Too Much Of A Good Thing

It takes a certain amount of intent to hold a bowstring while a shot is made. Most often the intent, the tension, has nothing in the real world to relate it to the job description, other than “I must not let go till I am ready”.

Seldom if ever does the coach pay appropriate attention to the amount of effort the archer chooses to expend in holding the string. Finger placement? Yes, we do teach that. Thumb and pinky location during the draw, flat relaxed string hand, fist knuckle under the boney jawline? Yes, we should be teaching this as well. But we should teach the athlete to be a minimalist when holding the bowstring!

When was the last time you taught an archer to find that minimal amount of effort to keep the string from slipping away? Chances are extremely good that your athlete is using too much, far too much, strength and effort to grip the bow string.

Ahh. That may be it. The archer should not GRIP the bowstring, merely hold it, hook it, with a static hook of fingers. Of the two verbs “grip” and “hook”, to me grip sounds like it intends more effort.

To walk the knife edge between too little and too much, one must find precisely where “too little” is.  Standing 5-10 ft from the blank bale, have the archer go through set, but only so far. Then align and create the gunbarrel while the hands are still only partially above “set” position, increase the draw slightly and allow the string/arrow to slip out of the bow and into the blank bale (no aiming!). The focus in the archer’s mind must be on minimal effort – just enough to not let slip till the draw is say, half-way. Do a dozen reps of this. Then the archer should draw a little further, say 3/4 of the way, letting slip while still moving to draw. If the archer does not have the string accidentally slip out a few times, he or she is using too much effort to hook the string and is instead holding it.

You are also insuring that the string hand wrist is bent in a relaxed direction. You can demonstrate this bend to your athlete by holding the hand and arm out in the “stop” gesture and simply let the hand droop down by relaxing the wrist.  This is the same wrist bend needed for drawing the bow in the NTS method. By the way, this bent wrist is visible in every picture of any astronaut asleep in zero gravity – a totally neutral/relaxed position.

Back to the drill – once you are sure the archer is balancing on the edge of “not enough strength to hold the string/arrow back”, allow the archer to go to a normal set, set-up, and draw, and the instant the archer reaches anchor, he should instantly relax the fingers. (no clicker at this point and don’t say, “let go”).

Have the archer repeat the “low resistance finger hook” (not GRIP) on several practice sessions, and then whenever you sense a slow release is happening. Lightning, explosive releases happen best when the archer is only hooking the string with 0.1 pounds of excess effort. Without training most archers pulling say, a 30 pound bow, use 40 or 45 pounds of effort to grip the string. Before the string can be loosed and the arrow let fly, the archer must somehow shed 15 or more pounds of gripping effort which takes too much time.  This is part and parcel of why many male archers think they have a great release at 48 pounds and a so-so release at 38 – at 48 pounds they are probably just barely able to hold that string<G> while at 38 they are overgripping by 50% excess effort…This excess must somehow be reversed in order to allow the string to slip away.

Young archers must be taught to be minimalists at controlling the string.  I often employ the visualization technique with the athlete – “let the energy flow from your hand through your arm and into your back, and HOLD it all there as you feel your arm relax and your back muscles power up”.

Holding the bowstring should never be a contest of power, but a demonstration of minimalism.  Crisp, explosive releases from from proper hooking in the front and holding in the back.

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