Monthly Archives: October 2012

Plucking. Really?

It is common for archers to release the string with a “flair” of the hand moving to the side, away from the neck instead of a flow straight back.

A very common sight seen after arrow release

Too often the coach says, “you are letting go of the string.  Don’t let go, let it slip out by relaxing your fingers.”

Agree. SOME archers have too much flair of the string hand.

After studying more than a thousand archers with high speed photography, I conclude there is a different cause than “actively letting go of the string”.  As with most of the NTS method, doing one thing wrong leads to other things “wrong” and you must correct the original cause, not the symptom. Do that, and the symptom vanishes.

I feel that “overgripping” coupled with “failure to align” causes most of the “flaired straight fingers upon release” archers make instead of them actually “actively opening” their fingers.   If the bow has 30 pounds at click, the archer should be using 30.1 pounds to grip with, but most use 40  or 50 pounds of grip effort.

In that case it shows in the straightened fingers. Yes, there is failure to relax, but that is because of the underlying necessity of reversing so much muscle contraction. There will be a much longer “click-to-gone” delay in an archer that overgrips.

In addition, when an archer overgrips, if their string arm is not aligned, then the bow will actually have more time during the release portion to pull the hand away from the neck during the release.

This is very easy to demonstrate – draw and hold short of alignment with your string elbow poking out to the side, then slowly relax the desire to anchor (but not finger grip strength) and watch as you lose your anchor hand contact with your jaw, and the bow  forces the arrow and forearm into a straight line several inches away from the anchor point.  (This demonstration is incredibly effective with college students – many of mine seem to all be engineer students, so I toss in a “What’s the force vector here?” for them<G>)  It is simple physics! The visual symptom coaches seize on is mis-diagnosed as “letting go” or “active release”, or “plucking”.

The cure is an exercise to get to minimal grip strength with blank bale up close, as well as using a form strap exercise until the archer achieves string arm alignment with the arrow. (no, don’t beat the archer with a strap!)

As a teenager I was taught that if I didn’t occasionally wipe out on the slopes on my 215cm GS skis, I wasn’t pushing to excellence enough.  It was true then and remains a great way to get to excellence in other ways.  Find where you fall off the string, learn to get to the edge of slipping off the string then back off, add just a tiny bit more grip strength. NOT A LOT!

I persuade/urge the archer to get closer to the “too little grip strength” point of gripping the string, where the fingertab is ALMOST slipping off, until she knows just how little effort is really needed to prevent the fingers slipping off of the string prematurely.  The release transforms itself.

And of course, tell the athlete to relax to release, don’t just try to let go.  That IS often a part of it.

Visionary Thinking, Part 3

Under the colored part of your eye, lies the ciliary muscle pictured here. Perhaps the most refined muscle in the human body.

Training the muscles up.

We train athletes to shoot an arrow from a bow in an extremely precise, reproduceable way.

We cross-train athletes, too.  We know through experience and science that training an athlete to have greater core strength for example, will result in a more stable upper platform, less aperture movement, especially in windy conditions.  Most coaches think nothing is unusual with this concept. I have never had an archer say, “the transverse abdominus muscles aren’t part of drawing a bow, so why bother?”  Once a coach explains it properly, the archer CAN gain more power over the shot cycle by using the TA muscle group to squeeze the grapefruit behind the belt buckle.

So why do we not train the singularly most sophisticated and powerful ciliary muscles?  Did you even know you COULD train the ciliary muscles?  Well, you can and we should.  I think that gaining the ability to focus perhaps 5 times faster, to accommodate for near objects with greater facility, perhaps even to increase an athlete’s depth of field to where both the aperture AND the target are in focus simultaneously, cannot be given enough importance.

How?  Thank you for wondering that.   In the book, Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions  by Susan R. Barry , the applicability of this concept of training the ciliary muscle of elite archers struck me like a thunderbolt out of the blue.  You could say it was made clear to me as I read this remarkable story. Sue Barry is a neuroscientist who was more than 40 years old before she ever got to see the world as the other 99% do, in stereo vision.  By analogy, think of what it is like when you go to the IMAX 3D, put on a set of special glasses, and have things leap out of the flat screen and into the air, hovering before you.  We take this for granted in our normal lives.  Imagine a 24/7 world where you never get the glasses for the 3D movie!

Sue was not blind, not unable to see things.  She just couldn’t detect edges, depth, foreground and background, she could not see individual snowflakes in the air.

Now, she can.  Through some absurdly simple tools and some awesomely clever optometrists, she learned to see in 3D at an age when all of the medical doctors told her it was impossible.   She, and others like her, prove that it is never to late to enhance visual technique.

We already know that we can cause myelination of neural pathways in our athletes through deliberate practice and repetition, creating world-class elite performers out of mere teenagers (who are old enough that by this “common knowledge” cannot still have plastic cells in their brains, right?)  Wrong.

There are two kinds of eye doctors, in a general sense.  There are Opthalmologists, MDs, who have specialized in the eye and diseases thereof.  They are able to prescribe pretty much any drug they see fit for eye health.  You want someone to do a surgery on an eyeball, chances are it will be an opthalmologist.  In the days of yore, they were the only ones who could use eye drops that dilate your pupils in order to get a better peek inside the eye.

Opthalmologists will cut one of these muscles in an attempt to help the eyeballs line up so that stereovision can happen, be developed, in the brain.

The other kind of eye doc is an optometrist – Nowadays, they do have a number of drugs they can use in their role.   But perhaps because they used to have more restrictions, or perhaps because I don’t understand it at all, they have become much more likely to use physical therapy to find a solution to a vision problem (instead of surgery).

Your eyes must be able to go crosseyed on demand to see something that is only a few inches in front – say the clicker.  The aperture.  For the target, the eyes must diverge apart evenly and quickly to much less than the angle for really close things.  Most eyes will function normally, and with slight effort the athletes views these things “on demand” never realizing this is how vision works.  Most athletes DO have a certain depth perception that allows bow “attitude” to be seen in 3D, a critical part of shooting well.

There is no way to predict for any single archer how much benefit can be gained from training with the special kind of Optometrist that Sue Barry worked with.  Another point is that many people who think they have normal vision actually have defects that they don’t realize, but that COULD be trained out of them.  I know of a medalist who was found to have some coordination eye movement problems that could have improved the odds. I have been told by one of these specialists that there may be only 400 such optometrists in the entire world capable of performing this kind of training.

I see this as simply another opportunity for cross-training.  Imagine if a 1300 archer is found to have a limitation in eyesight that can be fixed – freeing that athlete to be better, to reach a potential that would not, could not, otherwise be achieved.  How much better? Well, how much is 1% better worth? 10%? 15%?  One cannot know, but getting the elite athlete’s muscles trained up is what coaches do.

Why do we not train the muscles of the only target detector system the athlete has?