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String Blur Alignment


By: P.J. Reilly

Aligning the bowstring in your sight picture is critical to consistent shooting. How archers do that varies – especially among the different archery disciplines.

Let’s get compound archers out of the way first, because their alignment process is the simplest. Almost all compound archers use a peep sight. A compound archer takes aim through a peep sight.

This is a small circle or tube that is set into the middle of the bowstring, between the strands. The height of the peep is set based on the archer’s anchor. Most archers will draw to anchor, touch their nose to the string, and then have someone slide the peep up or down so that it matches their eye height.

Look through the peep and line up the sight so it’s in the center. Ideally, the edges of the peep will perfectly match the edges of your scope housing. If it doesn’t, just make sure the sight is in the middle of the peep, and you’ll know you’re aiming the same way for every shot.

Some bowhunters opt not to use peep sights for various reasons – one of them being hunters fear not being able to see through the peep in low light conditions. These archers might use a bow sight with optical alignment built in, or they use the string in some fashion to line up their sight pins in order to achieve a consistent aim. Perhaps they make sure the string aligns against the riser side of their scope housing, or the bow riser itself.

(Using a peep sight is much simpler, and it’s going to be way more accurate. The time you might sacrifice in failing light is more than offset by the huge gains in accuracy.)

Olympic recurve archers – those who put sights on their recurve bows – usually have a three-point system for string alignment to ensure they’re looking through their sight the same way for each shot.

These archers hook the string with one finger above the arrow nock and two below. With this grip, they will then anchor the top of their index finger under the jaw at full draw. Doing this sets their eye height at a consistent spot in relation to the bowstring.

Next, they will touch the tip of their nose to the string and then move their head until their view of the string and sight is set. That string will be in a consistent spot time and again – often along the vertical edge of the riser’s sight window or on the right edge of the sight housing for right-handed archers and the left edge for lefties. This Olympic recurve archer establishes the same relationship between his bowstring and his sight for each shot.

Regardless of where an archer aligns the string, if the string drifts from that spot, the archer will notice the alignment has moved, and correct it by simply turning his or her head slightly.

Barebow archers, who shoot without sights, often refer to “string blur.” It’s the blurry image of the bowstring right in front of their eye, which they see while aiming or focusing down range. Some pay attention to string blur during shot alignment, often lining it up in relation to the arrow or riser.

Others, like world champion John Demmer III, count on the string blur to be set properly based on their anchor. Demmer said if he notices his string blur, then he knows he’s out of alignment, because it should be “attached” to the riser from his perspective. Champion barebow archer John Demmer III wants his bowstring to be aligned with his riser for each shot, which means he shouldn’t see his “string blur.”


Also, barebow archers who are string-walking as they shoot different distances, like on a 3-D shoot or field course, will move the string blur left and right to move their point of impact left or right, depending on the distance.

Whether you shoot Olympic recurve or barebow, it takes a lot of practice to get consistent string alignment because there is no definitive object – like a peep sight – to give you a precise reference point.

Skeletal Alignment in Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters

For the untrained rookie, archery appears to be a simple process of drawing and releasing arrows at the target. But for the trained archer, he or she knows that precision archery, Olympic recurve, barebow, or compound, requires the mastery of several physical and mental elements. While many focus on a clean release, it is alignment behind the arrow that is the foundation of injury free, consistent archery. The release, in fact, becomes a subconscious process triggered by other actions, but without good alignment, the archer will not achieve the required relaxed form for consistent accuracy.

Note the alignment of the draw-hand elbow behind the arrow and bow hand.

Skeletal alignment is the bone-to-bone structure that reduces the muscular effort required to hold the bow at full draw. While the rookie is muscling the bow to full draw, the experienced archer appears to effortlessly draw, hold, and release. A simple test is to hold the bow at full draw and see how long it takes to begin shaking. The novice archer using strength and little to no technique will begin to shake within seconds, while the archer with good form will be able to hold full draw for 10-30 seconds depending on conditioning and draw weight.

Note the rotation of the back and right elbow into alignment (picture credit unknown)

While achieving this alignment appears to be a linear movement to full draw, it is actually a rotational movement that brings the archer into skeletal alignment. With an open stance the archer’s back and front shoulder will be pointing to the left of the target, but as he or she comes to full draw, the alignment of the back will rotate to the right of the target.

Note the line of the back from an open stance that rotates as the draw-hand elbow rotates into alignment behind the arrow and bow hand.
Standing behind the archer, the coach or instructor can observe how well the archer comes into skeletal alignment. The archer can also practice this in front of a mirror with a bow or stretch bands. In the example above, the archer is still rotating to skeletal alignment

To wrap this up, skeletal alignment is the foundation on which good archery is built. While all the elements of the shot process are important, without good alignment the sight or arrow point will be shaking on the target, are archer will experience target panic, the release will be inconsistent, and resultant accuracy poor. So even when you cannot make it to the range, you can still practice form and alignment in the mirror.


A Little Archery History

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery

In 1066 King Harold was struck in the eye and killed by an arrow at the Battle of Hastings. Then, in 1190, Richard the Lionheart departed on Crusade to the Holy Lands and Jerusalem, and if we are to believe folklore, this was also the time of the most famous bowman, Robin Hood. Then in 1346 and 1416, the deadly efficiency of the English archers made history at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt respectively.

English bowmen at the battle of Crecy
English archers at the battle of Agincourt

Needless to say, practice with the long bow was an important part of English and Welsh life and men were required to maintain some level of proficiency. Various villages were also tasked with making bows and thousands of arrows to be sent to royal armories such as the Tower of London, much as the military stockpiles weapons and ammunition today. Keep in mind that even a hundred archers could shoot over 400 arrows per minute and tens of thousands of arrows in a single engagement.

Archery was so important to national security that in 1457 James II of Scotland banned “fut ball and golfe” on the grounds that these frivolous activities were drawing men away from practice. Golf was banned again in 1491 by James IV with the threat of stiff penalties for neglecting practice with the bow.

The art of the long bow kept alive by re-enactment groups such as the English War Bow Society
Archery practice and competition in 1887
Women competitors in the National Round (60 yards – 50 yards) Archery event of the 1908 London Olympics which was won by Sybil ‘Queenie’ Newall of Great Britain. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)


The Scout Arrow

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery

Just as the recon scout goes ahead of the troops to identify the best path forward, the scout arrow tells the archer where he or she needs to aim or adjust for local conditions.

After stretching out and warming up with a couple of sets, the archer should begin to have a feel for where arrows are impacting for a given range, wind, or lighting conditions. Shooting with the sun on the right, behind, or on the left can all change the alignment of string blur, as can indoor lighting. So knowing that your bow is in tune, the scout arrow will indicate the adjustment you may need to make for a given time and and location.

Scout arrow on left and resultant group by aiming an equal amount right of center. On this particular range shooting north, the sun moves from the low right in the morning (rising in the east), to high and behind at noon (south), then arcing to the low left in the evening (setting in the west).

In the example above, and knowing that this barebow was shooting point-on the X the previous day at 30 yards, the first arrow went left into the 9 ring. The only change was the morning sun being on the right and changing the appearance of the string blur. By aiming at the 9 to the right of center brought the arrows back into the 10 and X rings.

This is equally important when shooting in gusty conditions. The trick is to identify how much the wind is pushing the arrow left or right at a given wind strength, and then attempting to release all arrows at the same wind strength.


Follow Through

USA Archery Technical Bulletin – High Performance Newsletter

Technical Bulletin – Commanding the Follow Through
By Guy Krueger, USA Archery Education and Training Manager

As we close the door on 2020, it seems appropriate to discuss the technical step of follow through. Almost every movement skill or sport has a concept of follow through; the analogy of follow through often applies to finishing a task or completing a goal. In archery, there is a follow through whether you are talking about compound, recurve or barebow. I have often heard coaches and athletes refer to follow through as a reaction of what we do before the release in
the shot process, and because of that mindset I think that follow through is often misunderstood.

Conscious vs. Subconscious
Before we talk about the physical explanation of what is going on, let’s briefly look at the focus at this point of the shot process. Just before following through, we have expansion and release.
The release is a very critical point of the shot process. A lot can happen at that point and a lot of times our brain can get in the way. For those of you who have taken Mental Management 101 and 102, you know that to keep our brain and thoughts out of the way, we need to have a focal point during this time so we can release the string subconsciously. We can release the string more consistently and naturally each shot if we can do it subconsciously. To do this, we need to occupy our conscious mind with a focal point. Follow through, however, is not a subconscious movement. It is something we need to make sure we complete each shot and to do that, we need to focus on completing the follow through each shot. For some archers this may involve focusing on the feeling of the final follow through position after expansion begins. For others, it
may involve focusing on a cue or phrase to get to the end of the follow through.
Follow through should be a continuation of the movement in the same direction of expansion. So instead of the archer consciously expanding, then releasing, and then following through, the archer should expand to the end of follow through and release happens subconsciously during the expansion to follow through.

Expansion Starts the Follow Through
The follow through and degree to which we complete the follow through has a drastic impact on how the arrow will fly. Technically, the archer must continue the movement of expansion to the end of the follow through position.
How we expand, release, and follow thorough has a big impact on the feeling of our back tension. If our follow through ends at a different position each time, we could very well put a different amount of force on the arrow each shot resulting in inconsistencies.
In our Level 4-NTS course we always ask coaches, “What is the greatest moment of back tension?” Many coaches respond, “at holding” or, “when the clicker clicks” or, “at release”.
However, if our greatest amount of back tension feeling was during one of these situations, that would mean we lose some amount of back tension through release which could result in a collapse. By getting to the end of the follow through position, our scapulae should be closest together at that point and therefore, should result in the greatest feeling of back tension.

We have to rethink follow through and how we finish the shot process. Follow through cannot simply be a reaction, or we run the risk that the archer will collapse and lose back tension through the critical instant of the shot process. Focusing on commanding the follow through to the end position is the key to finishing the shot consistently and with the greatest amount of back tension which will allow the archer to execute a clean shot each time.



Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery

Several years ago I penned an article on the differences between practicing and training in Judo, but now find that it applies equally to archery. 

For many target archers, their entry into archery begins by attending regularly scheduled practice at a local club. They are not taking up archery to train for the Olympics or even the Nationals, but simply for recreation, school PE credits, or possibly bow hunting. After the initial learning and technical phases, the archer continues to attend informal practice to improve. This practice involves repeating a number of actions and steps to improve form and performance. There are no defined goals except to continue refining form and release until they can execute consecutive shots with proficiency and accuracy. Many archers simply practice for exercise, to enjoy the sport, and for personal satisfaction. Archery truly is a “sport for life.”

The only marker of progress is a higher percentage of golds with fewer blues and blacks, along with some recognition at the club level. As with most regular practice, spurred on by some constructive critique by peers, an individual can expect to experience incremental improvement.  However, lacking clearly defined long term goals, the probability of reaching one’s full potential is significantly reduced.    

In practical terms, practice is the once a week club event where one shoots for an hour or two, generally at the same targets and at the same distance. But without increased frequency or augmented by back yard practice, progress comes slowly.

Early practice goals include reducing the number of blues and reds while increasing the number of golds. This may also involve starting at 15 yards and then moving the target back to 20, 30, 50, 70 yards. Indoor barebow shooters will be focused on 20 yards while outdoor is shot at 50 meters.

Training, on the other hand, generally speaks to a significant time commitment to a structured plan that includes a number of meaningful drills and exercises to achieve specific goals. In most sports, there is also accompanying fitness training to improve strength, stamina, endurance, flexibility, focus, and mental toughness.

In archery, training includes specific drills to improve form and consistency while developing archery-specific strength and stamina. Archery utilizes a very specific set of muscle groups to draw the bow, mostly in the shoulders and back, but also depend on a foundation of core strength and balance. Archery is also unique in that proficiency requires developing both gross and fine motor skills simultaneously. This is seen in the strength required to draw a 40+ pound bow, while having the finesse to aim and release with the goal of hitting a very small 10 or X-ring at distance (20 to 70 yards).

All this may appear to be easily quantifiable, along with metrics for the coach and athlete to gauge improvement, but the score on the target dos not tell the whole story. An uncoached archery may have developed bad habits and poor form but still shoots well, since accuracy is the product of uniformity. In other words, if an archer has poor technique but does it consistently, he or she may still shoot good groups. But this lack of proven form and technique may emerge as a roadblock to long term development. This is where the support of a competent coach becomes so important.    

Training means having planned, meaningful practice activities driven by personalized coaching and instruction designed to improve specific performance objectives. For archery the training programs should be designed to improve technical skills (form), competition skills (tactics), plus endurance and mental toughness. For optimum effectiveness, each training program and training module should become progressively more challenging and individualized as the individual athlete improves and advances.  Where initial group training will have drills that are “common to all,” truly effective coaching requires that the training be customized to suit the individual.  

To take this a step further, each athlete on a training squad, or students in a school program, has varying strengths and weaknesses, so it is the mission of the coach to identify the weaknesses in each individual and to tailor the training to correct those deficiencies. Over time those weaknesses become strengths and the training is adjusted to address other weaknesses.

Finally, as most competent coaches are aware, meaningful, structured training that is focused on developing physical strength and stamina, plus technical, tactical and mental skills, greatly improves the athletes’ probability of reaching their full potential. Think of practice as working on technique and form, where training drills that form into the neuro-muscle memory while building the mental toughness needed for high level competition.     

Train Hard – Train Smart – Train Often


See the previous October article on Specificity in Training


By Mark V. Lonsdale, Shaft Shooters Archery

Built on scientific studies and widely used in international coaching circles, Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is driven by the logic that sports training and coaching must be appropriate for the age and development of the student or athlete. Even though individual development is a variable, and there are recognized differences in development between boys and girls, within LTAD there are seven fundamental stages with recommended age ranges for each level.

  1. Active Start (Under 6 years) focused on introducing the kids to safety, active play, and basic ABCs – Agility, Balance, & Coordination
  2. FUNdamentals (6-9 years) where the goal is to make learning and practice fun and to light the fire for future training
  3. Learn to Train (8-12 years) where participants and junior athletes begin setting goals and working to achieve them
  4. Train to Train (11-16 years) is the next step from learning and practicing to actually committing to a training program
  5. Train to Compete (15-23 years) where the instructor moves into coach mode to help participants develop into committed athletes and successful competitors
  6. Train to Win (18+ years) where the training focuses on specific competitions and events
  7. Active for Life (any age) specifically for Masters where they are encouraged to stay active in club and competitive events

Within these seven stages there are also other training objectives such as Playing to Learn, Learning to Play, or Training to Excel, but the primary goal is to match the training and sports development to the developmental age and interests of the participant. At the same time the instructor-coach is working closely with the individual to make their sports experience enjoyable, worthwhile, and challenging. To help achieve these goals, coaches must constantly work to improve their coaching skills and their understanding of child development and athlete development.  But more importantly, they need to know the goals of their participants, students, and athletes.  


Incremental Attainable Goals in Archery

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Instructor/Coach

While experienced competitive target archers will train on the targets utilized for their chosen form of competition, for example 40cm for indoor and 122cm for outdoor, there is value in using large targets for novice archers. Two of the primary values are improving the enjoyment factor of “hitting gold” and setting more attainable incremental goals.

The most common 18-meter/20-yard indoor target is the 40cm single spot or 3-spot, but these have a 40cm/1.57” ten ring and the gold is 80cm/3.15” diameter. That’s a very small target for a novice archer, even at 10-15 yards, so hitting golds may be rare, and a feeling of accomplishment slow coming.

40cm Indoor Target with a 1.57″ ten ring and 3.15″ nine ring.

Put that same novice on a 122cm target, where the gold 9 & 10 ring is 244cm/9.6” diameter, then the probability of golds becomes much higher. A coach or instructor only has to look at the sheer joy on a novice’s face when he or she scores a gold to know that they are enjoying the experience.

122cm target used for 50-meter barebow competition and Olympic archery. In critiquing this target, a novice would be praised for “hitting gold” while a more experienced competitor would be encouraged to focus and work harder to move the two reds into the gold.

As an instructor working with novice archers I don’t talk in terms of numeric score, for example 10s, 9s, 8s, etc, but rather in terms of color.  Where a novice may start out throwing arrows into the blue and black, and even a few complete misses off the bale, the first attainable goal is to stay inside the blue at 10 yards. Most will achieve that quite quickly and progress to staying inside the red, but those periodic golds are tangible morale boosters. At the end of the day, the novice won’t remember all the misses and blacks, but simply that they put one in the bullseye (even if it was part luck).

Learning target archery is not a fast learning curve, but like all precision shooting sports, requires endless repetitions. That said, while staying in the blue or red will come quickly, consistent golds require months and years of practice. But to maintain the novice student’s enthusiasm, it is helpful to set a training progression of many small attainable steps. Each step attained is a feather in their cap and motivation to keep training.

So while blank bale practice is a valuable training tool to learn and reinforce form, nothing is more satisfying for the student than hitting gold. As such, I will start student out at 10 yards on large 122cm  targets with 9.6” golds. In the very first class I can guarantee that they will be scoring more than a few golds and feeling the initial joy of archery. But if given a 40cm indoor target with a 3.15” gold, that same joy and satisfaction may be slow coming.   

How the instructor coaches the novice also has a lot to do with whether or not the student enjoys the process. When a novice gets even one out of six arrows in the gold, the instructor should acknowledge that accomplishment and praise the effort. Conversely, with an experienced competitive archer, when he or she scores five golds and throws one in the red, the coach should be critiquing and encouraging the archer to get the red into the gold. In other words, the more experienced the archer, the greater the push for excellence.

A 122cm center with a 9.6″ gold on the bale to give the student a greater sense of accomplishment by scoring “all gold”. From there the coach can reduce the size of that target or increase the distance to further challenge the archer.

That said, this process of setting color goals can also be used by more experienced archers. When I first got into outdoor barebow competition, shot at 50 meters, my first goal was to stay on the target and not throw any arrows into the black rings. Then it became to stay in the blue, and then to hold reds and golds. To this day I still throw a few blues but the goal in every training session to stay in the red and gold zones. In time the goal will be to hold 3 out of 6 in the gold, then 4 out of 6, then 5 out of 6, while increasing the number of 10s and Xs.

Again, obviously the goal is to shoot 10s and Xs, but setting incremental attainable goals makes the training more satisfying, especially when one achieves one goal and moves to the next. That said, periodically it is important to quantify progress by actually shooting for score, both in practice and competition.

For an up and coming competitor, he or she can look at the previous year’s national competition scores to see what score they need to shoot to place in the top 50, top 20, top 10, and top 3. To simply set a training goal of shooting a winning score may sound logical, but it denies the athlete the satisfaction derived from achieving multiple attainable goals.

CA Cup 50-meter Barebow 720 match shot with 12 sets of 6 arrows.

At a recent outdoor 50 meter barebow competition I heard a Masters competitor say that his goal was to “break 500.” The match format was a 720 event (12 sets of 6 arrows), so he had set himself what he thought to be an attainable goal. Similarly, watching the Seniors competing in barebow it was evident that most were keeping their arrows within the red zone (7 and 8 rings) at 50 meters. Now this may not sound like much of a goal for a compound bow shooter or Olympic target archer shooting sights, but it is quite respectable for a barebow at 50 meters.

This is where one of my early training goals came to be staying within the red at 50 meters. Interestingly, if an archer was to shoot nothing but 7s, he or she would have a score of 504 (7 x 72); or if one was to average 7, then they would break 500. So by throwing a good number of 8s, 9s, and the odd 10, then 600 becomes the next attainable goal.        

To conclude, set yourself or your students goals that they can attain with a month’s diligent practice. When you or they attain that goal, raise the bar incrementally and track both the progress and overall enjoyment.       

See you on the range….


50-meter Barebow training. The goal is to stay in the red and then increase the number of golds.