Tag Archives: Q&A

Shooting While Breathing

I got a great email with the following question that will be the subject of today’s post:

Hi Steve,

I was wondering if you had any thoughts about breath control and how breathing (best) figures into the shot cycle? In the book you recommended, Professional Archery Technique, by Kirk Ethridge, Mr. Ethridge recommends to “[i]nhale deeply as you raise the bow, and exhale as you draw. When you are at full draw, your lungs should be empty.” (p. 36) The rationale seems to be one of relaxation and stillness. 

On the other hand, both Byron Ferguson (Become the Arrowp. 18) and Anthony Camera (Shooting the Stickbow, 2nd ed., p. 275) advocate inhaling on the draw, allowing the chest to expand at anchor — though for different reasons. (Ferguson’s seems to be about using the inhalation to expand the chest and further bring the drawing elbow/arm into alignment; Camera’s seems to be that the act of drawing itself creates a natural expansion and therefore inhalation, though “while there is little if any chest expansion [at full draw], the logical progression is to continue inhaling, albeit at a slower rate.”)

What are archery coaches recommending? Is there one best (or better) answer, or is this simply a matter of “what works for you”? (For myself, the logic of breathing in makes sense, but I find the inhalation difficult on the draw, and it feels like I am having to hold my breath while at aim. I tried Ethridge’s suggestion and found, if nothing else, that I felt more relaxed/still while at aim. That seemed to be a plus. But is this physiologically “wrong”?

* * *

As far as I am concerned, you can do nothing wrong in this regard as long as you are open to what is happening to your body. The goal, is to be still and strong at the moment of release.

The only scientific study I have been made aware of reports that we are steadier/more still if we have slightly less than a whole lungful of air at that moment. If you want to try that, end with that (full breath, partial exhale) and work your way back to the beginning of the shot. I am unaware of any other serious studies, but they may exist. That, of course, is in archery. There is a great deal of study on breathing in weightlifting. In lifting very great weights, the common wisdom is to exhale upon exertion. This technique lowers internal pressures in the body and prevents injuries such as hernias. But in archery, the weights involved are not so great, so I think we are free to do almost anything.

So, I recommend you experiment as you have been doing. Try a number of breathing patterns. (Rick McKinney’s book, The Simple Art of Winning, lists several more.) The goal is stillness and control at the moment of release.

I have a couple of caveats.

  1. Note whether the source is referring to Recurve/Traditional form or Compound form. I think the requirements for these forms are different enough to require different approaches (Rec/Trad has max draw weight and min time at full draw, while Compound has reduced DW and greater time at FD).
  2. Take into account your personal situation. I tried all kinds of breathing patterns and couldn’t settle on one, so I just breathed as close to tidally as I could (look it up). Then I was diagnosed as having asthma which cleared a few things up. If I held a little long I ended up out of breath, so I included an extra breath into my pattern and it really helped.

So, don’t feel confined by what other people recommend and use your sense of how still and comfortable you are up to the moment of release, coupled with how you feel thereafter (you do not want to be panting and out of breath) as your guide to a consistent breathing pattern. There is no physiologically right or wrong that I can perceive in this topic.

Note For serious archers, this gets worked out one way or another, either through investigation (as you are doing) or through feedback training (doing something over and over until you find what works). Archery is a repetition sport and one based upon feel. Breathing irregularities lead to different feelings that have nothing to do with archery, so breathing needs to be consistent, whichever pattern you choose or learn.

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The Problem of The Creeping Archers

This blog post’s title is an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. (Why? Because I can!)

I got an email from a student (Recurve Barebow, Right-handed) who brought up the phenomenon of creeping. Creeping is a flaw in one’s execution most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent slowly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. It has a more dramatic cousin: collapsing, which is most easily noticed by the arrow point moving from its deepest extent rapidly forward toward the target between the finish of the draw and the loose of the string. Creeping is subtle, collapsing is not. Creeping is small scale, collapsing is not.

Here is the message:

Dear Coach,
Someone noticed some problems with my form that may or may not be related to my target panic issue: when I reach full draw my right arm is in perfect alignment with my left arm, but less than two seconds later my right arm shifts inward
(actually outward, around and back toward the bow, SR) out of line. Is this a strength problem?
     Immediately after my right arm moves out of line I begin to creep, the arrow moving about a whole inch. I can see it happening but I don’t feel it happening, is this also a strength problem?     I notice after release, my bow swings to the right and I see that the arrow has landed to the left of where it should, I’m moving my draw arm back when I release and I’m almost positive that it’s moving straight back so I don’t quite know why the bow is not swinging straight back.
     Thanks as always coach.

And here is my response:

* * *

Creeping can be a strength problem, but is more likely a technique problem. The ideas in play are that a recurve bow creates its maximum force at full draw, which means the bow is pulling its hardest away from the position you have bent it into at full draw. So, when we reach full draw our technique has to change from drawing to holding. This involves a transfer of the holding force needed, the full draw weight of the bow “in hand,” to the back muscles which hold the rear shoulder back. (The back muscles are not really holding the force of the bow; they are holding the rear shoulder in place and the archer’s arm and shoulder bones are holding the force of the bow.)

Currently you are allowing the bow to pull you back toward where you started. This happens when your focus is in the wrong place. Often we get to full draw and our focus shifts completely to “aiming,” something you are putting extra focus upon now, but what is needed is actually a split in your attention (the only time your attention is split): we must focus upon both aiming and whatever marker of continuing to move the string away from the bow has been adopted. When you reach full draw, there needs to be a focus on aiming and one of two things: either your draw elbow continuing to swing around toward your back or upon the increasing muscle tension between your shoulder blades. Both of these are signs that you are holding well.

Note if you focus on the tensing of the muscles in your back, there is an illusion you need to be aware of. As an example, consider the picking up of a five-pound (2+ kg) hand weight and holding it out at shoulder height. As you stand holding it seems to get heavier over time, in the form of being harder and harder to hold up. Obviously it is a constant five pounds, that doesn’t change, but why does it seem to be getting heavier? This feeling comes from the muscles being used running out of the chemical energy they use to contract and exert forces. Similarly, at full draw, your back muscles seem, in the short time between anchoring and loosing, to be pulling harder and harder to the point the feeling is uncomfortable. Obviously you are not pulling harder and harder at full draw, it just feels that way. We use this illusion as a signal that all is well and good in this part of the shot, so our strategy is to recognize that feeling and not shoot arrows without it.

When you creep, the bow is pulling you back toward where you started. This causes subconscious adjustments in your form, usually some form of muscle involvement that causes the string to be pushed toward your face (the bowstring pulls the string away from your face and back toward the bow on the same arc it came in on … or very close to it). This lateral push is responsible for the followthrough movements and left arrows. Ideally, we are pulling straight back (away from the bow) and pushing straight out (toward the target) and all drawing forces are within the plane of the bow. When the string is loosed, the arrow flies forward and the bow recoils forward, neither to one side or the other. (Note: we use the “left arrows, right bow reaction” as signs that we are losing our back tension. Noting the symptoms, we apply the fix which is increased attention to the marker that we are holding well.)

A way to “fix” this technical deficit is to shoot “blind bale.” This means so close to a target butt that you cannot miss and shooting with your eyes closed. Unfortunately our target butts sit on the floor, so you may want to stack up some floor mats to create a base so the target butt is near shoulder level. Then, making sure your arrow will hit the butt, you close your eyes and draw and shoot. The main focus being on either your draw elbow or your back tension. Find the feeling that gives you an “explosive shot.” The term explosive shot is hyperbolic, but it describes the feeling of a well-performed shot. It feels really powerful because the bow is at maximum draw force and the release is crisp. Of course, you must use the best complete form you can muster while doing this drill, but the primary focus is on the feeling of the draw elbow or the uncomfortable muscle bunching between the shoulder blades. Once you recognize these feelings then you need to develop an awareness of them while shooting arrows for score, that is with a target in practice (Eyes open!) and eventually in competition

Addendum
This might be a strength problem in other archers, but whether or not it is can be determined easily enough. If strength is an issue there should be other signs: shaking at full draw or during the draw (when this is not normal), struggling to draw the bow, adopting improvised techniques to draw the bow, etc. Typically it is not strength, as strength is what gets the string back but not what holds it there. If you get to a good full-draw-position, one in which your draw elbow is directly behind the bow or, better, slightly past being “in line” with the bow, the draw force will be pulling your rear shoulder straight back into your body, providing a natural support for it staying where it is. Some archers report that when they get into this position it feels as if the draw force “in hand” actually diminishes, like the letoff of a compound bow, because the force is thrown off of the archer’s muscles in this configuration and onto the archer’s bones. Bones do their job of resisting forces with no effort needed.

Note If you or your student are left-handed, please reverse all of the left-right references.

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

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

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

When Can Kids Start Lifting Weights?

 

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The Never Ending Story: Getting Through the Clicker

I have an Olympic Recurve student who is working through some issues and he wrote recently to ask (in part):

I struggle to get through the clicker. Are there drills to work on to better expand through the clicker? I am interested in something physical to do.

* * *

The first step in getting through the clicker is to have the clicker in the right place. So, having a helper allows you to do a clicker check. You simply draw through the clicker but instead of shooting, you continue to expand (until you can’t expand no more—Popeye) and the helper notes how far behind the trailing edge of the clicker your arrow point gets. (You must maintain good form and not allow your string hand, for example, to slide back on your face, or anything else that will get the arrow back farther: dropping your draw elbow, etc.) Your helper should see only a 1/4 inch (6 mm) gap between the clicker rear edge and the tip of the arrow point. If that gap is too narrow, the clicker needs to be adjusted outward. If too wide, adjusted inward. We are looking for a 1/4 in (6 mm) distance between the two. This is basically a measure of how close you are to the end of the range of motion of the back muscles you are using at full draw. (It is also, like all other measures of this type, an approximation.)

The key to getting through the clicker is relaxation. Tension shortens muscles, shortens the draw and makes it harder to get through the clicker. (This is why so many intermediate archers struggle when a competition gets hot.) So try this: set up to shoot, but let down after ever rep. Then with your eyes closed draw through your clicker and evaluate how relaxed you are when getting through the clicker. You are simply surveying your state of relaxation. Try relaxing your string hand. Try relaxing your torso. See if any of these attempts to relax non-critical parts of your shot have an effect on how easily you get through the clicker. If relaxation helps, then unwanted muscle tension is your issue. As you are doing this you are training your subconscious mind on the goal (getting through the clicker) and the map to the goal (relaxation).

You have to be on the lookout for any of the many subconscious “clicker cheats.” These will get you though the clicker but not with good form. If you struggle getting through your clicker the disappointment triggers subconscious “experiments” to get you through. One common example of such a cheat is the curling up of the string fingers, so if you notice extra tension in your string hand, that is an area to relax. Another common cheating response is to over extend on the bow side (which will spread your groups out L-R).

If in your most relaxed state, you do not get through your clicker easily, then the clicker probably needs to be moved out a very, very little. If you have the help of someone, have them watch several reps of the drill above (without reporting what they see each time). Then have them tell you where your clicker is after the draw, typically. If your draw is short, you will be asking the expansion to move the point too far and a struggle ensues. Ideally when the draw is finished and you hit anchor, the rear edge of the clicker blade should be on the point. The old guys referred to this as the clicker “hanging on the point.” If your draw doesn’t get you there, then the problem is not with your expansion, but with your draw.

The reason I comment on your faster shots looking smooth and strong is that when we become deliberate we almost always become short. Beginners often do this because their draw is still not as consistent as they want and since they don’t want to draw through the clicker when they are not ready, they draw cautiously and therefore draw short. The short draw then sets them up for a struggle to get through the clicker and a new set of issue ensues.

Let me know what happens if you try this.

 

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You Get What You Pay For

I get a “newsletter” from ArcheryTalk.com and occasionally drop in there to see if anything of value is being discussed and occasionally there is. Unfortunately there is an ocean of other “stuff” one needs to sift through to find it.

The topic that drew my eye was entitled “Critique me” which consisted of a still photo of the archer at full draw shot from up the line, accompanied by this text: Just got a new <name of bow> and I was wondering what you guys thought of my form with the new setup. I’m always looking to improve and I appreciate any suggestions! I’m 6´3˝ and shooting a 29.5 inch draw length currently.

That was it.

I wonder what the gentleman in question hoped for in the way of feedback. The audience in question is united by at least one thing: they all have opinions. The problem is how would one evaluate the opinions. As you might expect I don’t think “crowd sourcing” of archer feedback is a good idea. Plus, one photo … really?

I read a few of the comments and a number of commenters said that his “draw length” looked right. Hello? If you wanted to evaluate his draw length you need a shot from above (ceiling downward) or from what I call “away,” that is on the far side of the archer. I also am 6´3˝ and shooting a similar bow in a similar fashion, my draw length is just under 32˝ so I have to be at least a bit suspicious that his draw length is a tad short. (One also doesn’t know if it was measured correctly.)

I hope that any coach asked for input in this situation would respond with “Sorry, no can do.”

For one, it takes a lot of training to be able to develop the skill of analyzing someone’s shot and that means you should probably get paid for the task. (Alright, I tend to try to help people who write in with their problems, simply because there is so little help available and I don’t charge for that service. But I don’t respond to cattle calls, like the one above.) A second problem is the archer hasn’t supplied anywhere near enough information.

I had an archer who wrote me and ask why his arrows hit to the left of the target. Well, there is a long list of reasons for this, the primary one being that is where he was aiming, but a common source of lefts or rights for “fingers” archers is having the wrong arrow spine. The problem is if the archers is right-handed, his/her arrows will fly to the left if too stiff for the bow and the right if too weak. But if the archer is left-handed, then the reverse is seen (arrows hit right if they are too stiff, etc.).

So, the information that is needed to ask any question is somewhat large.

I saw another AT question that asked: if you were just considering axle-to-axle length of a compound bow, what would you buy? Again, the question lacks enough information to provide an answer. You need to know what the bow is being used for to answer this question. Bowhunters favor shorter bows as they tend to shoot from cramped positions or have to walk through brush and can’t afford to snag their gear along the way. Target archers prefer longer bows as they are easier to hold still (the largest stabilizing force in a compound bow is the mass of the riser and how far it is distributed out from where the grip is (same principle as what makes a long rod work, just a lot more mass involved). And they have plenty of space to wield such bows.

So, please do send in your questions … and if you want a good answer, consider all of the information that might be needed to answer them, then include some of that. And, I strongly recommend you not ask “the universe” to answer your question. You will get too many answers that you cannot evaluate the quality of.

 

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More Barebow Questions

There seems to be a resurgence of Barebow archers lately and that makes me happy. That doesn’t mean Barebow is simple or easy. Here are some questions!

* * *

Coach Ruis:
I have a couple of questions. My first question involves blank bale practice. Winter is here, so I am shooting blank bale in the garage several nights a week, and going to the indoor range once a week. I am a string-

Barebow Recurve archers (right) get a bow and an arrow, none of the sights, stabilizers, clickers and other gewgaws that Olympic Recurve archers (left) get.

walking Barebow archer shooting an intermediate ILF bow with a plunger and wire arm arrow rest.
     While blank baling, I work on activating lower and middle traps when expanding as I focus on the draw arm LAN2. After a few days of blank bale, and I go to the range, I notice I have picked up a couple of ticks. First, I find I drop my draw elbow while expanding, and shoot high by a few inches. I have to concentrate on keeping my elbow at it’s draw height when I expand to correct this error. (I am actually not sure if this isn’t something going on with something else, like my bow arm/shoulder.) Second, my head position and/or draw hand at anchor seems unstable. It takes me a few ends to stabilize my anchor, and get my horizontal precision back. What is going on here, and how should I change my blank bale practice to be a force for good?

My second question involves shooting my secondary bow. I have an inexpensive three piece recurve I use for occasional stump shooting. I recently went on a trip for a couple of weeks, and brought the three piece along. I ended up shooting it a bunch of times over two weeks. Even when string walking I have to aim low and right to get the arrow to hit the mark. Once back at home and shooting my ILF bow, it took me a couple of weeks to regain both precision and accuracy. Obviously, I picked up some bad habits using this bow. I am guessing switching bows is a bad idea? I started out thinking that using different bows would increase my adaptability to different archery conditions, but now I am not so sure.

And here are my answers.

* * *

The difference with regard to your secondary bow is arrow spine. Unless you have a separate set of arrows matched to that bow, the odds of being able to use the same arrows with two bows is vanishingly small. You can mitigate the difference between the two aiming points by mentally telling yourself you are practicing “aiming off.” In the absence of wind, all points of aim (POA) of a well-tuned bow should be on a vertical line going through the center of your target face. (I call this the 12 o’cock-6 o’clock line.) If the wind is blowing, you may have to “aim off” of this line to allow the wind to blow your arrows into the center. I have people shooting sights deliberately mis-set their sights and find out how to still hit center as practice for this event. Mentally, then, you will not automatically blend in this shooting with your other bow’s shooting.

If your POAs aren’t on the 12 o’clock-6 o’clock line, your bow is not well-tuned.

Equipment-wise, if while string walking, your arrows hit to the left or right of your POA, and you can’t tune those out with your plunger, your arrows are either too stiff or too weak. Since you are aiming to the right (I assume you are right-handed) that means your arrows are flying left, which means they are too stiff for that bow. This may simply be a manifestation of your secondary bow having a lighter draw weight than your primary bow. (Can’t tell from here, of course.)

Regarding your first point. I have a problem with the National Training System of USA Archery (NTS) and you are demonstrating it clearly. (I assume you are learned in NTS as you are using their phraseology.) In this case, it is based upon the fact that we do not chose to use muscles consciously, but the NTS documents, which seem to be written for coaches but are foisted onto archers, offer way too much detail, including which muscles to use. Archers need to be put into proper positions and encouraged to use proper movements (what we call form and execution), which then limit the muscles that can be used … automatically. For example. If you draw the bow with your elbow at roughly nose height, it blocks out the biceps of your draw arm from being used. (Hold your hands and arms up in “pre-draw” position and then flex your draw arm biceps—careful, you may whack yourself in the face!) Subconsciously you know the biceps cannot help to draw the bow when in this position, so the biceps are not called upon. If you draw with your elbow quite a bit lower, it requires you to use your biceps. So, does an archer need to know about the biceps (the muscle that bends your arms inward)? I say no. They need to know that a better way to draw the bow is with their draw elbow “high” (meaning roughly at the level of your nose).

I believe your attention to things like the “middle traps” is really inhibiting what you want to do. If you put your body into the proper positions (form or posture) and then proceed freely (execution), you will automatically use the right muscles.

It is important to know these postures for this reason. At full draw we want a relatively straight line to run up the bow arm and across the shoulders (see the shoulder line in illustration below). Why? Bracing. A recurve bow exposes the archer to its full force at full draw (unlike a compound bow). To provide enough time under these conditions, we prefer to have our bone structure aligned to take that compressive force (you expand the bow, the bow compresses you). The bones can accept this force easily by opposing the force with compression resisting forces, but in the absence of the proper alignment of the bones to do that, we need to use muscle to supplement that. And muscles get tired and so over time their performance varies. Why do we need time at full draw? We need 0.5-1.5 sec (my estimate) of time to determine that we are being still. If you watch your arrow point carefully, it starts out being somewhat jittery when first at anchor, but then becomes more still (never perfectly so) after that time period. If you just wait, it will become more and more jittery again, as the muscles you are using to maintain your bone alignment fatigue. Why do we need to be still? If we are not still and are “shooting on the fly,” we will have variation not only in space (aiming is not perfect spatially) but also variation in time (we need to time the shot so it is properly aligned when we release). Stillness is better than not being still and we do not want to take this for granted.

If you observe this “settling” into your full draw position through the lessening of the motion of your arrow point, you can use this as a signal to release the string. Once you have become still and are on your POA, there is no benefit in waiting any longer. In effect, you have the equivalent of a built in “clicker” telling you it is time to loose.

We also want to have a relatively straight line from the centers of pressure on your bow hand and string fingers and on through to the point of your draw elbow (see the primary force line in the illustration above). Why? Biomechanically the COP of your bow hand is where you are pushing the bow handle and the COP on your string fingers is where you are pulling on the string. By aligning the draw forearm on that axis, you automatically throw the force of maintaining that posture on your upper back muscles (when archers say “back muscles” they mean the upper back, not the lower back, so the “mid-back” to an archer is the mid-upper back to others). The key is keeping kinks out of those two straight lines. This is what having “good alignment” or “good line” is all about. Any deviation from straightness of those two lines, requires muscles to be added to the equation, muscles to resist the draw force instead of just to maintain posture.

Whenever muscle is recruited to replace the role of bone under compression, we automatically make our shot more athletic. On good days, you can pull this off. On not so good days, your performance suffers. If you have large swings in your performances, it may be your shot is too athletic. A shot based upon bone is more consistent than one based upon bone and muscle (to resist the force of the bow). Muscle is always needed to maintain posture/body position, so we are not talking about that in this case.

I know I am going on and on, but the trap I hope you can avoid is in getting too focused on this muscle or that whatever. (I still have not seen a reference to LAN2 in any other source and do not understand how a reference to that point is superior to just using the point of the draw elbow. They are just a few inches apart and move together.)

Oh, with regard to you dropping your draw elbow. Your focus on your mid-back is allowing that (not causing it per se, but at least allowing it). Many successful archers use a focus on their draw elbow to get them through the shot. (Which you just discovered … it is not a bug; it is a feature!) The draw elbow is to move around (toward your back) and slightly down through the latter stages of the shot. This you can feel. Keeping both elbows “up” is a good focal point for successful recurve archery. If you are too focused on your back you may feel your elbow moving but it may be moving down rather than around. When the elbow moves down, it relieves the stress of the draw, something our bodies automatically do (relieve physical stress, avoid pain, etc.). You can draw farther, with less tension, dropping your draw elbow than not. But the build up of muscle tension in our back muscles (we call it back tension) is something we use as a sign that we are in the proper position. Allowing this tension to be bled off by lowering the draw elbow, removes this ability to determine if things “feel right” for loosing.

I hope this helps. Since diagnosing such things based upon written descriptions is kind of “iffy” do let me know if this works for you or not.

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Follow-up On What Constitutes A Relaxed String Hand

I have mentioned a number of times that I think the “Three Pillars” of consistent accuracy in archery are two relaxed hands combined with good full-draw body positioning. I go a question regarding how relaxed the string hand should be (for finger releases).

Here’s the question:

Hi Steve,
I was recently reading your post (video review) about the importance of a relaxed draw hand. I’ve read elsewhere a suggestion that one can check this by *gently* touching the thumb and pinky together as a means of assuring the hand stays flat and relaxed (think Boy Scout sign). Can you think of any reason why touching thumb and pinky during the draw and anchor might be a bad idea? 

Thanks in advance!

And here’s my answer:

* * *

A Boy Scout Salute

As to the draw/string hand, we teach the “three-fingers under” string grip to beginners using … the Boy/Girl Scout salute! Touching the little finger nail with the pad of the thumb, puts both little finger and thumb into exact correct positions. We ask them to: make the salute, curl their fingers, then slide the curl up under the arrow (always touching the arrow … for safety, we also suggest a “deep hook” without getting too detailed, aka “stay off of your fingertips”). When they reach anchor, they are told to “drop” those fingers, that is relax them. This solves the problem of where to put the thumb on the string hand. It actually has to be slightly tucked under the jaw, so there is a minimal amount of muscle tension associated with putting it there. The three finger salute puts them in the proper position from which their subsequent relaxation gets them where we want them to be with regard to being relaxed. Getting the thumb out of the way is necessary to make a tight anchor, which is one that allows the archer to see the arrow point/sight aperture looking along the inside edge of the bowstring.

So, sounds as if you are good to go!
Steve

PS Do write in if you have follow-up questions. Don’t count on me being perfectly clear all of the time (or even some of the time!).

 

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Apertures Float Like a Butterfly

We get letters ♫ … I got an email recently regarding apertures from a compound archer. Some interesting points were raised. Here it is:

Steve,
I’m working on a steadier hold. I switched to a dot from my aperture because the new (kinda) 80 cm target for compound @ 50m didn’t work with the aperture I’d been using for the 122cm target. That aperture also worked perfect in my garage at 28 feet as well as 18 m indoors. The dot seemed to be the same size at all distances. I was doing holding drills this week and tried both the dot and empty aperture, then noticed something interesting. When using the dot, it wanders out of the gold and you don’t want to take a shot when it does that but when using the aperture you always have some yellow in the circle made by the aperture even when the dot would be out. It’s an illusion, somewhat, you’re always in the yellow while you’re “out” with the dot even though it’s really the same position you’re holding on.

Here’s my response.

* * *

For compound people, there are a multitude of rings in different diameters and thickness … and colors to try. You can even combine rings and dots and use one or the other under different situations.

You were perceiving what is called relative steadiness. A bigger dot seems to move less than a smaller one (possibly because the extent of the motion is a fraction of the diameter of the larger dot, rather than a multiple of the diameter of the smaller one). Same is true for larger rings/apertures v. smaller rings/apertures. If you are using a central dot in your aperture, you want to have the dot be small enough it does completely cover the gold, nor does it leave the gold often. This is why I prefer a larger ring decal on my scope lens apertures. The gold floats inside of the ring and provides the information my brain needs to see that it is “centered” in that ring.

Imagine a dot so big it covers the gold. (Some have used old sight pins with beads glued on the tip to create such a thing for indoors compound archery.) In this situation one feels the urge to move it off to see if the gold is actually behind the dot. If you are in a situation like that, due to the distance to the target, it is better to “see” the dot as being inside, say, the blue ring, and looking to have it centered in that ring because the gold is not helping. On a target like the NFAA Hunter targets, you are SOL as there is only the small central dot on the face and no outer rings to help as with the parti-colored target faces.

Small dots make you feel more jittery, larger ones less so, but larger rings/apertures include the ability to see what is behind the aperture while keeping the sense of stillness.

We are never perfectly still. The fact that out hearts beat continuously, and each beat changes the location of our center of mass slightly, which means we can never be perfectly still. So apertures, scope lenses, dots will always be seen to be moving. Small objects moving a distance equal to their own size appear to be moving a lot. A large object moving the same distance appears to be moving very little. The empty ring aperture (recurve) and the ring decal applied to scope lenses (compound) provide the best of both.

Again, these are my opinions, my analyses. There ain’t no gospel here. If you are someone which an elevated innate sense of calmness, you made need no extra help like this. I am not one of those people and was born jittery, so I needed all of the help I could find. Steve

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When to Loose the String, Aye, That’s the Rub

I got a very interesting question regarding shooting Recurve Barebow. I believe the rather large number of questions coming in on this style this reflects a basic paucity of information on Barebow in books and whatnot and while we are working on that, there are a few DVD sources worth exploring if you are interested, namely: “Modern Traditional” (highly recommended) and the “Masters of the Barebow” series (I have not seen all of these but the ones I have were informative).

In this more traditional style a decision must be made regarding when to loose the string as neither a mechanical release aid or clicker is employed. (If you didn’t know, the clicker was invented as a cure for target panic, not as I thought originally, as a draw stop.)

Here’s the question:

Hello Steve,
I hope this email finds you well! Here are some lines on what happened over the last weeks trying to apply various aiming techniques in order to improve my shooting.

I was of the opinion, that moving from instinctive shooting to applying some aiming technique will cure one annoying thing that I experienced in competitive shooting situations: loosing the arrow at the moment, erroneously feeling it must be the right time for release, but, at the same time, knowing it is not the right time, and thus not being able to simply finish the meanwhile frozen in movement and consequently … loose the arrow and … miss. It feels like a yes/no short circuit.

In order to improve my form and try the various ways of aiming off of the point, I just got a pair of 24# limbs and matching arrows. It is amazing how well such a light bow spits arrows! The danger of being overbowed is thus ruled out. However, I now have to admit and accept, I have this target panic thing. I feel insecure and pretty much like stopping to compete this winter and work on this yes/no short circuit to finally end up in an unfettered yes-mode.

And here is my answer:

* * *

Using a light weight bow is a good idea most times, especially when exploring new form elements, but in this case it may be misleading. When you aim off of the point, you must decide when to loose. When you are shooting a stout bow, there is considerable pressure to loose the string because the holding weight is so high. When you drop down, you feel like you can hold a long time … which makes the decision to loose more obvious to your mind and can exasperate your problem.

The “now … not now” problem has been experienced by many, many archers (including me). Here is something that can help. When you are making a shot, if everything is done right … and your arrow point is on your point of aim (POA), there is a sign you can use to signal, like a clicker clicking, that it is “time to loose the string.”

Take your 24# bow and with your target at home and do this experiment: get to full draw position in good form and observe the steadiness of the arrow point. Go a good long time and then let down. What most people see is that when they first get to their anchor point and “on point,” that is on their POA, the arrow point oscillates, then after 0.5 second to 1.5 seconds the arrow point oscillates less, then as time drags on, the oscillations get larger and larger (due to muscle strain). If you see this pattern (I think it is “normal”) then there is a natural way to build in a signal to loose the string. In any case, it is good to familiarize yourself with “holding your aim”! Too many archers feel like they can only hold on point for 0.000012 seconds and so must loose immediately when they “have it.”

If you see that pattern (it is there for sight shooters, too), the reduction in oscillation of the arrow point is a signal that you have become still and stillness is a requirement for accuracy. Stillness is never perfect but there is a decrease from the initial level of movement of the arrow point (or aperture) and a tiny bit later. That change in oscillation of the arrow point can be used as the signal that it is time to loose. You must see it and believe it (that it is a sign of stillness) to break the “now … not now” problem. The “now … not now” problem exists because there is no criterion for when to shoot, for what constitutes “now”. Your mind is debating over whether the current situation constitutes an acceptable time to loose, when you have given it no way to determine if that is true, hence the uncertainty fueling the “… not now”. If this makes any sense to you, it is worth trying, no?

* * *

Round 2

There was a follow-up to this exchange. Here that is:

“The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalising expansion into full back tension. The motion freezes in, I cannot continue the expansion phase to the end and prematurely release. The motion simply stops in between, when I get the feel: stop, release now, it is fine! I can hold the bow in this frozen position. There is no twitching the shot.  However, the arrow will leave the bow with different power compared to when everything is finalised properly. The funny thing is, that sometimes I really shoot tight groups that way and that burns as a success pattern into the neurons.

“I think, I tend to freeze the motion just when I subconsciously get the impression the right shooting symmetry is achieved to loose the arrow regardless of the level of back-tension. That is the case in tournaments. Maybe, it is not enough confidence in my back tension that augments in stressy situations and explains my 10% score difference. Well, that is why I seek remedy in applying some aiming off of something technique.”

And here is my response:

* * *

Re “The “now … not now” thing occurs usually at some point between anchoring and finalizing expansion into full back tension.” There is a tendency when archers are exploring new ways of shooting to talk oneself through the new steps. I hope you are not doing this as it detracts from what your conscious mind is supposed to be doing (watching, not giving orders).

“Finalizing full back tension” is a vague sort of feeling in one’s back and doesn’t form a good indicator of where one is in the cycle. Our subconscious minds are better than our conscious minds in making this assessment, but it is not a clean indicator of when to shoot. I suggest that you not worry about the state of your back tension as you work through this. Instead, once you get comfortable using the damping of the arrow point and loosing upon that signal, get someone to stand behind you to check your alignment at the point of loose (and that your elbow continues in it’s arc for a couple of inches (max) after loose). If both of those are good, you are good to go.

The circle on the target and the round top of the arrow point for a “figure 8” that makes an exact aiming position.

Re: “bringing it right up near the gold” When aiming off of the point, the best position for the point is to have the top of the arrow touch the bottom of the central scoring ring (or the central ring color) … precisely (not using a sight is not a license for sloppiness). This makes a “figure 8” to picture in your mind’s eye. There should be no conscious thoughts going on during this process. If there is, that is part of the problem. So, the arrow “touches” the gold and you are in good full-draw position and when the point (you have to be looking at the point anyway) settles to minimum movement, then that is the time to loose. We don’t have a clicker clicking to signal it is time to loose, so we use this more subtle technique. Again, none of this is occurring while there are conscious thoughts. If you hear things in your head … you are not in your right mind! (If I am allowed bad puns while discussing serious topics.)

Having these exact positions and exact movements provides exact “go-no go” signals to our subconscious minds. Vagueness encourages mental debates (… it’s good, no, it’s not … now it’s good! … argh!) that result in confusion and poor shots and can lead to target panic down that road.

Of course, none of this is 100% scientific knowledge. You are getting just my best estimate as to what is going on.

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To Pre-Draw or Not to Pre-Draw, That Is the Question

I sent a video link showing Darrel Pace and Rick McKinney shooting at the 1984 Olympics (Los Angeles) to a Recurve student of mine who is working on speeding up his draw. He is quite an astute student who wrote back immediately with these questions:

Hi Steve,
Thanks. I note that Pace is only a few inches from his face at a pre-draw, at 5:35 in the video. Also he goes from this position to a couple of inches under chin/jaw before back up to anchor. Lots of movements going on. What’s the benefit to drawing below the chin/jaw and then up into the anchor? I’m aware I draw pretty much straight to my face. I remember the summer evening archery lessons where I was taught to do this. Along with T shape, square stance, tuck my chin down (something we had to undo).
Cheers

And here is my response (somewhat augmented as I had a chance to think more deeply).

* * *

In American-style Archery (my term), you pretty much draw to anchor (with stops along the way). In is Kisik Lee’s teaching that you draw to 1+˝ below the chin and come up. I believe he claims it helps to set the rear shoulder/facilitate “loading” … I am unclear on this. (Have you read the USAA book “Archery?” This is the cheapest book covering Coach Lee’s teachings, also called the NTS or National Training System. I wish they had called it the National Teaching System because I don’t see training mentioned much.)

In Coach Lee’s description, you draw exactly that low until the string touches the corner of your chin, then you come up. This practice does give you a draw length indicator (if your head position doesn’t move, if …).

I found the whole “pre-draw” idea puzzling because everybody did it a different way. (I have written about this: “The Pre-Draw Redux” in AF 10-1) The first formal Instructor’s Manual of the NAA (now USAA) does not mention a pre-draw. I think it is a rather recent invention. Since starting and stopping muscle contractions results in more variation in muscle tension and therefore feel, I suggest we do away with it all together. (As an analysis tool, I always suggest you think about what if you carried it to an extreme: what if you stopped 5X or 10X on the way to anchor? If 1X is good, … ?) That stop may be being used to do something else, as I indicated, but does doing that require a stop? I don’t know.

In KSL’s technique, the “Set Up” element eliminates the pre-draw by skipping over it … or you could say he institutes it as being required as the final body position of the Set Up phase. I would like to find out what was happening elsewhere physically and mentally during a pre-draw as you have noted. It might have just been copied from the way others shot and then used as a point or marker in time/space in which other things are done, such as positioning the sight aperture, checking string alignment, etc.

Please realize that McKinney had his dad as a coach and Darrel basically didn’t have one (he did grill everyone he ran into, though). Modern coaching of archery hadn’t been invented yet. (I am not sure it has even now.)

PS Tucking your chin down is something you do (mildly) to use a high anchor. You do the opposite for a low anchor. So, if you were being taught to shoot with a high anchor, they were right. This is an ongoing problem with archery instruction. What is said specifically is generalized. Coaches need to do a better job of pointing these things out.

A Bald Face Plug
In this post I referred to an article in a back issue of Archery Focus magazine. If you are not subscribing, you are really missing out as you get complete access to all of the back issues when you subscribe. That’s thousands of articles written to make you a better archer and coach. You can get it here: www.archeryfocus.com. Here’s the cover of the latest issue:

 

 

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