10 common mistakes that ruin accuracy, and how to fix them.

We all experience it at some point. The frustration and disappointment of not being able to hit the center of the target. Perhaps you were shooting terrific and then all of a sudden it’s seems to completely fall apart. Or maybe you are just starting your archery journey and are having difficulty getting better. Don’t worry, chances are you are making at least one of these 10 very common mistakes.  Read on to find out what they are and how to fix them.

Arrgh…I can’t seem to hit anything…what’s going on???

Mistake #1 Over Bowed

Over bowed means the draw weight of the bow is too heavy for you to be able to shoot with stability and consistency which are crucial to accuracy.  If you are over bowed you will feel shaky, unable to hold your aim steady, and fatigue easily. Competition archery is a sport of precision and endurance NOT power. If your goal is to repeatedly hit bulls-eyes you need to be in full command of your bow and it’s draw weight. To find a decent draw weight try this simple 10 second test.  Draw you bow back to anchor and hold it there for 10 seconds.

  • If you feel any shaking, fatigue or especially muscle failure, you may be over bowed.  Try a bow that is 5lbs lighter until you find a draw weight you can hold steady for 10 seconds. This is a more appropriate draw weight for you at this time.
  • If you do not feel any shaking or fatigue, you are at an appropriate draw weight or you can try increasing your draw weight. Try a bow up to 5lbs heavier in draw weight and repeat the 10 second test. When you find a draw weight you can not hold steady for 10 seconds, you went too far.

If you are a bowhunter this test may be problematic.  In hunting, power is important. You may need a heavier draw weight for hunting than you would for target shooting. Try reducing the time from 10 seconds to 3-5 seconds. If you are unable to hold steady for at least 3 seconds with the lowest draw weight necessary to hunt, I strongly urge you to reconsider bow hunting at this time. You may not be able to make the shot with enough confidence, stability, and accuracy to ethically hunt. You do not have to give it up, just work on strength training until you are ready. The US National team uses specific physical training (SPT) drills to increase strength, stamina, and power. Click here to learn how to use the SPTs for your training.

I have a lot more information about selecting an appropriate draw weight in my article “The controversial draw weight agenda

Mistake #2 Neglecting Eye Dominance

Your eye dominance is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye over the other. To avoid major aiming difficulties it is important to determine your eye dominance so you can make appropriate corrections if they are necessary. Click here for a short video on how to determine your eye dominance and if you should be shooting right or left handed.

When shooting, the arrow is placed on the side of your face. It is imperative for only the eye directly above the arrow to aim. For a right handed archer, it is your right eye.  If you shoot right handed but you are left eye dominant, you are cross dominant. There are two corrections for cross dominance.

  1. Close or cover your dominant eye, so that the eye above the arrow can aim
  2. Learn to shoot with the opposite hand so your dominant eye is above the arrow

If you do not have a clearly dominant eye, shoot the direction you are most comfortable and take appropriate measures make sure only the eye above the arrow is aiming.

Mistake #3 Unreliable Aiming Technique

Ironically, I believe you will have better results if you operate from the mind set that a good shot is 99% form (body positioning) and only 1% aim. If you do not have a decent amount of consistency in your form, the effectiveness of any aiming technique will be drastically reduced. I talk more about this in my article “The form pyramid”. However without a reliable aiming technique, exceptional results can never be achieved.

To illustrate this point, take a look at the following visual representation of common results arising from good form and bad form.

targets

Having good form will allow you to be more precise. The better your form is, the easier it will be to group your arrows together. While good form is imperative, aim should not be overlooked. Having good aim will allow you to be more accurate. The better your aim is, the easier it will be to hit the center of the target. Notice in the diagram above, even without having good form, the results are better if you have good aim.

Learning and using a reliable aiming technique will only help you. As your form gets better, so will your results.

There are multiple aiming techniques. I recommend you start with a technique called Gap shooting. Gap shooting uses reference points to help you hit the bullseye. For an in-depth tutorial on how to gap shoot, I recommend downloading my free “gap shooting guide

Mistake #4 Over Spined

The spine of the arrow is how flexible the shaft of the arrow is. An arrow must flex just the right amount to shoot straight. If it does not flex enough it is too stiff or over spined and if it flexes too much is is too weak or under spined. The most common problem especially for recurve archers with carbon arrows is over spine.

For a right handed archer, an over spined arrow will impact to the left even when you aim at the center. To fix this problem you need an arrow with a weaker spine. The spine of the arrow is labeled on the shaft of the arrow. Generally, the larger the number the weaker the spine. In the example below the spine of the arrow is labeled “600”

carbonone

This is actually a 0.600″ (six hundred thousandths of an inch) deflection. Be aware, the number labeled is not necessarily the spine deflection. Check the manufactures spine chart to determine the actual spine of the arrow. For example an aluminum arrow commonly labeled as “2013”, is close to a 600 spine.

There are numerous factors that effect how much the spine will actually bend when the arrow is shot. To get the arrow to flex just right, I recommend starting by finding a reasonable spine and tuning from there. To find a reasonable starting spine you can use spine charts. To appropriately use the chart, you will need to know the length of your arrow and your actual draw weight.  To find the arrow length, measure from the valley of the nock to the end of the shaft (excluding the point).

arrow-length

To find your actual draw weight you can use a bow scale or calculate your actual draw weight using the equation from my article “How your draw length affects your draw weight“. With these two measurements you can use spine charts like Easton Archery’s official spine chart to find an appropriate spine for you.

Below is a very quick reference you can use to see if your arrows are close to an appropriate spine rating: (quick reference is based on a 29” arrow with 100gr point)

  • 15 lbs…..1400 spine
  • 20 lbs…..1000 spine
  • 30 lbs…..700 spine
  • 40 lbs…..600 spine
  • 50 lbs…..500 spine
  • 60 lbs…..400 spine
  • 70 lbs…..300 spine
  • 80 lbs…..200 spine

Be careful, if your arrow is too weak for your draw weight you may be at risk of injury from your arrow breaking.  If you are concerned that your arrows are too weak, please feel free to contact me or take your equipment to your local archery pro shop.

Mistake #5 Inappropriate Nock Locator Height

nocklocator

The nock locator or nocking point is a tiny brass clamp or an additional bit of string tied on the center serving to locate the placement of the nock onto the string. There can be one or two nock locators.

The height of the nock locator is very important. I recommend archers shooting 3 under should start with the lowest part of the nock locator attached to the string at 1/2″ above the height of the arrow rest. Archers shooting split finger should start with the lowest part of the nock locator attached to the string 3/8″ above the height of the arrow rest. If you are shooting a compound bow with a “d loop”, the d loop should be roughly at the same height as the arrow rest bolt hole.

squareplacementUse a bow square to make sure your placement is exact. Clip the bow square on the string then slide it down until the arm gently touches the arrow rest.  Using the measurements on the bow square, attach your nock locator at the correct height.

Mistake #6 Using Vanes Instead Of Feathers

I see this quite often.  If you are using a traditional bow and shooting off the shelf, chances are you should be using real feathers on your arrows not the plastic vanes. It takes a very specific type of arrow rest to successfully use arrows with vanes.

feathersvsvanes

The plastic vanes are rigid and if they make contact with the bow, arrow rest, or shelf when the arrow is shot it can cause the arrow to “kick” resulting in very poor arrow flight and inconsistent results on the target. Feathers have the ability to compress and will fold out of the way if there is slight contact.

Mistake #7 Shooting Too Fast

I know how fun it is to channel your inner Katniss Everdeen or Legolas and shoot as fast as possible. But the fact is, a slow, steady, and thoughtful shot will make you more accurate. Slowing down will allow your brain more time to analyze the shot and make corrections which will help you to get better in a shorter period of time. A good shot can easily take up to 15 seconds to complete an entire shot sequence. Slow down, try to relax, think about your process.

Mistake #8 Variable Anchor Position

Why is the anchor so important? The direction of the path of your arrow is entirely determined by the alignment of the nock and the point. Each can be adjusted independently.  Moving the bow will adjust the position of the point. Moving the string will adjust the position of the nock. If both bow position and string position are changing from shot to shot, so will the arrow alignment. This makes it next to impossible to have consistent results on the target.  Because of this, you must eliminate as best as you can any variability in the positioning of the string. This is what an anchor does. Your anchor is a specific spot on your face where your hand comes to rest at full draw.  Your anchor needs to be consistent and repeatable. There are different anchors for different styles of shooting but they all have reference points for precision.

If you do not already have a specific anchor and you shoot a recurve, I recommended resting your hand on your cheek and touching the back corner of your mouth with the tip of your index finger for your anchor. To increase consistency, some experienced archers will even select a tooth to touch because your mouth is pliable but your skeleton is rigid.

anchor02

Notice how the string is on the side of my nose.  This can be intimidating for many beginning archers. However, I assure you the string will not tear your face off.

If you do not have a consistent anchor on your face or your hand floats in the air, “floating anchor” you will have very poor results on the target.

For compound archers the anchor is different. Depending on the type of release you use, it involves a part of your hand contacting the back of your jaw or neck, and generally touching the string to the center of the tip of your nose.

Mistake #9 Pinching The Arrow

I does not matter if you shoot “3 under” or “split finger”, if you pinch or apply pressure to the arrow while it is on the string you will likely have poor results.  In extreme cases you can actually push or pull the arrow off the rest while you are shooting. Which can be extremely dangerous!

Not touching the arrow is counter intuitive, many beginning archers believe they need to hold the arrow on the string. This is not true. Modern arrow nocks are designed to have a friction fit on the string so they do not fall off.

If you shoot 3 under do not apply upward pressure into the arrow.  Gently touch the arrow for consistency in positioning your hook, but do not apply any pressure to the arrow.

If you shoot split finger, separate you fingers so they are not pinching the arrow. Olympic style archers use a tab with a finger spacer.

saker

The spacer forces your fingers apart so you do not accidentally pinch the arrow between your index and middle finger.

Mistake #10 The Grip

hammergrip

This one is tricky. The worst grip you can have on your bow is a tight and tense fist grip, with your fingers wrapping around like you are holding the handle of a hammer.

When all the muscles in your hand are tense they push and pull in opposing directions causing the bow to shake or torque in your hand. Ironically the best grip on a bow is no grip at all

There are three parts to a good grip. The first part of a good grip is completely relaxing your fingers and your hand. There should be no tension or squeezing.

A common question I get asked is “If I am not squeezing and grabbing the bow won’t it fall out of my hand when I shoot?” The answer to this questions is “yes”. Which is exactly what it should do with a good grip. That is why archers use a finger or wrist sling. The sling is an additional piece of string that wraps around the front of your bow and attaches to your fingers or your wrist.  When you shoot, the bow is caught by the sling so it does not fall to the ground.  If you do not use a sling it is still possible to train yourself to grip the bow properly without squeezing, but it often takes a lot of training to maintain that loose grip once the arrow is shot.

thenar-eminence

The second part of a good grip is engaging the pressure point. The pressure point is a specific point of focus on your hand which you use to press the bow away from you. The recommended pressure point is in the center of the muscular mound at the base of your thumb (thenar eminence). To engage the pressure point, flex backwards like you are telling someone to “stop” with your hand and press the pressure point into the back of the grip.

Source: World Archery

The third part of a good grip is the angle of your knuckles and wrist.  Your knuckles should be rotated out so they form an approximate 45 degree angle to the ground. When you achieve this angle in your knuckles it often feels like your plam is facing the ground. Notice in the photo, to achieve the 45 degree angle, the archer’s last three fingers are off to the side of the bow and not even contacting the grip at all.

These are the top 10 mistakes I often see archers making.  What are some common mistakes you have seen, and what do you think is the best solution? Please feel free to comment below. If you have any questions you can always contact me.

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A quick method to combat target panic with a compound bow.

If you have target panic you are experiencing a form of shot anticipation. You need to rewire your brain.

A problem with target panic is that you are in control of timing and telling yourself when to shoot. For now we need to switch that control over to someone else so for this process, you will need to have a helper.

With your helper, try this three step process to combat your target panic using a compound bow:

Step 1: Place your finger behind the release trigger and draw your bow. For this step make sure your finger is behind the trigger and leave it there the entire time. Move your pin to the very center of the target (this will be the hard part, force yourself to do it) keep your pin in the center of the target with your finger behind the trigger while your helper slowly counts to three. Once your helper gets to the count of three, let down. That’s right, let down after the count of three. Do not shoot, just let down. Repeat this step until you can do it calmly, comfortably, and controlled.

Step 2:  Place your finger behind the release trigger and draw your bow. Move your pin to the very center of the target. Keep your pin in the center of the target with your finger behind the trigger while your helper slowly counts to three. Once your helper gets to the count of three, move your finger to the front of the trigger but do not shoot. Keep you finger lightly on the trigger and your pin in the very center of the target while your helper slowly counts to three again. Once your helper gets to the count of three for the second time, move you finger back behind the trigger and let down. Yup, let down again. This is a very important step. Repeat this step until you can do it calmly, comfortably, and controlled.

Step 3: Again, place your finger behind the release trigger and draw your bow. Move your pin to the very center of the target. Keep your pin in the center of the target with your finger behind the trigger while your helper slowly counts to three. Once your helper gets to the count of three, move your finger to the front of the trigger but do not shoot. Keep you finger lightly on the trigger and your pin in the very center of the target while your helper slowly counts to three again. Once your helper gets to the count of three for the second time they will then tell you “shoot” OR “let down”. The decision is up to your helper but make sure it is randomized. If your helper decides to tell you “let down”, move your finger behind the trigger and let down. If your helper decides to tell you “shoot” go ahead and take the shot. Repeat this step until you can do it calmly, comfortably, and controlled.

Once you have mastered the third step you should feel in control of your shot. If you are feeling in control, try executing the third step on your own without a helper. You can count inside your head. Be sure to mix up shooting and letting down.

The goal is to be able to make your own decision to shoot or let down at any time after the pin is aimed in the very center of the target.

I hope this helps you to cure your target panic. Best of luck and happy shooting!

 

How to deal with shot anticipation

There is a fundamental challenge in all shooting sports. Every time you take a shot whether it be with a bow, gun, slingshot, etc, your body experiences a jolt or impact. This impact initiates your body’s self preservation reflex and it responds by bracing for the impact with a flinch. This flinch can be detrimental to your accuracy. Anticipating a shot that you know will cause impact always results in a flinch.

In this article I will be discussing how to effectively deal with shot anticipation by using an external signaler.

To execute a shot, your brain must send a signal to your fingers to release.  Your brain knows release = impact, so if your brain itself is used to decide when this signal is sent, it will have plenty of time to anticipate the moment of release and flinch before the shot is executed. Flinching before the shot is executed is what causes issues with accuracy. While it is nearly impossible to prevent this flinch, it is possible to postpone the flinch until after the shot has been executed, effectively solving the problem.

If you shoot with your fingers you can learn to postpone the flinching by using an unpredictable external signal.

There are multiple unpredictable external signalers you can use, they can be either audible or tactile.  A clicker, and a sear are two examples of these signalers.

Historically a sear is the catch that holds the hammer of a gun in the cocked position. When the gun trigger is pulled the catch releases the hammer.

In archery a sear is any devise that acts as a catch of some sort. When enough pressure or movement is applied the catch releases whatever it was holding.

A clicker is a devise that will make a “click” sound when the bow is drawn to a specific length.

If they are used properly, it is impossible to predict exactly when these devices will activate. Properly using the activation of the device, instead of a choice by your brain, to signal the release, does not allow you to preemptively anticipate the moment of release which means you will end up flinching after the shot is executed.

It is important to understand, you must use the device properly for it to work.  It does not just work on its own.  Learning to use external signalers properly can take time and practice, especially if you already have issues with shot anticipation.

Using the device properly means you must wire your brain to execute a shot by concentrating on something other than what the devise is designed to do. For example in the case of a clicker, if you only focus on waiting to hear the click so you can release, there is a good chance you will unintentionally condition yourself and the clicker will end up controlling you. As a result, the shot anticipation will persist along with flinching before the shot is executed.

Instead of focusing on the job of the device (ex make a click sound), focus on the action that is required to make the device activate. For example, if you activate your clicker by expanding, focus only on the act of expanding.  Doing this, the clicker will inevitably click during some unanticipated portion of your expansion.

This can be accomplished easier with a verbal que or mantra that you say to yourself as you are focusing on executing that action. If you are using expansion to get the clicker to go off, you can tell yourself “expand, expand, expand…” focus only on this and make your body do it in a slow and controlled manner. The device WILL activate and when it does, release. By focusing on the expansion and not the click, the resultant flinch can be postponed until after the shot has already been executed. This is how to successfully deal with shot anticipation.

Joel Turner of Shot IQ authored a short book called “Controlled Process Shooting”. In his book, Joel discusses the science behind shot anticipation and offers not opinion but scientific answers to many issues shooters face today. I highly recommended reading his book and finding a good coach to work with.

I hope this article has brought you some understanding and set you off in the right direction for properly dealing with issues arising from shot anticipation. Good luck and happy shooting.

 

The form pyramid

Success is based on your goals. If your goal is performance based like a high score, then the key to success is consistency, being able to do the same thing over and over again with as little variation as possible. The closer you can get to exactly replicating one shot after another, the more successful you will be especially in achieving performance based goals.

In terms of archery consistency there are two areas of concern, accuracy and precision. Precision is the ability to reproduce a result.  Accuracy is how close the result was to it’s actual or intended value.

Your precision can be seen by how far apart your arrows are to each other.  Arrows closer to each other are more precise.

Your accuracy can be seen by how far away your arrows are to the center of the target. Arrows closer to the bullseye are more accurate.

Your form is responsible for your precision and your aim is responsible for your accuracy. You must be consistent with your form and your aim if you want to repeatedly hit the center of the target.

I would argue that while one is not necessarily more important than the other, aiming is much easier to keep consistent. With the exception of instinctual shooting, aiming is a matter of lining up reference points. Once you know where your reference points are, the ability to line them up consistently is relatively easy to accomplish and repeat.

Form on the other hand, is much more difficult to keep consistent. This is why I often say a good shot is 99% form and 1% aim. Consistency in form comes from practice and utilizing efficient techniques. More efficient techniques are not necessarily easier to learn. This is where the form pyramid comes in.  The form pyramid is tool of my personal construction. It is a a visual representation of the skills that I believe are important to shooting with a high level of consistency and precision. As a coach I recommend my students learn to shoot by starting at the bottom of the pyramid and work their way up.

form-pyramid

 

There are three levels to the pyramid.  At the bottom level are the skills that are easier and take less time to become consistent in. These skills help gain a small amount of precision. In the middle are the skills that are more difficult and take more time to become consistent in. These skills help gain even more precision. Finally at the top are the skills that are the most difficult and take the most time to become consistent in.  These skills help gain the most precision and are often the focus for high level competitive archers.

The Easy Tier
The first skill in the easy tier is stance.  I recommend a square stance with both feet shoulder width apart, perpendicular to the shooting line.

Nock is putting your arrow on your bow.  This step seems innocuous but it is important because you must remember to snap your nock all the way onto the string with the fletching in the correct orientation and confirm the arrow is on top of the rest or shelf.

For hook, I recommend staring with the string nestled in the first groove of all three fingers and the end of your fingers curled around the string. It is imperative that you are not pinching or pressing on the arrow with any of your fingers.

For the basic grip, it is important you have your thumb on the side of the bow so it can point to the target while you are shooting. Your finger tips should rest on the very front of the bow, not wrapping around the side.

Basic posture is the “T” position.  knees straight, hips directly under your shoulders, not leaning forward, back, or sideways.

The most important part of the anchor is finding bone on bone contact for a repeatable and recognizable anchor.

The Medium Tier
The first skill in the medium tier is the advanced grip.  This is where you identify the pivot point and the pressure point. To set the grip, engage the pivot point into the throat of the grip with your palm face down, then bend the wrist back to push the pressure point into the center of the flat back of the grip.  The pressure point is the focus of the grip for the rest of the shot.

IMG_4316

As you grip your bow, your knuckles should be 45 degrees to the ground while maintaining a relaxed hand, wrist, and fingers the entire time. Since two or three fingers will be entirely off to the side of the bow, I recommend learning to use a finger, wrist, or bow sling at this time.

The advanced posture focuses on flattening your lower back by keeping your ribs down and in with your hips angled back and your head over the balls of your feet. An open stance and back torsion can be introduced at this time.

In combination with the advanced posture your breathing is important to settle into the posture and alignment and prepare to execute a calm strong shot.  You should be holding the bottom of your breath as you aim, expand, and release/follow through.

The release and follow through are two entirely different things. The release is how you “let go” of the string and the follow through is where your hand, arm, and elbow move to after the release.

To release the string with the least amount of interference you must learn to let the string rip from your fingers by relaxing them, not opening them!

The best follow through is a matter of good back tension. The natural direction of your follow through will be based on your elbow alignment.

The Hard Tier
The hard tier is where all the magic happens.  Once the skills in this tier are learned, the archer will get a sense of what it is like to shoot “inside” the bow, how to most efficiently use the back muscles, how to reduce tension by using the bio mechanical advantage of skeletal alignment, and how execute a “strong” shot through expansion. All of these skills are discussed in greater detail in my article “Four skills to take you to the next level“.

I have personally found the form pyramid to be a great reference to help archers learn to shoot with success. I hope this article helps you to gain consistency and elevate your skills to the next level.  I also recommend working with a good coach.  Many of these skills are easier to learn with the one on one help of a good coach. Of course the form pyramid will not work for everyone and I encourage you to find and use the method that works best for you.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.

 

Four skills to take you to the next level

In this article I am going to discuss four skills that when applied properly allow the archer to achieve an unparalleled bio mechanical efficiency that can completely change your archery. These are the top tier skills of my “form pyramid“. Of course, there is no guaranteed prescription for success.  As with many things in life there are often exceptions which means that while these skill have been proven to work for many top level archers, they may not necessarily work for you.

I believe one of the single most challenging issues an archer faces, is efficiently resisting the draw weight of the bow. This is so important that the sole purpose of all four skills is specifically designed to address this one issue. The more efficiently you can resist the draw weight of the bow, the more stability, stamina, and accuracy you will have. The release of unnecessary tension through the use of the skeletal structure instead of brute muscle strength is the focus.

The four skills are: barrel of the gun, elbow alignment, transfer, and expansion.

While this article is not necessarily meant to be a “how to”, I will discuss each individual skill and describe it as best as I can. Some of the skills require very specific and isolated body movements that are not easy to learn. If possible, I highly recommend working one on one with a good coach.

When learning a new archery skill it is very important that you can relax and hold the bow stable at full draw for extended periods of time. This can be very difficult to do with a heavy draw weight. Because of this, I recommend starting with a very light draw weight. Once the skill is learned you can then apply it to a bow with a heavier draw weight.

Skill #1 – Barrel of the gun
The barrel of the gun refers to the straight alignment of your shoulders and your bow arm at full draw (line A/B in the photo below). With an effective barrel of the gun, you should be able to draw a straight line that bisects your rear shoulder, your front shoulder, and your entire front arm. This sets your skeletal structure in a straight line and uses compression to resist the draw weight of the bow.  If your shoulders and bow arm do not line up, you will create a “hinge” at your front shoulder causing you to use muscle strength instead of bone structure to resist the draw weight of the bow.

Skill #2 – Elbow alignment
If you extend the line of the arrow at full draw from the point, down the shaft and straight back beyond the nock, an efficient elbow alignment will fall directly on this line, or even beyond it where the elbow is even closer to the archer than the line of the arrow (line C/D in the photo below). Setting this alignment creates a straight drawing force directly behind the arrow instead of off to the side.  With good elbow alignment you are able to release the string as straight as possible which eliminates unnecessary oscillations in the string, minimizing the fishtailing of the arrow. Additionally, it is this elbow alignment that really allows you to unlock the full potential of the skeletal alignment and compression forces, much like the leverage of a latch on a suitcase. On a suitcase, as you move the latch to it’s final linear position it applies more force than the forces pulling it apart and it locks down. Similarly, achieving this elbow alignment allows you to have the most leverage possible to efficiently resist the draw weight of the bow. You may hear archers refer to this as “shooting inside the bow”

bog-and-elbow-alignment

photo credit: Easton Foundation

 

Skill #3 – Transfer
Transfer is what allows the archer to maximize back tension. Back tension is simply using back muscles instead of other muscles to resist the draw weight of the bow. In addition to back muscles, most archers also use arm and shoulder muscles to draw the bow back to anchor. However once you are at anchor, many of the same arm muscles you used to draw the bow are no longer necessary.  At this point you can “transfer” almost all the draw weight into the back muscles by relaxing and reducing the unwanted tension and constrictions of the muscles no longer necessary in the wrist, forearm, and upper arm. It is very important to keep your wrist straight or even slightly bent out. If you wrist is bent in, you will not be able to effectively transfer the same amount of draw weight into your back.

Skill #4 – Expansion
One of the most devastating form flaws is a collapse. A collapse is any forward movement of the arrow after anchor and before the release. Expansion is the opposite of collapse. A strong shot is actually dynamic. Your back tension should never let up, in fact it should actually increase through the release.  You can see evidence of expansion with a very slight movement of the arrow backwards just before release. An effective expansion is not just pulling the string back as you shoot.  A good expansion is equal parts of forward and backward movements. Contrary to popular belief, bringing the shoulder blades together towards the spine is not considered proper expansion or back tension.  To execute expansion, your front arm should reach towards the target as you move the rear scapula in and down towards the spine. This is not easy to learn.  If you are interested in learning this expansion I highly recommend working with a good coach.

Of course a good shot incorporates numerous other skills, but effectively learning and executing these four in particular, I believe can elevate your archery to the next level.

 

How to use a stretch band for archery

therabandandtubeA stretch band is an elastic ribbon or tube used for mostly for physical therapy.  The most common brand is “Thera-Band”. Both the band and the tube work great for the techniques I am going to show you, but the band is my personal preference.  When you use the band for the bow emulation technique, you do not feel it “snap” your hand like you can with the tube.

I will be going over three archery specific uses for a stretch band. The first is warm ups, the second is muscle strengthening, and the third is bow emulation to practice at home when you can’t get to a range.

The benefits of using a stretch band are tremendous! The warmups help you shoot at your top level while simultaneously helping to reduce the chance of injury. The strengthening exercises help to build muscle for stability in your shot. The bow emulation helps to drill your form for consistency.

Stretch bands come in a variety of resistances.  Each resistance is represented by a color. You should choose a resistance that is not too difficult for you to use easily.  I would recommend most archers use a “Red” or “Green” resistance color.  You can always increase and decrease the resistance of the band by holding your hands closer or further apart.

Thera-band-colour-progression-chart

Warm up exercises

There are six categories of warm up exercises. They are: Spin, Back, Bend, Circle, Twist, and Stretch.  In each category there are specific movements. For all the warm up exercises, I recommend doing 3-5 repetitions of each movement.

Spin
2CAFAD2F-1205-426C-B738-0E1A4D14622ATo start, bunch up the band and hold it in your right hand. Then swing your entire right arm in a large circle rotating forward. Next rotate backward. Finally as you swing your arm in forward circles criss-cross your arm alternating from your left side to your right side of your body.  Now switch the band to your left hand and repeat with your left arm.

Back
0D27B3FF-22FD-45EC-88B9-4DD50808E941With your arms reached in a straight forward position your hands a little wider than shoulder width, hold the band taught between your hands.  Keeping your hands at a wider than shoulder width, take the band up over your head, down behind your head then all the way down to your lower back. Then return back up over your head to the starting position.

Bend
70FEFD4A-B91C-4474-9FF1-C8D15BE2A29DWith your arms reached in a straight forward position your hands shoulder width apart, hold the band loosely between your hands. Slightly bend your knees and bend down to touch your toes.  You are stretching your back not your legs so keep bending your legs if you feel them stretching. Return to starting position, then hold the band over your head and arch your back backwards to stretch your back the opposite direction.

Circle
54C5E92D-DD2F-4555-BC75-79FD112DA254With your arms reached in a straight forward position your hands a little wider than shoulder width, hold the band taught between your hands. Keeping the same distance between your hands, start to rotate your arms so one hand goes around and behind your head and the other one follows.  Keep rotating in a full circle returning to the front of your body.  Now switch directions and do it again.

Twist
1A80B98C-2E82-49FB-BD01-67DC90F473A7With your arms reached in a straight forward position your hands a little wider than shoulder width, hold the band taught between your hands with your palms facing in towards each other.  Without moving your hips or your head, twist your shoulders to one side. Only go until you feel a medium amount of resistance.  Then twist back the opposite direction.  Go slow, this is not a fast movement.

Next with your arms reached in a straight forward position bring your hands to touch each other in front of you, again palms facing in towards each other. Again without moving your hips or your head, twist your shoulders to one side. Only go until you feel a medium amount of resistance.  Then twist back the opposite direction.

Stretch
5AB37EE2-89E8-493A-90DD-8D86C7422944With your arms reached in a straight forward position your hands shoulder width, hold the band taught between your hands. Open your arms straight out until they are all the way extended out to your sides, and return them together straight in front of you.

With your arms reached in a straight up over you head, your hands shoulder width, hold the band taught between your hands. Open your arms straight down until they are all the way extended out from your sides, and return them together straight up over your head.

With your hands at your sides, and your palms facing up, bend your elbows.  Punch one hand straight out in front of you until your arm is fully extended forward at shoulder height, palm rotated face down. With your palm face down, move the straight arm out to your side then return it to the front. Switch to the other arm and repeat.

With your arms reached in a straight up over you head, your hands shoulder width, hold the band taught between your hands. Open your arms straight down until they are all the way extended out from your sides. Bend one arm and bring it all the way in toward your body. Your thumb should come to your shoulder and your elbow should drop down. Now keeping the thumb at your shoulder position, lift the elbow up until you feel medium resistance. Lower the elbow, then extend the arm straight again. Switch to the other arm and repeat.

Muscle strengthening

One of the most common issues related to insufficient strength is bow arm instability.  This is where your bow is moving around while you are trying to hold it still and aim.  One common cause for this is a weak shoulder.  To strengthen the shoulder there is one particular exercise I recommend adding into your regular practice. Please be advised, I am not a doctor or a physical therapist.  I highly recommend working with a licensed physiologist to avoid injury.

D349540E-BDF8-4457-9295-29447332948FTo perform the exercise step on one end of the stretch band with one foot.  Holding your hands at your sides with palms facing in, hold the other end of the stretch band with the hand on the same side as the foot that is stepping on the band.  Keeping your arm straight, slowly raise your arm up from your side until your arm is stretched straight out sideways at shoulder height.  When you raise your arm pay close attention to your shoulder, do not raise your shoulder as you raise your arm. Keep your shoulder down in the shoulder socket. When your arm is raised to shoulder height try to hold your shoulder down in place using the muscles on your side called the latissimus dorsi aka lats and your triceps.  Hold your arm steady with you shoulder down resisting the pull of the band with your side muscles for 5-10 seconds, then relax the arm back down.  Repeat this exercise for at least ten reps to complete a set.  Take a break then do as many sets you can without hurting or overworking yourself.

Bow emulations

Bow emulation just means mimicking the use of a bow with the stretch band.  If you loop the band around and hold the two ends in one hand you can use the stretch band loop like a bow. There are numerous benefits from using a stretch band to emulate shooting a bow.  For starters you can “shoot” anywhere you go, especially the places you otherwise could not like inside your house or in a hotel. To get better at archery, the importance of regular practice can not be stressed enough.  Being able to shoot anywhere with a stretch band allows you to get more practice in.  Using a stretch band can also make it easier to identify form issues, it can allow you to isolate a particular body movement or muscle and train it to perform the way you want when you are shooting.

Obviously you can not see yourself as you shoot so the use of mirror can be very beneficial.  When using a stretch band and a mirror, there are two positions I recommend.

B390AF09-D999-416F-BA26-829D9A548EBFThe first position is aligning yourself as if the mirror was the target you are shooing at.  From this angle you can see yourself shooting from in front and identify issues like shoulder alignment, head angle, stance, posture and bow arm position.

The second position is aligning yourself with the mirror as if the mirror was someone who is shooting next to you. From this angle you can see yourself shooting from the side and identify issues like hip position, stance width, shoulder height, and elbow height. The only problem with this position is you have to turn your head to see into the mirror.  This is obviously not where you want your head when you are actually shooting but for the exercise it is okay.

I hope all of these exercise help you to gain strength, flexibility, build your skills faster, and stay injury free for years to come.  Enjoy.

Arrow tuning 101, Traditional bow edition

With a traditional bow the importance of tuning your arrows becomes paramount. Without arrows tuned to your equipment, you can not achieve precise and consistent results no matter how good your form is! In this article I will be going over two successful methods of arrow tuning for experienced traditional archers.

Before we get started, I would like to mention, as unfortunate as it may seem, it is absolutely necessary that you are able to consistently execute a good clean release and follow through before you attempt arrow tuning. If you are unable to consistently execute a good release and follow through your results will not be accurate. In fact, they may end up being completely opposite of what you should be getting. Arrow tuning to a false reading from a poor release and/or follow through will lead to incorrect changes and completely defeat the purpose. I apologize for the severity of this statement but in the spirit of trying to help you avoid unnecessary frustration it is important to understand and accept this awful truth.

If you are unsure how or unable to execute a good clean release and follow through it is imperative that you work with a coach that can properly instruct you on how to learn and use them.

At this point you should have your bow all set up and tuned.  If your bow is not set up, you can refer to my article “How to set up and tune your recurve bow, all the secrets they don’t tell you“. You can ignore any info specifically for the Olympic recurve and focus on the info that applies to a traditional bow

Start with an arrow shaft of a reasonable spine rating. If you are unsure about this, you can refer to my article “Bow and arrow sizing, how to find a good fit”

Method 1 – Paper test

To conduct the paper test, shoot a bare shaft through a piece of paper suspended by a frame (paper tuner) at 6 meters. If the horizontal length of the tear is 3″ or wider, you need an arrow with a different spine. If the horizontal tear is less than 3″ wide you will most likely be able to tune your arrow.

Fix any vertical tear discrepancies first, then work on horizontal discrepancies. The following is a list of the possible tear patters and how to fix them for a right handed archer. Ideally the arrow will enter the paper perfectly straight and the hole will just be a small circle “bullet hole”.

A nock high tear – (the arrow enters the paper with the nock higher than the point) Your nocking point is too high, lower your nocking point until there is no vertical discrepancy.

A nock low tear – (the arrow enters the paper with the nock lower than the point) Your nocking point is too low, raise your nocking point until there is no vertical discrepancy.

A nock left tear – (the arrow enters the paper with the nock to the left of the point) Your spine is too weak, decrease draw weight or decrease point weight or cut your arrow down a little at a time until the tear is 1″ or less.

A nock right tear – (the arrow enters the paper with the nock to the right of the point) Your spine is too stiff, increase draw weight or increase point weight until the tear is 1″ or less. You may also able to fix the issue with a longer arrow but you will most likely need a new shaft for that.

The paper test is basically the same as the arrow angle test that Byron Ferguson uses. In Byron’s test he stands at a very close distance and shoots a bare shaft arrow directly into a target. He then analyzes the position of the nock in relation to the position of the point. The corrections are the exact same as the paper test.  If you do not have access to a paper tuner, the arrow angle test is a good method BUT you must make sure the target itself is not affecting the arrow angle as the arrow hits it.  For this reason it is best to use a brand new foam target.  A hay, stuffed bag, or even used foam target can easily yield false readings!

Once you are able to consistently get a horizontal tear 1″ or less your arrows are generally tuned and you can go ahead and fletch them up.  Once the arrows are fletched conduct the test once more to see if you need to adjust your nocking points.

B147E50B-2E19-4844-9E14-D2696485D9DBIf you were able to get good results with a bare shaft but not with a fletched shaft you may have some issues with clearance. I highly recommend conducting an insufficient clearance test. One way to do this is to use a dry powder foot spray like tinactin powder spray. Apply the powder (not liquid) to the last quarter of the arrow shaft and the fletching. Do not disturb the powder sprayed on the arrow while preparing to shoot. The arrow should be shot into a firm target so that it will not penetrate to the fletching.

After shooting the arrow, examine the bow and the arrow for the dry powder. If there is evidence of contact, the nature of any interference can be determined and corrected.

Method 2 – Group tuning

Group tuning also requires that the archer is capable of a good release and shooting acceptable groups. Group tuning involves shooting a group of fletched arrows together with a group of unfletched arrows (bare shaft) and comparing the results. While group tuning, you should aim at the center of the target, but do not concern yourself with actually hitting the center of the target at this time.  Only compare where the bare shaft group hits in relation to the fletched group. I suggest using three fletched and three bare shaft arrows. Use only shots completed with good execution for comparison. Completely ignore any poorly executed shots.

Group tune at 18 meters from your target. Begin by shooting your fletched arrows followed by your bare shafts. Compare your results with the following diagrams for a right handed archer:

traditional-group-tuning-resultsIf you are having more than one problem e.x. you bare shaft group is above and left of the fletched group, you will need to use solutions from both diagrams to fix the issue.  Start with fixing any up/down issues then work on any left/right issues.

If there are multiple solutions, you can select one or use a combination of two or more to fix the problem. The worse the problem is the more drastic your solution will have to be.

Remember the corrections you are making are adjusting the dynamic spine of your arrows. There is a limited range to what your current spine is capable of. If you can not get the arrows to group within 6 inches of each other at 18 meters, there is a good chance you will have to use an arrow with a different spine to achieve proper tuning.

 

Congratulations, at this point, your arrows are tuned to your bow and you are ready to work on getting that high score. Good luck and have fun. If you have any tuning tips or tricks that I did not mention here, I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below with your tuning tip.

 

 

Arrow tuning 101, Olympic recurve edition

For experienced archers, I can not stress enough the importance of tuning  your arrows. Without arrows tuned to your equipment, you can not achieve precise and consistent results no matter how good your form is! In this article I will be going over successful methods of arrow tuning for an Olympic recurve bow,

Before we get started, I would like to mention, as unfortunate as it may seem, it is absolutely necessary that you are able to consistently execute a good clean release and follow through before you attempt arrow tuning. If you are unable to consistently execute a good release and follow through your results will not be accurate. In fact, they may end up being completely opposite of what you should be getting. Arrow tuning to a false reading from a poor release and/or follow through will lead to incorrect changes and completely defeat the purpose. I apologize for the severity of this statement but in the spirit of trying to help you avoid unnecessary frustration it is important to understand and accept this awful truth.

If you are unsure how or unable to execute a good clean release and follow through it is imperative that you work with a coach that can properly instruct you on how to learn and use them.

Additionally, before tuning your arrows you must also have your bow set up and tuned.  If your bow is not set up, you can refer to my article “How to set up and tune your recurve bow, all the secrets they don’t tell you

Finally,  before tuning your arrows, you must also use an appropriately spined arrow (based on the arrow length and the draw weight on your fingers). If you are unsure about this, you can refer to my article “Bow and arrow sizing, how to find a good fit”

Now with these prerequisites in place lets get started!

Arrow Tuning Method 1 – Rigid Plunger Tuning

  1. Set rigid plunger – Begin by replacing the spring in your plunger with a piece of a wooden match or a wire so that there is no give to the plunger piston. This creates a rigid plunger.
  2. rigidplungersightandarrowalignment Set center shot arrow alignment – Move the horizontal position of the plunger so the arrow alignment is set to a perfect center shot. When viewed from the shooters perspective, align your view so the the string is directly down the center line of the riser. From this perspective adjust the horizontal position of the plunger until the string splits the middle of the arrow shaft.
  3. Bare shaft paper test – Shoot a bare shaft (no fletching) through a paper tuner at 5-6 meters. Inspect the tear for any vertical or horizontal discrepancies.  If there is a  horizontal tear 3″ or wider you need an arrow with a different spine. If there is a horizontal tear less than 3″ wide, you may be able to tune that arrow. If there are any vertical discrepancies, fix them first.

    A nock high tear – (the arrow enters the paper with the nock higher than the point) Your nocking point is too high, lower your nocking point until there is no vertical discrepancy.

    A nock low tear – Your nocking point is too low, raise your nocking point until there is no vertical discrepancy.

    A nock left tear – (the arrow enters the paper with the nock to the left of the point) Your spine is too weak (right handed shooter), decrease draw weight or decrease point weight until the tear is 1″ or less.

    A nock right tear – Your spine is too stiff (right handed shooter), increase draw weight or increase point weight until the tear is 1″ or less.

  4. Adjust sight with fletched arrows – Keep a rigid plunger and move back to 18 meters.  Switched over to using fletched arrows. Shoot groups of fletched arrows at a 40 cm target face. Move the sight pin until the arrows are grouping in the center of the target.
  5. Set medium plunger tension and adjust arrow alignment – Replace the spring in the plunger, use the medium spring set to it’s medium tension. Re-adjust the arrow alignment to just left of the string as per the instructions in my article “How to set up and tune your recurve bow, all the secrets they don’t tell you“.
  6. Fine tune plunger tension – Again, from 18 meters, shoot groups of fletched arrows at a 40 cm target. Adjust plunger tension until arrows are grouping in the center of the target.

At this point, your arrows are generally tuned to your bow. To achieve even better results you may want to continue on to fine tuning.

Arrow Tuning Method 2 – Group Tuning

Group tuning also requires that the archer is capable of a good release and shooting acceptable groups. Group tuning involves shooting a group of fletched arrows together with a group of unfletched arrows (bare shaft) and comparing the results. While group tuning, you should aim at the center of the target, but do not concern yourself with actually hitting the center of the target at this time.  Only compare where the bare shaft group hits in relation to the fletched group. I suggest using three fletched and three bare shaft arrows. Consider only well executed shots for comparison. Completely ignore any poorly executed shots.

  1. Shoot groups of bareshaft and fletched shafts together – Group tune at 18 meters from your target. Begin by shooting your fletched arrows followed by your bare shafts. Compare your results with the following diagrams for a right handed archer:traditional-group-tuning-results
    If you are having more than one problem e.x. you bare shaft group is above and left of the fletched group, you will need to use solutions from both diagrams to fix the issue.  Start with fixing ony up/down issues then work on any left/right issues.If there are multiple solutions, you can select one or use a combination of two or more to fix the problem. The worse the problem is the more drastic your solution will have to be.
    Remember the corrections you are making are adjusting the dynamic spine of your arrows. There is a limited rage to what your current spine is capable of. If you can not get the arrows to group within 6 inches of each other at 18 meters, there is a good chance you will have to use an arrow with a different spine to achieve proper tuning.

     

  2. Sight Alignment – Once you are able to group your bare and fletched shafts together successfully, look at where the group is hitting in relation to the center of the target.  If your group is left of the center, move your sight pin to the left.  If your group is right of the center, move your sight pin to the right. If your group is above the center, move your sight pin up. If your group is below the center, move your sight pin down. Continue to make small corrections until the group is in the center of the target.

At this point, your arrows are generally tuned to your bow. To achieve even better results you may want to continue on to fine tuning your arrows.

Below are two methods to fine tune. Personally I use the walk back method, but if you take the time to do both walk back tuning and the short distance fine tuning, you should have exceptional results.

Fine Tuning Method 1 – Walk Back Tuning

walkbacktuning-small.jpg

Start 5 meters away from a 40cm target, set your sight to shoot the 12 O’clock position of the outside edge of the entire target. Shoot a group of three arrows.

DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SIGHT and move back to 10 meters.  Aim at the exact same 12 O’clock position of the outside edge of the target and shoot another group of three arrows.  Your arrows will be lower on the target.

Move back to 20 meters and again shoot a group of three arrows aiming at the same position. Again your arrows will be lower on the target.  Continue to move back 10 meters at a time until you groups are at the bottom of the target.

If your groups line up in a straight vertical line, your arrows are fine tuned an you do not need to make any dynamic spine corrections. If your arrow groups slope down the the left, your dynamic spine is too stiff (right handed archer), decrease your plunger tension and try again, repeat until your groups line up vertically, then adjust your sight if necessary. If your arrow groups slope down the the right, your dynamic spine is too weak (right handed archer), increase your plunger tension and try again, repeat until your groups line up vertically, then adjust your sight if necessary.

Fine Tune Method 2 – Short Distance Tuning

You can achieve a very good equipment tune at short distances. Use a 40cm or 60cm target face and place it “front side in”, yes this means you will be shooting at the back side of the target face. Basically a blank white square of paper. For the best results use a level or a plumb bob to get the edge of the target to be as close to level or plumb as you can.

Nock Locator Adjustment
Stand at a distance of 10-15 yards from the target. Using fletched arrows only, start by shooting at least 6 arrows horizontally along the top edge of the target face.

If there is a wide discrepancy in the vertical distance between your arrows i.e. inconsistently hitting above and below the line, you should make small adjustment to your nocking point position.  First make note of the initial position, then make a small, no more than 1/16″, upward adjustment to the nocking point position. Again shoot 6 arrows horizontally along the top edge of the target face.

If the discrepancy gets better i.e. the arrow pattern gets closer together, the nocking point position change you made was in the appropriate direction. Continue to make small changes in the same direction until you are satisfied with the arrow pattern.

If the discrepancy gets worse i.e. the arrow pattern spreads further apart, the nocking point position change you made was in the wrong direction. Reset the nocking point to it’s original position and then make a small adjustment in the other direction.

short-distance-fine-tuning-top.jpg

Dynamic Spine Adjustment
Again stand at a distance of 10-15 yards from the target. Using fletched arrows only, shoot at least 6 arrows vertically along the left side edge of the target face.

If there is a wide discrepancy in the horizontal distance between your arrows i.e. inconsistently hitting left and right of the line, you should make small adjustments to the dynamic spine of your arrow by adjusting the cushion plunger. First make note of the initial position, then make a very small change to increase the tension in your plunger. Again shoot 6 arrows vertically along the left side edge of the target face.

If the discrepancy gets better i.e. the arrow pattern gets closer together, the tension adjustment you made was in the appropriate direction. Continue to make small changes in the same direction until you are satisfied with the arrow pattern.

If the discrepancy gets worse i.e. the arrow pattern spreads further apart, the tension adjustment you made was in the wrong direction. Reset the plunger to it’s original position and then make a small adjustment in the other direction.

short-distance-fine-tuning-side

 

Troubleshooting

B147E50B-2E19-4844-9E14-D2696485D9DB

If you are experiencing inexplicable inconsistencies, I highly recommend conducting an insufficient clearance test. One way to do this is to use a dry “powder” foot spray like tinactin. Be sure to buy the “powder” and not the “liquid”.

Apply the powder to the last quarter of the arrow shaft and the fletching. Do not disturb the powder sprayed on the arrow while preparing to shoot. The arrow should be shot into a firm target so that it will not penetrate to the fletching.

Alternatively you can apply the powder spray to the riser instead of the arrow.  Completely coat the riser shelf, sight window, and rest. Use a clean arrow to shoot off the coated bow.

After shooting the arrow examine the areas where the dry powder spray was applied and look for areas where it has been is scraped off. If there is evidence of contact, the nature of any interference can be determined and corrected.

Congratulations, at this point your arrows should be tuned and you are ready to work on getting that high score. One final thing I would like to mention. You will find that if you try to group tune again after fine tuning, your bare shafts and your fletched shafts will no longer group together in the exact same spot.  This is normal and should actually be expected.  In reality a bare shaft and a fletched shaft do not have the exact same dynamic characteristics in flight and therefore should not actually impact in exactly the same spot. Good luck and have fun.

If you have any tuning tips or tricks that I did not mention here, I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below with your tuning tip.