In archery, you use one arm to grip the bow, the other to draw the bowstring to power the arrow, and you line up your shot and expect to hit the target. Then you miss, and you put it down to not having a steady bow arm. Sometimes when you are lining up the shot, the pins or the sign seems to jump or drift. You can’t get a stable lock on your target. You compensate by tightening up all your muscles, which makes the problem of missing the target worse.
How do you improve your accuracy and consistency? Is there a way of keeping your bow arm steady so you shoot the way you can in practice, all the time? There are three elements to perfect to keep your bow arm steady, and bag that elk or win that prize:
Success means you need to get all three elements in the right place.
Training the Mind
Ancient philosophies refer to archery practice as an example of how the mind controls your actions. It’s not just a handy metaphor; it is your mind that lines up and takes the shot. You can hit the target hundreds of times in practice, but when it counts, you freeze or choke and miss. Any top athlete knows the importance of having the right mental attitude, and archery is about the mind as much as your body and equipment.
No one can pick up a bow or get behind the wheel of a car an get it right for the first time. The theory is not the same as practice. Acquiring any skill involves using your conscious mind to learn, and then through repetition, you prime your unconscious mind to absorb and automatically repeat the necessary actions â€“ muscle memory. When you don’t need to think about the mechanics of what you are doing, you have competence.
Although you can teach yourself all the archery skills you need, having a few sessions with a professional to check your stance, form, and equipment helps you identify bad habits and work towards eliminating them. The problem with the mental element of archery is that if you have bad habits, they become ingrained, and you need to root them out and replace them with good habits. Any psychologist will tell you that it takes about 21 days (on average) to remove a bad habit and replace it.
Grouping Your Shots
You can work on your form with short-range target practice and a paper target. Instead of worrying about aiming the bow, practice your stance and routine. You strive to consistently group your arrows in the same place by refining your technique. You can spend a shooting session practicing holding the bow steady for a few seconds after releasing the arrow. Or whatever part of your stance and shooting habits you need to refine.
You can use this technique on your home range (with safety precautions) to see how consistently you shoot when you concentrate on your form without the distraction of aiming. If you write notes on your paper target, you can compare the impact of modifying your shooting form over a few weeks. This practice helps you identify what actions steady your bow arm.
You wince when you have a lousy shot, right? Probably beat yourself up about it. But do you ever acknowledge when your shot hit the sweet spot? Giving yourself a mental high five or vocalizing your satisfaction cues the subconscious into what makes a good shot. As a steady bow arm with proper form gave you that good shot, you let your subconscious know that this is what you want in the future.
Positive reinforcement gives you better and more consistent results than constantly criticizing your bow skills. You train your mind to let you have a steady bow arm by practicing accurate shooting and good grouping, with excellent form. When you believe that you have the skills and can consistently hit the target, you can perform better when it counts. To train the mind, you train the body.
Training the Body
If you are a professional archer, your performance splits 90% mental attitude and 10% physical ability. But that is only true if you have perfect shooting form and spend all day practicing. For most sports and hobby archers, improving your muscles and shooting stance will help you develop that steady bow arm.
How you stand impacts on the steadiness of your bow arm. More particularly, how you aim depends on your foot position â€“ your toes need to point towards the target. A solid stance sees your feet shoulder length apart, with your body weight evenly distributed over both feet. Avoid locking your knees because this gives you the best balance and flexibility. In Tai Chi, this position is the horse-riding stance, and it keeps your back straight and strong.
Practicing your stance several times a day with or without your bow builds good form and is excellent for your body alignment.
As technology changes (particularly with compound bows), so does the advice on how you hold your bow arm. Let’s get one thing straight; any method of holding your bow arm can work if you train hard and practice for consistency. But the right practice gives you the accuracy and consistency with less stress on your muscles and bones, making the whole process of shooting your bow more relaxing and fun.
Archery depends on anatomy, and if you want to dive deep into that topic, try reading Archery Anatomy by Ray Axford. Basically, the three bones in your arm (ulna, radius, and humerus) need to line up straight to direct the force of the shot through the center of the joints and bones, putting less stress on your arm muscles. You aim to shoot from your back muscles and not from a rigid arm. Your elbow, like your knees, is not locked in place. A steady bow arm is not a rigid bow arm, and your aim is not locked in but soft and floating.
Most people instinctively try to use their arm muscles rather than their back muscles to pull the bowstring back. Think of your shoulder blades and concentrate on pushing them together when you draw. Hence, you use your back musclesâ€”using your arm muscles alone results in the possibility of underdrawing and more muscle fatigue.
It sounds contradictory, but you draw to your anchor point and then take a second or two to let your arm muscles relax (still keeping up full pressure) and your shoulder to drop before executing the shot. Plus, you train yourself to keep your bow arm steady after you fire the shot.
If you know that you will lower your bow after you fire the arrow, then your mind starts to anticipate the movement. It is a fraction of a second, but you unconsciously begin to lower the bow as you release the arrow. In some cases, this lowering starts a fraction before the release. The impact of this anticipation is that your aim moves with the bow, and you miss your target â€“ your bow arm is not steady.
By training yourself to hold your steady shooting stance for a few seconds after the release, you create a steadier bow arm and shoot more accurately before you allow the bow to dip.
As you age, your ability to force your muscles into holding a rigid fix on your target decreases, and you notice the effect of poor shooting form. Adopting the right shooting form and learning to float your aim around your target, so you keep your muscles and bones aligned but unlocked keeps you shooting accurately into your later years.
Using the right muscles will improve your accuracy, consistency, and reduce fatigue and strain. Using the right muscles gives you that steady bow arm that you admire in the top archers in your field.
Archery will give you muscle tone (daily practice with a hundred shots), but you also need muscle tone to provide you with the physical strength to draw and hold the bow steady. A secondary training program helps develop strength.
Blank Bale Shooting
A short-range (five to ten yards) with an archery safe target or wall, set up at home lets you practice consistency and build up your archery muscles. You try and shoot every shot the same and check that your bow arm remains steady. Daily practice is ideal, but a couple of sessions a week are better than nothing.
The advantage of blank bale shooting is that you practice with your bow and build up muscle memory to learn how to keep your bow arm steady during and after the shot.
You can condition your archery muscles during your lunch break, traveling, or inside your home using an archery trainer. These vary from modest resistance bands like the Bow trainer for a few dollars or a more realistic set up for practice with the Dry Guy trainer.
Training aids like these help you keep your muscle memory and tone when it is not convenient to use a practice range. You can work on your stance and the muscles involved in using your bow.
Regular exercise at the gym or home develops muscle strength, particularly in your core back muscles. Ideally, you are using the large muscles in your back to keep your bow arm steady. If you are right-handed, you want to build up:
Â· Right rhomboid muscle: upper back connecting shoulder blade to spine.
Â· Right rear deltoid muscle: shoulder muscle at the back.
Â· Left anterior deltoid muscle: shoulder muscle at the front.
Free weights (instead of weight machines) let you concentrate on the smaller muscles for balance and control. Work on your core with sit-ups, crunches, and planks. However, you are aiming to improve the steadiness of your bow arm work both sides of your body. Archery already unbalances your muscle groups’ strength depending on your shooting arm, so use your strength training to improve your overall core strength.
When you concentrate on training your body, you build muscle strength and memory through a combination of exercises and bow shooting practice. Physical strength and proper form give you a steady bow arm.
Meet Your Needs
No one suggests that you need to follow a specific diet to be a champion archer, but the right diet builds muscles. More importantly, you need to keep your blood sugar stable and remain hydrated while shooting. A low blood sugar level or dehydration will give your body the shakes, which does nothing for your bow arm’s steadiness.
Know Your Equipment
The combination of bow and archer allows you to steady your bow arm and make your best shots. But if your bow is wrong for your body shape and strength, you are hampering yourself before you draw your first shot.
Your body determines the right physical parameters of the bow for draw length and weight – getting these wrong influences your bow arm’s steadiness.
If your draw length is too long, you overextend your bow arm, and it starts to shake. If you find yourself raising and extending your shoulder, you probably have an overly long draw length. It’s worth shortening it and seeing if your ability to hold a steady arm improves.
You can check your draw length by getting a friend to photograph you from the side and back while you are shooting. If your draw length is correct, then your elbow will be just above or level with the arrow in the side shot. From behind your elbow needs to line up with the arrow not drifting to the right or left.
A short draw length is equally bad; it doesn’t give you the right alignment of bone and muscle. If you are super relaxed, you might get away with it for a while, but your form will ultimately suffer. You aim for the goldilocks point where the bow length is just right for you, and you can maintain a steady bow arm.
If you strain to hold too much draw weight, you tire quickly, your bow arm shakes, and your accuracy suffers. While higher poundage shows increasing muscle power, you will not impress anyone by failing to hit the target. You are using more energy and not getting as much practice or enjoyment as you could with a draw weight of about five pounds less.
As you practice and build up muscle strength, you will use a higher draw weight, but you need to decide how to balance accuracy and consistency against shooting at the edge of your capabilities. It would help if you used precise control and pressure rather than fighting to draw and hold the string.
The wrong stabilizer set up impacts on your bow arm and your accuracy. If you are not getting the results you want, it is worth experimenting with different stabilizer options. The stabilizer set up is another area where it may be too heavy, too light, or unbalanced. It would be best if you experimented with weight and set-up to fine-tune your bow to promote a steady aim (and a steady bow arm).
You need to balance out the upper and lower limbs on a recurve bow until you find the sweet spot to maintain a steady bow arm and avoid missing the target through the bow pulling down or up in the draw.
There is a temptation to grasp the bow firmly to hold it in place, but that puts torque on the limbs and ultimately ruins your bow. The correct grip is a relaxed closed hand or a relaxed open hand with a wrist sling. You may prefer a thick or a thin grip, and you can add grip tape to your riser to make sure that your grip is comfortable and fits your hand. The proper grip on the bow avoids torque and aids accuracy.
A consistent draw is achievable with a recognizable anchor point. You can use a specific face part like a cheekbone or the corner of your mouth. Some archers (Olympic recurve archers) use a kisser button as a reference point; others use the peep sight for the anchor. The only reason to use an anchor or reference point is to make sure you draw the bow consistently to the same point, to hold and fire and maintain the same shooting form.
The bow sight helps you aim, but the right bow sight helps maintain a steady bow arm. A bow sight with a bubble, for example, gives you a visual reference to your stance and if you are keeping the bow level. Your bow sight’s “fix” on your target will show you how relaxed and steady you are holding your bow arm.
In most sports, like golf, badminton, or diving, you employ a professional coach or instructor to teach you the most efficient way of improving your skill level. Professional athletes have a team of people getting them in shape to compete, even when they are at the top of their game. If you can access a professional archery coach, you can benefit from their experience and pick up useful, practical tips to help you raise your game.
A steady bow arm does not exist in isolation. To get that steady bow arm, you need to have all the other elements of physical, mental, and practical equipment in place. If you improve your bow arm’s steadiness, you raise all your archery skills and become a better archer.