Tag Archives: Recurve Bows

How Many Pounds Should I Pull?

I have an Olympic Recurve student (who switched from compound) who is currently building his shot. Besides being a delight to work with, he is bringing up questions us coaches should be able to answer. One of those is “how much draw weight do I need?”

I am in the camp of “as little as possible for most recreational archers” as “it ’posed to be fun, bro.” But here is the answer I sent back to him.

* * *

As to what draw weight to settle on, you are looking for something you can handle. Our goal is to shoot our last arrow of a competition as well as we shot our first arrow, so too much draw weight creates fatigue that foils this goal. You also want it to be as high as possible (while meeting the other criteria). This is because the higher the DW, the flatter the arrow trajectory and the closer to “indoor form” we get. Young archers experience the problem that because of their short DL and low DW it means that at longer distances, they have to hold their bows at fairly steep angles, which distorts their form and results in their sight aperture being above the target face. We would rather not to have to distort our form so much and we would rather have our aperture line up somewhere on the target face for consistency (e.g. 12 o’clock—7-ring, dead center is even better).

Unless you are ferociously competitive, something in the mid-40’s would serve you well for all applications. There are some people who only compete indoors and so only shoot 18 m and 20 yds. They do not need much DW at all. Just enough tension on the bowstring to get off of it cleanly. If you plan on competing outdoors, pick your longest distance and see if you can sight in on the target, that is get a sight setting with your aperture somewhere on the target face. If you can you are good (enough) to go. If you cannot, and you can handle a higher DW, that is your solution. Many people find such a spot at the mid-30’s to higher 30’s of pounds of DW. (Cast depends on a lot of variables, one of which is draw length, another being arrow mass.) This is the gift given us by the creators of lightweight, stiff all-carbon arrows. If you cannot handle much draw weight, then all-carbon arrows are part of the perfect solution. Having less mass they accelerate to fairly high arrow speeds at low-ish draw weights.

 

 

 

 

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Stop with the Bests, Please

I tend to “lurk” on several archery sites, such as Archery Talk, even Quora has an archery section. I call it lurking because usually I bite my tongue and don’t comment, so I’ll comment here instead! :o)

All too often I see questions on these various sites like “What is the best bow?” and “What is the best broadhead?” and “What is the best bow sight?” and “Can anyone recommend a good broadhead?” These questions irritate the heck out of me because they do not specify for what purpose. What makes a good bow sight for hunting doesn’t necessarily make a good bow sight for target archery. What makes a good bow for historical re-enactments doesn’t necessarily make a good bow for horse archery. What makes . . . do I need to continue?

So, these are stupid questions on their faces. And if one does try to answer them, one is necessarily put in the position of listing a great many different purposes and answering the question for each of those quite different categories, when the questioner is probably only interested in one of those answers.

On Quora, the following question was asked “What is the least expensive bow?” I lost my composure and answered “a free one.” My first bow (and second and third) were free in that they were loaners that got turned into gifts, so the answer wasn’t entirely facetious. Answers to this question would vary a lot if one had asked “I want to explore target archery, how much do I need to save up to get started?” or “What is the least expensive starter bow I can get to go hunting?”

So, pet peeves aside, I see too many posts on websites, articles in magazines, and videos on YouTube referring to the “best” binoculars, “best” spotting scopes, “best” bow sights, “best” hunting bow, “best” arrows, “best” broadheads, etc. The reason these are misleading at the minimum or stupid at the other end is there is no such thing as “the best” anything when it comes to archery . . . period.

Every piece of kit you can acquire for archery has caveats associated with it. One of mine was cost. I have never been what you might call “flush” to the point that money was no object. So everything I bought fit into the category of “the best I could get for under XYZ dollars.” On top of that are restrictions based upon application. Binoculars for most bowhunting scenarios should be small, lightweight, and moderately powerful, possibly wide field also. You may have to pack in these binoculars, so light and small are good, and deer hunters rarely take a shot over 30 yards, so not a lot of magnifying power is needed. Probably want rugged, too. If you are using the binoculars for long distance target shooting, such requirements may not apply. Field archers have to lug their gear around their ranges, so light and small might apply but target archers can have all of their gear in a wheelbarrow, right near their shooting station, should they need any of it.

A bow for target competition also has limitations. If you hanker after an Olympic medal, don’t come home from the pro shop with a compound bow, they aren’t allowed.

Then there is the matter of personal fit. When examining a new bow, the first thing I check is the grip section. I remember a bow Claudia fell in love with that I couldn’t draw because it felt that the grip was going to slide right out of my bow hand as I began pulling on the bowstring and there was nothing I could do to change that. She, on the other hand, felt she had never felt a more solid hold in her life. So, that bow might have been “best” for her, but it certainly wasn’t “best” for me.

What I would rather see are posts/videos/articles with titles such as “What Makes A Good Bow Sight?” and “What to Look For When Buying a Hunting Compound Bow.” Then you might be equipped to find something that is at least “good” for you.

Addendum When I finished this post it occurred to me that anyone who answers a “best” question straight on, “this is best,” or writes a “best” article is actually lying. This is based upon the simple fact that in order to declare a best of anything, you would have to test every possible candidate in that category. Do you think the people who declare a “best hunting arrow” actually tried all of them? Tested all of them? Can you imagine testing all bowstrings, bow sights, arrow points, broadheads, etc? I can’t. So, I sincerely wish people would stuff the “bests” where the sun don’t shine along with all of the other BS.

Apology If I have offended your sensibilities in any way, I do apologize. Being locked up due to the pandemonium gives me no one else to vent to.

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A Problem with Right Fliers

We are trying to find helpful ideas for you to pursue “Archery in a Time of Pandemic.” (We will be publishing a number of articles in Archery Focus to this end.) Since I have not been able to meet with archery students I have offered them free remote coaching and one of my newer students has taken me up on this offer. The issue we are dealing with is fairly often right fliers being shot. The archer is right-handed and shoots Olympic Recurve.

We had previously addressed things like centershot issues, form and execution issues, and arrow spine issues and are still exploring those things but I came up with another possible source of such a problem while watching Jake Kaminski’s new YouTube series on tuning Olympic Recurve bows. Here is what I sent my student. (Please realize that I can only see his bow and arrow spreads in pictures.)

* * *

I have been watching Jake Kaminski’s tuning series and he made a point I hadn’t thought of before which could be causing your rightitis—limb alignment . . . or rather, limb misalignment.

Many people do not know why adjustable limb pockets were created, but it was because the only recourse we had before they were available was to send our bows back to the manufacturer, who got tired of adjusting misaligned limbs and replacing malformed risers. So, they made the adjustable limb pockets so people could fix their own damned bows . . . and thereby created a whole new class of misalignments.

Now, almost all take down recurve bows have adjustable limb pockets and one problem this allows is this: the top limb points a little to left and the bottom limb also a bit left. Now the bowstring, which can still be eyeballed to line up with the center of the riser is actually parallel left of where it should be. This means the bowstring is moving toward the left of center of the bow and that throws the arrows off to the right . . . well it predisposes them to do so anyway. A particular kind of poor loose makes for a way right arrow, a loose not so bad results in one that is just slightly right, that is ordinarily correct by a slight windage adjustment of the bow sight. So . . . spot, spot, spot, spot, right flier, spot. Kind of what you have been getting.

Checking whether this is the case is not so easy. It is easiest done if you have a large flat surface, such as a quality ping pong table. If the bow lays flat on that surface, bingo! You lay the bow flat on the surface and then measure how far the string is up from that surface. Then you flip it over and do it again. If the bowstring is in the central plane of the bow, the same tabletop to string measurement should be had (this is the desired state).

Just thought you’d want to know. (I did mention that there is always more than one cause for every effect, did I not? :o)

I do hope you are fairing well.

Steve

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Coach Lessons

About a week and a half ago, I had a number of coaching lessons scheduled, probably the last face-to-face lessons I will be giving for several months due to the pandemic, and I had a bit of an epiphany. I had finished my last lesson and was packing up to go and I struck up a conversation with another archer, as we archers so often do. This gentleman has had a couple of coaching sessions with me recently so we were acquainted. He was at our indoor range trying to get a new bow set up and tuned for his 16-year old son.

There was clearly something not working as he seemed frustrated. The conversation naturally gravitated to the issue: his son and he, both Recurve archers, had been recommended the same arrows over the phone. This rang an alarm for me, not because of the phone conversation, the dealer referenced was quite reputable, but because of the situation. The son looked a couple of inches shorter than the dad and when asked, that was confirmed along with the fact that dad’s draw weight was seven pounds higher than the son’s. I asked about their draw lengths and he said, “they are the same.” To my eye, and brain, they should have had about two spine groups difference between their shafts.

Now, I say “about two spine groups difference” because arrows are very sensitive to “cut length.” The rule of thumb is there is a one inch difference between spine groups. (Go ahead and look at any spine chart and that is about how they work out.) So, an arrow two spine groups too stiff could be made shootable by cutting them two inches “too long,” too long being longer than the recommended cut length.

So, the son is shooting bare shafts to set up these arrows and, again, my eye immediately told me the problem. Being two inches shorter than his dad, the son’s draw length should have been one inch shorter, but it was not. It was clear, to my mind, why it was not in that the youth was leaning away from the target, which results in a raised bow shoulder. So, I asked the dad about this. “Was this a new adaption to his shot or had it been there for some time?” This leaning away from the target is a time honored adaption youths make to deal with a bow that is just too heavy (the shoulder muscles responsible for holding the bow up against gravity, the deltoids, develop rather late). But, this may have been a habit developed when the youth was younger or recently adopted and I wanted to know which it was. It seems to have been around for some time, so I explained what was going on. The net result is that a high bow shoulder leads to an overly long draw length.

So, we did a test to see if he could handle the physical mass of his new bow. The test is simply to hold the bow with one arm in full draw position (we had to adjust his posture a touch) and count . . . slowly . . . one thousand one, one thousand two, . . . etc. If you cant make it to “five” before the bow starts to descend, the bow is definitely too heavy. If the bow begins to drop after five, it is probably too heavy. If you can get to 10 without the bow dropping, then it is probably not too heavy and if you can keep going past ten, you are as strong as you need to be. The young man passed the test which means he no longer had a need to lean away from the target.

So we got him “plumb” and raising the bow without raising his bow shoulder and checked his draw length. It was now roughly an inch shorter than his dad’s. The dad asked me what else they needed to do and I responded, without thinking, “Nothing, everything will just cascade down because of that one correction,” and it seem to do just that.

I said my goodbyes with the hope that their tuning session would go well from that point onward.

On the drive home, I realized that I hadn’t really thought things through . . . consciously. I just “looked” and “saw” and spoke. I spent a little time figuring out the “whys” involved on the way home, for example when you lean away from the target, if you think of the bow arm as being just part of your reference system, the leaning of the upper body moves the head, and your anchor point, farther away from your bow hand (and the bow). This is what causes the “too long” draw length. When the archer stands plumb (straight up and down) the rear elbow is elevated, the angle the fingers make on the bowstring becomes square, for all of the reasons that we adopt that form, those postures, in the first place, so if you remove the lean, everything else just falls into place.

The young man involved sucked all of this up and made the corrections needed in just a shot or three. (He learns fast as many of the young do.)

But the lesson for me, and possibly for you, is to accept that your intuition is a very useful tool. I didn’t think all of this through, I just reacted to the situation. This can lead to chasing one’s tail, as I have done many times before, but that chasing is probably also part of the learning process. And if my intuition doesn’t work, and sometimes it does not, then thinking through everything consciously is necessary.

And, I have been working on a book project lately which is how to coach archery from physical principles. I hope this will lead to me having a better understanding of what is going on and by sharing that will help you diagnose the technical problems you encounter. Maybe this story will become a “case study” for that book.

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Compound v. Recurve Bows for Hunting

I was perusing an online article entitled “A Primer on Bowhunting.” By and large it was quite good but under the topic of bow selection I encountered the following:

“For the purpose of the rest of this article, let’s assume you’re in the market for a compound bow (which is highly recommended for a new bowhunter). The advantages are numerous, but the main ones are:
• increased effective range (usually 50+ yards)
• more accurate
• easier to hold in the drawn position (giving you time to wait for the perfect shot)
• faster arrow speeds/greater kinetic energy (resulting in a quicker and more ethical kill)”

Allow me to address the bullet points, point-by-point.

  • increased effective range (usually 50+ yards)
    Uh, most deer are taken within 25 yards, for example, so this is possibly a detriment. If a hunter thinks he is dead on accurate out to 50 yards, he may actually be enticed to take such longer shots. The problem here is the feeling of “dead on accurate” usual comes from experience at practice on an archery range, free of obstacles. In the field, however, there are branches in the way as well as other obstacles (cramped stances or no stance at all, etc.), and the farther away the game is the more time they have to react to a sound from the hunter (look up “jumping the string” for examples).
  • more accurate
    Uh, just no. The bow affects consistency, but not accuracy. Accuracy falls strictly under the archer’s responsibility. While there are aspects of bow design that do affect accuracy somewhat, it is up to the archer to use any advantage in every case.
  • easier to hold in the drawn position (giving you time to wait for the perfect shot)
    This is the primary, #1, bestest, mostest advantage of a compound bow. Because of designed in “letoff” the draw force at full draw is a small fraction of the peak draw force. Bow designs typically remove 65% to 80% of the peak draw force, often leaving less than 20 pounds of force to be held at full draw. More time means more time to aim. Recurve bows and longbows reach their peak weights at full draw and aren’t going to be held long because of that.
  • faster arrow speeds/greater kinetic energy (resulting in a quicker and more ethical kill)”
    Again, uh, . . . no. Arrows kill by cutting blood vessels that result in the animal bleeding to death. Ethical bowhunting requires the hunter to aim for the largest blood vessels, using an arrow fitted with a “broad head” which is not only broad but is very, very sharp. Larry Wise once calculated what arrow speeds were necessary to inflict lethal penetration on a deer and it came out to about 240 feet per second (fps) for a typical hunting arrow. Compound hunting bows are now promising arrow speeds of 300 fps to 350 fps. Higher arrow speeds result in what are called “pass throughs” that is the arrow penetrates the prey’s body and comes out the other side. Arrows that have left the body of the animal do no further damage, so are not any more lethal than slower arrows. (It is different for rifle hunters as faster bullets carry more energy (just as faster arrows do) but bullets kill through shock, not blood loss from severed blood vessels and there is less “drop” so longer rage shooting become easier.)

I am not a hunter. I gave up hunting when I was 18 and hunting squirrels. But I have been around hunters my whole life and I listen to them and read what they have written (a good book to educate yourself is Timeless Bowhunting by Roy S. Marlow). This allows me to work with bowhunters who are seeking archery advice and also for being able to communicate with target archers who also bow hunt.

 

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A Recurve Bowstring Question

I was too lazy to bust out all of my string making equipment recently to make a new recurve bowstring and then . . . a special offer popped up from the 60X string and cable people, so I ordered a new string from them. It came right away (third day in the mail!) and was a very nicely made bowstring. It measured, as expected, 3/8ʺ less than the length ordered, but they are very clear that they make their bowstrings to AMO specifications, which means that recurve bowstrings are measured when under 100 pounds of tension. (Which I am sure would get the length to exactly what was ordered.)

My question is this. Have any of you ever put a tension meter on the string of a strung bow? I would love to see what the tension was on a normal bow to see how 100 lb compares.

Additional questions might be:

  1. How does brace height affect string tension?
    2. How does draw weight affect string tension? (I have drawn a lot of bows and the higher the draw weight, the higher the string tension, but that is just the direction of the change, not an indicator of the quantity.
    3. Does twisting of the bow string affect tension?

I can design the experiments and actually pull them off . . . but I do not have handheld tension meter (say 0-200#) to make the measurements. They seem to be a bit pricey on the Internet, with the cheapest versions being sold for sailboat rigging.

Anyone interested? (I’ll pay for the data and/or article.) Anyone ever heard of such measurements being made?

Postscript I have run afoul of this with commercially made Dacron strings, suited for very light drawing bows. These bowstrings were always too short, possibly because the light drawing bows could not come up to anything near the 100# of tension they were measured under. Strings can be shortened by twisting but not lengthened. When I make my own strings I can adjust the build length to make sure this doesn’t happen … but when you need a dozen strings … ouch.

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Why Do I Need Soft Hands?

Since I have been working on our drills book, I have been feeling a growing interest in being able to prove, or at least demonstrate, why certain things need to be the ways they are in making an archery shot. Too much of archery coaching seems to be “do it this way” and if you ask “why,” one gets either nothing or gibberish as a response.

If you have read this blog for any length of time you may recall that I call “having relaxed hands and good full draw position” the Three Pillars of Consistent Accuracy. They provide the basis for all of the other things that need to go right to make good shots, one after the other. Good full draw position, often described as the “Archer’s Triangle” for Recurve archers, can be “proved” necessary based upon the forces involved and the desire for a “clean” release of the string for consistencies sake. But . . .

Why Soft Hands?
To demonstrate this necessity (or so I claim) I offer an experiment. First make a fist and make it hard. Hold it for as long as you can. After you feel the strain associated with this experiment, check a few things. Check how flexible your wrist is. Check how relaxed your forearm is. Check to see how relaxed your elbow joint is. If you are like me, there is a great deal of tension all up your arm and the joints are quite inflexible. The aphorism is “muscle tension spreads.” Containing the muscle tension, to the fist in this case, is possible but not, I think, easily or completely so.

So what? Who cares?

The basic consequences of unwanted muscle tension is that it restricts movement and, once a muscle is flexed, it cannot be flexed to perform an action. Examples of this are rife. Consider posing bodybuilders on a stage. They have muscles bulging everywhere. To get this effect, they are flexing muscles that are in opposition to each other (antagonistic and agonistic muscles). For example the biceps muscles close the arm at the elbow. The triceps muscles open the arm at the elbow. Flex both and the elbow becomes locked in its position. Those flexing bodybuilders are quite rigid when they are posing. Their joints cannot be moved. And archers want to move their joints. This is necessary to make shots.

Consider the bow hand. Why is the bow hand in a vertical orientation, what I call the “bye-bye” position? Why not wrap it around the bow as one would grip a pistol, say? Shooting a pistol requires very little muscle effort, certainly as when compared to shooting an arrow from a bow. If an archer uses a pistol grip, the primary contact with the bow (which becomes critical when the string is loosed) is focused on two groups of muscles: the pad of the thumb and the pad of the heel of the palm (Scientifically the thenar muscles are three short muscles located at the base of the thumb. The muscle bellies produce a bulge, known as the thenar eminence. They are responsible for the fine movements of the thumb. The hypothenar muscles produce the hypothenar eminence, a muscular protrusion on the palm at the base of the little finger. These muscles are similar to the thenar muscles in both name and organization.)

Ack! Not like this either.

These two muscle groups are independent enough that one can get tense while the other is more relaxed. During the loose, the recoil from the bow acts upon those muscles. The bow will “bounce” off of hard muscles more than from soft ones. So if the thumb muscles are more tense/hard than the other, the bow will actually rotate (the bow hand is at the pivot point, remember) ever so lightly, with the top limb moving forward and down. This slight movement gets amplified, the farther the arrow flies and a low shot results. If the thumb muscles are softer, the bow bounces off of the harder hypothenar eminence, and the bow rotates up (top limb moves down and back). This results in high shots.

So, what do archers do to reduce these effects? We isolate the bow contact onto the thenar eminence/pad of the thumb. Then, variations in muscle tension there result in the bow bouncing more forward and rotating less. (The slight rotation moves the arrow rest and nocking point. Moving both of these forward (toward the target) changes the aim very little.)

Then the job of the archer is to keep the pad of the thumb in a consistent state of muscle tension and a relaxed state is the easiest one to find/recognize. Imagine the difficulty in shooting well if the optimal situation involved those muscles being 11.2% tense or some other non zero value for the muscle tension? Ack!

We have even developed tension ridding activities for our hands (flapping them, flexing them backward, etc.).

Coaches can assess the degree of relaxation in an archer’s bow hand. The position of the bow hand is easy to check. If the bottom three fingers of the bow hand are, or can be, wrapped around the bow, the hand position is wrong (they have a pistol grip). When waving “bye-bye” to an infant, we hold our hand palm out and flap our fingers. This is the direction one’s fingers need to be able to move in an archer’s grip (and why I refer to that as the “bye-bye position”). The index finger, moving down toward the ground, and being slightly curved, may end up in contact with the back of the riser, but the others should not be able to wrap around the grip at all. Some archers curl these up alongside the grip to facilitate getting into this hand position.

As to checking whether the bow hand is relaxed, I look for “white knuckles.” Muscle tension in the fingers or pressure using the fingers forces blood out of them, turning the normal skin color lighter (black skin will look browner, brown skin will look creamier, and pink skin will look white). I will also ask the archer if I may touch their bow fingers at full draw (only after instructing them to not shoot and being in blank bale shooting position, aka up close, to catch accidental looses). At full draw I flick their fingers in the “open” direction. If they are tense, they will not move. If they are relaxed, the finger will move open and flick back to the normal relaxed position quite quickly.

How About the String Hand?
Fingers on either the string or release aid, have the same the prescription: a relaxed string hand. The muscles necessary to get the string fingers to curl around the string or a release aid are in the upper forearm and not the hand. Tension in the hand makes it harder to get a clean release (the string has to exert more force on the fingers to push them out of the way (and action-reaction makes the string move farther out of line) and harder to operate the release aid consistently.

I give the athlete something to feel for in the way of feedback and that is, I think, an illusion. If you draw a bow with a relaxed hand, it actually feels as if the hand stretches. It might actually stretch, but I think that it is mostly an illusion. The illusion comes from normal behavior. If a force comes from the outside of our body, we normal marshal muscle force (and so tension) to oppose that force. This is automatic. When drawing the bow we are supplying the force, but the bow turns it around and applies it to the string fingers. By deliberately not tensing those fingers, it seems to our minds that the fingers must be affected and from that comes the feeling of the stretch. (If you haven’t noticed this before, feel for it in some test draws. Try varying the amount of tension in your hand and see how that affects the feeling of the hand stretching during the draw.)

A nice relaxed release hand looks like this. The bow hand is not bad either.

The other thing I look for is a flat back of the hand, straight wrist and arm in a “normal position.” If the muscles in the string arm are relaxed, pulling on the arm from the farthest extremity (which the bow does) will cause the arm to be straight. If I see a kinked wrist or a curved forearm, or a cupped back of the string hand, I know there is muscle tension. There is a drill I use to provide the correct feel to the archer: you, or another archer, stand facing the student. Each reaches slightly toward the other as if to shake hands, but instead, they hook string hooks, treating the other’s string grip as if it were the string. Then both are to wriggle and shake their whole arms without losing the connection to the other archer. Wrists should be floppy, hands should flex back and forth, forearm muscles should flop around. (I got the idea for this drill from the marshal arts drill of “push hands.”)

Other Implications
The Three Pillars have other implications. For example, beginners often pick up the bad habit of setting their bow wrist before getting the bow seated (in anticipation of the forces to be applied?). Because of this “form flaw” the center of pressure point on the bow grip varies from shot to shot quite a bit causing larger than necessary groups. Sometimes they have a lot of contact high on the grip and they get low shots, other times it is low contact (aka “heeling the bow”) and they get high shots. In almost every case I recommend that there be no preset. In the case of the bow wrist, if it is kept relaxed while getting the bow up, the bow (and deliberate hand position as described above) will cause the center of pressure on the bow grip to be very consistent. The bow shapes and positions the hand and wrist very consistently. Presetting the bow wrist cannot have the response of the bow’s grip molding itself to each new hand position.

For this reason, I do not recommend doing anything “early.” It was recommended at one point that the draw of a recurve bow be done with the wrist bowed outward because that was the position the wrist would be in at full draw. This is an early set of the string wrist. If the draw is done with the wrist as relaxed as can be, when the archer gets to anchor, the wrist will conform to the archer’s head anatomy, which is determined in turn by bones, and a regular position will be the result. Trying to set body positions early is like starting a sawing/cutting motion with a steak knife before the knife is anywhere near the steak. There being no resistance to what position we want to effect, the range of positions/movements becomes greater. (And no one wants to be known as the guy who cut himself eating dinner.)

Similarly it has been recommended to recurve archers that their shoulder line be pointed at the bow (a necessary condition for good full draw position) before the draw has been completed, that is early. This causes unnecessary muscle strain, as the final stage of the draw is caused by rotation of the rear shoulder around into that alignment. This is when the muscles of the back become engaged (back tension) as they are the ones that control the shoulder position and that movement. This cannot be done from the beginning of the draw due to a lack of leverage. (Try this with a light drawing bow. Raise the bow with 1-2ʺ of draw (to keep the hands in position) and then rotate your string side shoulder around to see if you can draw the bow that way. I have yet to meet anyone who could do this. Once the draw is about half way, however, there is sufficient leverage for the rear shoulder to take over leading the back muscles to accept the load of the draw almost completely.)

Any benefit claimed for doing anything early, should be examined very, very carefully. I have yet to find any such benefits.

Postscript Sorry this was so long. It kind of grew like Topsy.

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A Source of Poor Line

Note I have not been posting much lately because I have been very busy and also caught the danged flu, the one that hangs on for weeks and weeks. I hope to be posting more frequently again. If you have questions you need answered, please send them to me either through a comment or via email. Steve

A fundamental of good archery form is to have good alignment, often referred to as having “good line.” A simple glance at the shooting line at any local archery tournament will show you that good line is not easy to find. There are a number of reasons for this but I want to focus on one major cause of poor line.

When shooting a recurve bow, the optimal posture at full draw is described by the Archer’s Triangle. Looking down on the archer’s head, we would see the archer’s drawing forearm in “line” with the arrow, the two forming one side of the triangle. The archer’s draw side upper arm forms another side and then the archer’s shoulders and bow arm make the third, easy peasey. The key visible aspect of this body position is the archer’s shoulder line and bow arm point to the bow. Coaches are taught to sight along that line (from away from the target and archer) to check the archer’s alignment/“line.” (Compounders are somewhat different, see below.)

To illustrate a major source of the inability to adopt this full draw position I offer the following book cover:

As such covers go, the participants in the photo are shown as having a great deal of fun. (What the young man is looking at is beyond me.) In any case, you can see one of the results of poor line is the “flying elbow” of the young lady, a draw elbow that is pointed off to the side rather than straight back. The reason we want the elbow to be pointing straight back (at the loose) is so that the force on the bowstring is directly away from the bow. This cause the bowstring, when released, to move back toward the bow in as straight a line as possible. If we are pulling off to the side, then the path the bowstring makes back to the bow is more circuitous and less consistent. For the physics buffs, to get the string against the face at anchor with the elbow out there, the string hand must be pulled in toward the face, giving a force vector toward the archer to be added of that toward the bow. (Compounding these forces is the tendency of the string hand to move away from the face during the loose (a pluck!) as the force into the archer’s face is no longer needed. The coach’s shortcut you may know is “a flying elbow leads to plucking the bowstring.”)

Now, the source of the poor line? The bow shoulder. Most coaches think poor line stems from the archer not having swung the draw shoulder around far enough, but simply put, if the bow shoulder is not open far enough (to approximately 180°) the rear shoulder cannot possible compensate. If the young lady were standing more to the side (facing down the line, less open), her front shoulder would be more open and the rear shoulder would have a chance of forming up on a line pointing to the bow.

A common source of that open bow shoulder is the ideological adoption of an open stance. (I say ideological as there is no physical reason for it.) Beginning archers are taught an open stance as a matter of course, which I believe is a mistake. An open stance is an advanced bit of archery form that shouldn’t be taught until later. When I see an archer with poor line, the first thing I do is I close up their stance until they are back to square (feet and chest pointing down the shooting line at full draw) or past that to a closed stance (feet and chest pointing slightly behind the shooting line at full draw). After all, the Archer’s Triangle has the archer’s shoulders pointing at the bow on a line which is 10-12° closed to the line to the target (the arrow has to point at the target if you want to hit it). The strongest biomechanical body position (to resist gravity, the only other force present) would be to have the hips, knees, and feet directly under the shoulders, which would place the feet 10-12° closed to the shooting line. This is a neutral body position, without special positioning, which the square stance is not and an open stance is certainly not.

So, if you have a student struggling to get “in line” or who has a “flying elbow” focus on getting the front shoulder, the bow shoulder, fully opened. (The archer will feel his/her bow side chest muscles stretch is a good guide.) A lever to help get there is to move the archer’s stance toward being square or even past that. I will close an archer’s stance as far as needed until they get in line, then ask them to shoot that way until being in line feels “normal.” Then other stances can be experimented with, with the prime consideration of always keeping that good line.

A Note on Compound Form While recurve and longbow archers have prescribed to them that their shoulder line point to their bow, compound archer’s standard form has their shoulder line parallel to the arrow, so they have an Archer’s Trapezoid rather than an Archer’s Triangle. This means their front shoulder will be slightly open when in this position. This is more comfortable for the archer and can be gotten away with because the holding weight of the compound bow is only a third or so of the peak weight, so less bracing is needed at full draw. If a release aid is used or not, the archer still wants to be pulling directly away from the bow at the moment of release to line of the force vectors behind the arrow and not to the side. And, an open stance works against this upper body position.

 

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Should I Upgrade to Premium Limbs?

I have an Olympic Recurve student who is also a coach and he has been considering moving up in draw weight. I gave my standard recommendation: start with inexpensive limbs until you settle on a draw weight that clicks, then move up to higher end limbs then. Jumping into a new set of high end limbs can be really expensive if they do not work out.

Here is the question I got back today:

These $81 36 lb. limbs are working fine for me. I think I could even go to 38 lbs. My question is what real ROI do I get by upgrading to Win&Win limbs for $400 or so? There’s got to be solid reasons why the Korean team uses them rather than my A+ limbs.”

And here is my answer:

* * *

With regard to the high end limbs, the elites use them because they are sponsored and don’t have to pay full price or at all (in part). With regard to quality and performance, yes, they are better but … most archers (IMHO) are not skilled enough to realize the benefit or all of the benefit. In the Frangilli’s book The Heretic Archer, Vittorio and Michele did an evaluation of a large selection of limbs, which most people have neither the time, money or skill to do. Their conclusion … at that time … was that the quality of the limbs was determined primarily from the quality of the components in the limbs. All of the designs were so similar as to be the same. The differences were small, mostly noticed in the form of the harshness of the shot, not in significant differences in arrow speeds or anything else. So the differences in limbs are small (and expensive).

As long as the inexpensive limbs work for you (you have a baseline of personal comparison with your old higher end limbs) I’d stick with them. If you wanted to try a heavier pair of limbs, I would go up 4#, not just 2#, because you can back them out 10% so 38# limbs can be backed out to 34.2# which overlaps substantially with the 36# pair. 40# limbs can be backed down to 36# (40# – 10%) which is your 36# limbs maxed out … ta da! These are the nominal draw weight values (@ 28ʺ), not at your draw length, but I think it gives you the idea. Once you settle on a pair of limbs and a draw weight adjustment, shoot those for a while. Then, if you can borrow a pair of high end limbs of the same specifications, you can make a direct comparison as to whether the $$$ limbs are better. For one, they should feel more “taut” and energetic. The arrows should hit higher on the target for your old sight settings, etc. If you don’t find enough to get excited about, stick with the less expensive limbs and use the savings to buy other gear!

I suspect that many archers look at their bows as being on a ladder. As they gain expertise, they expect to get more and more expensive equipment. We often start with used gear, then graduate to buying new. We buy less expensive gear while we are finding out what spine arrows work for us, etc. Then we move up. In many cases, this is justified. A $350 bow sight flat out functions far better than a $35 bow sight, but is it far superior to a $250 bow sight? And the sight isn’t responsible for performance. Things like bows, limbs, tabs, release aids are.

There is almost zero help in deciding whether an equipment upgrade will provide benefits to an archer at any skill level. The manufacturers want you to buy their gear. The responsible ones will tell you that you do not have enough skill to benefit from Fancy Bit XYZ but you have to consult with someone highly skilled in making those decisions and most shop staff don’t have that kind of expertise. (I have seen this happen and it is a joy to see.)

Most coaches are not trained well enough to help. I have yet to see any aspect of a coach training program address such things.

Let me know if there is anything else I can help with!

 

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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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