There is, indeed, wisdom in your body. Don’t ignore it; use it.


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Sometimes a Blurb is Enough

This book (The Language of Coaching by Nick Winkelman) was outside of my price comfort zone, so I didn’t buy it, plus the blurb made me a bit dubious.

Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

“Packed with stunning visuals, the book provides over 25 movement sequences that outline different types of coaching cues, including a visual depiction of unique analogies, such as a sprinter taking off like a jet or an athlete loading into a jump like a spring.”

I have heard any number of such “analogies” as mentioned in the excerpt above applied to archery. Examples are: thinking of your draw forearm as being a rope or chain, thinking of your feet penetrating into the ground and growing roots like a tree, having a string attached to the top of your head with a helium balloon pulling your head straight up, and my favorite “imagine a laser beam coming out of your navel, it should be tracking right down the shooting line.”

Here’s the problem. I have seen no evidence of the effectiveness of such things. They seem just to be passed on from one coach to another as some sort of coaching wisdom. I suspect their usefulness is quite limited, compared to other techniques.

There is a significant problem with using such “analogies” while shooting. We now know that our imaginations use the same brain regions that our senses do. If we, say, imagine how some sort of colored object would look, the same regions of the brain are activated as when we actually see such an object and saw how it looked.

Here is an example of where this could go wrong. We now know that our brains can consciously keep track of two things simultaneously. We used to think it was just one, but we now know different. There is a limitation for the two things, however, they must engage different parts of the brain, otherwise they conflict. (This is the source of consciously thinking back and forth between your release fingers and your aim: back and forth you check one and then the other and then back to one again. You are trying to use the decision-making power of your brain, based upon two criteria, and they conflict. BTW, this is why clickers work.)

Consider the moment of release of your bow string. We are mentally doing a number of things: we are aiming visually, we are feeling some sign of our shot process continuing (often the tactile feeling of back tension) and then we have to add the loosing of the string to those two and we are now one over our limit. In almost all cases: compound, recurve, and traditional, if you consciously think about releasing the bow string, you are in for a bad shot. If you think “Relax your fingers.” or “Squeeze the trigger.” you are probably going to shoot a poor shot. Most people focus upon aiming (visually) and completing the shot (tactilely) and allow the release to happen subconsciously. This procedure is practiced up the yin-yang until it feels ever so normal.

Part of this procedure is called the “shot rehearsal” which is typically a visualization of a perfect shot, just before raising the bow to shoot. That visualization is a set of instructions to your subconscious mind as to what you want to have happen, or if you will, it is a goal set for the subconscious mind. If you just prior to the release, imagine some sort of “analogy” you are asking for trouble. That imagining (e.g. “imagine your bow arm is the barrel of a gun”) utilizes the visual cortex, which is needed to aim with and also conflicts with the visual rehearsal you gave your subconscious mind. And the advantage to doing this is?

It is possible that imagining such analogies during practice might be helpful, but if this is done often enough, will not these imaginings intrude into competition shots? Might they not become part of our shot sequence?

I am not just making this up. I had a problem with arm tendonitis at one point and adjusted my shot sequence at one point to “double check” that there wasn’t a problem during this shot. After months of doing this I realized I was reinforcing the problem by spending too much attention and generating too much anxiety around the issue. When I went back to my old shot sequence and endeavored to not think about the issue, things improved quite a bit. It is possible to inject things into our shots that are not at all helpful and I think we should be wary of doing that..


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Relaxation: How Much and When?

I remember telling a student that any muscles not needed to make a shot needed to be relaxed and he said, “. . . but I would fall down.” I went on to explain that standing did indeed require muscle tension and was also required to make a shot, because “flopped on the ground” is not a solid platform from which to shoot.

Now, I am not sure what I meant back then. I recently saw a golf coach take on the “relaxation mantra” and claim that very little in a golfer’s body is relaxed when swinging a golf club. I tend to think this is true of elite archer’s also, but what do I think now?

And Now . . .
Now I think that it is more complicated that I thought then, but not a great deal more.

We are always talking about unnecessary muscle tension needing to be relaxed away (in golf, too). The goal is always to execute each shot the same way as the previous one and trying to achieve a consistent level of muscle tension is quite difficult. We can only maintain it in our bow shoulder (which is holding the bow up) because the mass of the bow is constant and so is the acceleration of gravity at that locale. So we need enough muscle tension to hold the bow at a particular level and that force is a constant force which creates a constant counter force in your musculature. Similarly the back muscle tension you exert at full draw is based upon whatever your holding weight is, which is a constant because your bow isn’t changing in draw weight (unless something is very wrong).

So, imagine keeping, say, your abdominal muscles slightly flexed. How much muscle tension is involved in doing that? How good are you at setting that level and keeping that level? I suspect not very good, so we . . . in general . . . start from a position of keeping non-essential muscles as relaxed as possible. This is a somewhat identifiable level of relaxation/muscle tension.

If, as an elite athlete, you decide that flexing your abdominal muscles allows you to shoot better (more consistently, more accurately, whatever) then you will have a baseline to work from, which is “as relaxed as possible.”

Whenever we make changes we need to compare the “new” with the “old” to find out if we have made an improvement, rather than just a change. We recommend that when making equipment changes, that you mark everything involved, e.g. clicker position, arrow rest position, number of turns on limb bolts, etc. and document that change in writing in your notebook. The reason for these recommendations is if the change isn’t an improvement you want to have the option to set everything back to that previous arrangement. The “relaxed as is possible” body condition is at least a somewhat findable condition if you want to retreat from some other body condition that was recommended for you.

In archery, we are almost always better off throwing body postures onto our skeletons than our musculatures. For example, Rick McKinney had what he called his “wind stance” (see photo above). In this stance his feet were roughly 80° from a square stance, that is both feet were almost pointing at the target. He then had to rotate his body 90° the other way to get into full draw position. This created a fair amount of torso twist. (I have never been able to even demonstrate this, let alone do it while shooting.) That rotation of the torso creates a very rigid shooting platform that is less susceptible to being blown around by the wind.

How much muscle tension is generated in that twisting? Heck if I know, but it is made regular through the positioning of the feet. Where you place your feet determines how much muscle tension is needed to get into your full draw position. This is what I mean by “loading body postures onto our skeletons.”

The “when” aspect of muscle tension is fairly simple. I argue that the shot actually begins when the bow is raised. Everything preceding that is part of what I call the “pre-shot routine.” All muscle tensions need to be in place before full-draw position is reached. I argue this because if you took a light weight bow and got on target and then flexed a new muscle, any muscle, I think you would see that your aim was affected. I often tell students that I want them to “pause at the top” to see if they have become still. Stillness only happens when muscles are in a fixed state of relaxation/tension. Muscles are to allow you to move. Flex one and you will move. Moving is not being still. So, the pause at the top is to see if you are still (there are signs). You should not shoot until you are still. And then for consistencies sake, you should hold as much of your muscle tension until the shot is over . . . and, boys and girls, how do we know the shot’s over?

The shot isn’t over until the bow takes a bow (as in a theatrical bow).



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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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