A BLUEPRINT TO SUCCESS – Part 2 – Developing a Training Program

By Mark V. Lonsdale   

I hope you have read Part 1 of this series, evaluated your personal situation, and now ready to make the commitment to becoming a champion – or at least a better archer.  You have accepted the reality of the situation and understand that a significant portion of your time and money may be going into nothing more significant than launching pointed sticks from a once primitive weapon system at a distant paper target. A target that is of no threat to you and cannot even be eaten. The only personal satisfaction will be in doing this better than any other stick launcher in the country, or on the planet, and for that you will get a gold medal that is not even real gold.

However, if you are one of those rare individuals who can derive satisfaction from the simple pleasure of launching a good arrow, seeing it arc through the air straight and true, and then strike gold, you are ready to at least consider the arduous journey ahead.

That said, and assuming we are now on the same page, as it were, it is time to make a plan. Without a plan, your most valuable commodity, training time, will be wasted and energy will be expended with minimal returns.

The simple act of writing down an idea and seeing it on paper (or in the computer) is the first step to making that idea a reality. It could be compared to drawing up plans for a new house or mapping out an itinerary for a long trek in the mountains. Seeing your proposed training program on an actual calendar will drive home the added reality of just how much time you are about to commit in search of that elusive title of champion.

THE PLAN

The plan or strategy for an athlete intent on improving is composed of three documents – a training calendar, a training program, and a journal. Without these, an archer is just a recreational shooter lacking any defined training goals or method of tracking progress. These three training aids make up the map by which an archer navigates his or her way down the “long path of many small steps.”

The training calendar will allow the archer to best manage his time and serve as a constant reminder of coming events.

The training program will give the archer specific performance goals and keep the training focused and on track. The training program must take into consideration the well-worn triad for human performance – Mind, Body and Spirit – all of which must be trained, honed and kept in harmony. With archery, there are also the added technical aspects of equipment, match format, and exterior ballistics. Mastering all of these and keeping them in balance requires formal training that is best managed with weekly, monthly, annual, and even quadrennial training goals.

The training journal is where the archer keeps track of competition and training scores. These will reflect the hard facts of his or her progress. A periodic review of the journal will highlight weaknesses or performance plateaus and will have a direct effect on the direction of future training.

THE CALENDAR

     The single most valuable asset of an athlete is training time. With all the other demands of life, the archer must find time to train, travel, and compete, and the training calendar will facilitate that. It’s importance cannot be over emphasized.

In designing a long-term training program, it is recommended to begin with an annual training calendar. Start by taking a Month-at-a-Glance type calendar and a blue pen and mark in the exact dates of all local, state, and national competitions, including required travel days. This will allow you to design a monthly training program to built for each specific type of event and match format – indoor, outdoor, NORs, etc. These dates can be pulled from club calendars, state archery association, NFAA and USA Archery websites, and newsletters.

Still using that blue pen, also mark off all the training camps and seminars that you plan to attend that year. This will allow you to organize your school or work schedule well in advance of these events. Always keep in mind that a tournament or formal training camp can be many times more beneficial than individual or club training so should be given considerable priority.

State, national, and international competitions will also give you a first-hand opportunity to evaluate your own performance under tournament conditions (nerves and pressure) and to rub shoulders with the champions who you’re either modeling yourself after or hoping to one day out shoot.

The Zen of archery tells us that every shot should be executed perfectly and that we focus not on the results or the competition, but only on perfect form and execution of that perfect arrow. However, in the high stress world of man-on-man and elimination format, the stress and presence of the other archer is both real and unavoidable. This makes competition experience that much more important.

The next step is to take a red pen to that annual calendar and block out all the days or weeks where you have other non-archery related obligations – work, school, travel, trade shows, family vacations, and other unavoidable commitments.

 Now, still with that red pen, but working on a week-by-week basis, mark off all your required hours at work or school, family commitments, kids soccer games, church, and other personal obligations. What you are left with at this point, in between all the blue and red ink, is the time available to you for archery and fitness training. In those remaining blank spaces, you can now begin to pencil in your weekly training schedule.

However, this is also the time for another reality check by asking yourself if in fact you have the time for a significant amount of training. In archery, as with most sports, repetition is the key to success. This requires frequent training sessions augmented with a healthy and active life-style.

      Most national champions and Olympians have had to sacrifice many personal activities, time with their loved ones, and even their jobs to create the required training time to have a realistic shot at making the team or going for gold. If you are still determined to keep up that bowling league, party on weekends, and play golf on Sundays, then you may not be making the sacrifices necessary to be an archery champion.  (Note: This author quit school in his late teens to tour with the national judo team then moved to France for over a year to train at their national sports institute. Later in life, when he became involved in competitive shooting, he quit a very lucrative job and founded a shooting school just so that he could spend more time on the range training).

THE TRAINING PROGRAM

      The training program is a week-by-week process that needs to be constantly tweaked and adjusted to suit the archer’s progress and performance – both of which are being tracked in a journal. The weekly training program dictates which days you hit the gym to work on strength or cardio capacity, which days or evenings are set aside for archery practice, and which nights you will get professional coaching. The monthly training program is more reflective of short-term training goals.

Improvements in either form or fitness do not happen overnight, so your training goals should be spaced at reasonable intervals to avoid frustration and to best gauge your progress. For the mid-level archer on a good training regime, thirty days should be sufficient time to expect to see quantifiable improvement in training scores, but may not be equally reflective of competition performance, which is more of a semi-annual training and performance progression. In other words, consistent improvement in monthly training scores should be reflected in improved scores at quarterly or semi-annual competitions.  

Also keep in mind that as you progress, you can expect quantifiable improvements to become smaller. Where initially a minor change suggested by your coach may cause a ten-point increase in your scores on a particular exercise, the same cannot be expected at the higher levels. As you approach a competitive level of performance, you will spend many hours fine tuning your technique and struggling for every single point. Just look at scores in any Olympic sport where gold and silver are often separated by tenths of an inch, hundredths of a second, and perfect score ties are broken by X-count.

But as either a mid-level archer or championship athlete, a training journal is still an essential tool for quantifying consistency and tracking progress.

TIME MANAGEMENT

     Shooting for one or two hours every day is the ultimate goal, but access to a range may be a problem. Most serious archers will have an area at home or near their home where they can shoot on a regular basis. Initially, and at a minimum, archery should be practiced every other day. The same is true for strength and fitness workouts. This will give fingertips, arm, and back muscles time to repair themselves and adapt to the new demands. Over training, or having a too aggressive training schedule, can cause painful injuries, fingertip swelling, and tendon strain that will severely inhibit future progress.

      So assuming you work an eight-hour day or have school studies like most mortals, but still have your evenings free, a training program may look something like this:

Monday Morning – Cardio – run or cycle for 30 minutes

Monday Evening – Gym for strength training 1 hour

Tuesday Evening – Archery practice 2 hours

Wednesday Morning – Cardio – run or cycle for 30 minutes

Wednesday Evening – 1 hour of Coaching before Club Practice (2 hours)

Thursday – Archery practice 1 hour 

Friday Morning – Cardio – run or cycle for 30 minutes

Friday Evening – Gym for strength training 1 hour

Saturday Morning – 1 hour of Coaching / 1 hour of personal practice or club tournament

Sunday – Take a day off

     Once your fingers, arms, and back have adapted to the imposed demands of archery, then you can begin a daily practice routine of 100+ arrows. Many top archers shoot upwards of 200-250 arrows per day.

     You may also be asking why all the cardio and strength training when all I need to do is stand still and launch arrows? The simple answer is that general fitness builds confidence and improves stress management. As with strenuous exercise, competition stress can cause accelerated heart rates, spurts of adrenalin, and nervous tremors – all detrimental to a precision performance. Overall fitness has a beneficial effect on all of these.

As you draw close to a major match, the frequency and intensity of archery practice can replace the time spent in strength training. A serious archer will also begin trying to take half days off work or getting out of school early, so as to have a few more hours of daylight for training. (We are not suggesting teens cut school, but non-academic electives and school sports may have to take a back seat to archery practice).  

Additional spare time such as lunch time and time watching TV can be used for stretching exercises or studying videos of past competitions. But even with the above light schedule, you are still getting four or five archery sessions a week for total of 13 hours bow time, plus 3 1/2 hours of fitness training. If something has to be cut, it should not be the coaching sessions or tournament practice.

Days where you cannot train because of work, travel, or rain should not be considered a total loss. Mental exercises and visualization are also extremely important. By taking a quiet moment to close your eyes and mentally visualize the entire preparation, draw, aim, release, and follow-through process, right up to and including seeing that arrow strike the X ring. This will subconsciously program and condition your mind and body for a perfect winning form. YouTube is also a useful training tool in that you can pull up a variety of championship tournaments to study the form of various top ranked athletes. This can also aid in visualization exercises and positive reinforcement.  

 The key to success in any training is to keep thinking, acting, and training like a champion. It is only through regular, disciplined training and sacrifice that an archer can develop the skills and gain confidence to push through slumps and training plateaus. To quote Vince Lombardi, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

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Tracking Progress

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Continuing on from the previous post on setting goals for beginners, the next step is to track progress. With decades as a high performance athlete and coach, I’m a firm believer in having a written training program and a log to track progress. In the past, this was a hand written ledger, but now it can be done on the computer with the added advantage of being able to add images. Most athletes and coaches make regular use of their smart phones to both video form and photograph targets (in addition to a plethora of social media posts).

The importance of keeping a training log is to be able to track not only the focus of each training session, but to also track consistency. It is too easy to shoot a couple of Xs or 11s and call it good, but the champion is the individual who can do this on a regular basis with a high percentage of hit in the gold.

The following images are an example of a photo essay tracking improvement in training for barebow competition.

After occasionally throwing arrows into the blue, this archer has now progressed to three in the gold and three in the red, even though one may score as a liner in the gold. Elevation is good indicating correct use of the hash marks on the 3-under tab and correct point-on hold on the target. In this case he is holding 6 o’clock on the 10 ring.
Archer has progressed to consistent 5 golds and one red. The goal is to bring that one red into the gold. For this archer, he knows that when he throws an arrow left of the gold it is often attributed to a poor release.
Archer has no progressed to hitting the gold consistently so can now work on improving his score. In this case he has four 9s, one 10, and one 11. Once you begin getting a higher percentage of 10s, then it is recommended to switch to shooting 3-arrow sets or begin using a 3-spot target to avoid damaging arrows.

Finally, the word of the day is “consistency.” In other words, if you shoot ten sets of 3 arrows, how many sets were all in the gold? Even the top archers occasionally throw a red or a blue, but the goal is to self-analyze that shot and understand why that happened.

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Hoyt Xceed 25″ riser with Velos long limbs and Easton RX7-23 shafts

Goals for Beginners – Recurve Barebow

By Mark V. Lonsdale

As with any shooting sport that utilizes some form of a bullseye target, it is relatively easy to set goals and track progress. However, with archery, it is important that the novice first focus on form and a repeatable shot process before worrying about scores. In other words, when getting into any archery discipline, it is more important to be able to shoot consistent groups than hit the center of the 10 ring.

Shooting tight groups is indicative of precision shooting and good form, while hitting the gold is indicative of accuracy. This is why many archery disciplines recommend blank bail practice where the archer can focus on developing the correct form, engaging back muscles, and attaining a clean release while not being distracted by the 10 or X ring.

Assuming the bow is tuned and the arrows have the correct spine, the first goal is to be able to group the arrows on the bail. This is indicative of a solid, repeatable, and consistent draw and release with good bio-mechanics. The next step is to get that group into the center of the target. If the bow is equipped with sights, this is a relatively easy process of dialing in the sights. If you are shooting barebow, it will be a process of adjusting the point of aim using your arrow tip (usually on or just under the gold) and string walking if shooting 3 fingers under. The left and right component is adjusted with the string blur in relation to the riser (usually left edge of riser for a right handed shooter) or fine tuning with the spring tension in the plunger.

If, however, you are not shooting consistent groups on the target and throwing arrows into the black scoring rings (3 & 4s), then the first goal is to stay inside the blue (5 & 6s). Once you can stay inside the blue with a good percentage of gold and red, then the goal is to throw no more blues and blacks. Once you are shooting consistent golds and reds, then obviously the goal becomes to increase your number of golds (9, 10, & Xs). Once you are staying within the gold at 15 yards you can move back to 20 yards, 30 yards, etc. If your goal is indoor tournaments such as the Lancaster Classic and Vegas Shoot, then you can focus on training at 20 yards / 18 meters.

Grouping is good and gradually getting closer to the X ring. Bow is a barebow setup, Hoyt Xceed riser with Velos limbs. Arrows are Easton RX7-23s tapper shaft with 100 grain tips.

How quickly one progresses is directly related to how often you practice. Championship archers shoot 200-260 arrows per day, but the novice needs to start slowly. Daily practice of 60-100 arrows is more beneficial than practicing once a week and shooting 300+ arrows since neuro-muscle memory is developed through frequent practice. Shooting a moderate number of arrows on a regular basis also gives the arm and back muscles and tendons time to adapt to the new stresses. While 30-40 pounds may not seem like a lot of draw weight, you are moving muscles and tendons in directions that they are not used to. Slow steady progress will help prevent a painful sports injury or tendinitis because you tried to too much too quickly.

This is the ultimate goal, but accuracy is built on a foundation of good form and neuro muscle memory – both of which require many thousands of arrows in practice.

If you can’t get to the archery range on a daily basis, or set one up in your back yard, then you can replicate the motion of drawing a bow with stretch bands. Time should also be set aside to watch top archers and events on YouTube. There is much to be learned by watching the the men’s and women’s Barebow Finals in the Lancaster Classic. Pay particular attention to their form and not just the 10s and 11s in the gold.

Now get out there and push yourself to the next level.  

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3-spot target used in the Vegas Shoot. Going for gold is the ultimate goal, but the foundation of successful archery is good form.

MAKING YOUR COMPETITION GOALS A REALITY– Part 1

By Mark V. Lonsdale

Wanting to compete at the 2024 Olympics may be aiming a little too high, but how about just competing at the annual Lancaster Classic or Vegas Shoot? You don’t expect to win the first year, but maybe in two or three years you can make it onto the podium? Well read on and see if you have what it takes to become a champion.

Vegas Shoot 2020

     Many people have passing dreams and high hopes of being a champion but very few make the commitment to bring those dreams to fruition. As with all that unused gym equipment collecting dust in the garage, many individuals buy all the gear (the easy part) but then quickly give up on their dreams in the face of real or perceived challenges. One contributing factor is setting unrealistic goals without shooting for more attainable incremental steps. The other is an issue with time management. They are simply not willing to commit the time and effort necessary to progress. Becoming a champion requires time, dedication, commitment, patience, tenacity, and perseverance.

More pragmatic individuals set their sights lower by simply seeking to improve their scores at the club level, whether it be pistol or rifle shooting or archery. But they too are often not willing to make the necessary commitment to progress passed the club level – a commitment that can range from a few more hours launching arrows each day to an all-consuming passion. So if you have long-term goals, such as winning the Vegas Shoot or competing at the Olympics, then you need to understand what separates the champions from the masses of “also rans.”

Dreams and goals are both positive forces, but both need to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality. This reality consists of some serious thought about personal motivation, commitment, and the training time to achieve any given goal. This is assuming that you already have a reasonable level of fitness, coordination, and the financial resources to go the distance.

Archery is one sport where age is not a limiting factor so most people with a modicum of athletic ability can go for gold. But setting aside the costs of equipment and travel for the moment, most have not grasped the significant time commitment necessary. However, on a more up-beat note, don’t ever let someone tell you that, “You can’t do it!” or that your dreams are just that, dreams. Follow the example of most great men and women by rising to the challenge and proving those timid souls wrong. In other words, don’t ever quit until you decide it is time to quit.

Author’s Note: I started judo at age 11 and shooting at 14 but little did I know back then that these two sports would take me all over the world competing, training, and teaching. The two contributing factors to success were love of these sports and dogged determination.

     So, the first step on this long but hopefully fulfilling journey of “many small steps” is to have a deep passion for what you are doing. You have to actually enjoy what you are doing and look forward to training. Next is to become a serious student of the sport. Read and study everything you can about archery including blog posts and articles by those who have gone before. With YouTube you can also study videos of past National and World champions in any of the archery disciplines. Look for top shooters you can model yourself after, but be aware that there are a number of world class athletes with very unusual styles. So the recommendation is to stay as close to standard form as possible, accounting for personal physiology, at least until you are experienced enough to make educated changes.

The next step is to get paper and pencil (or computer) and rough out a training program that is realistic and within your time and budget requirements. Yes, writing it down is the first step to making it a reality and the key word here is realistic. If you draw up a training program that simply will not fit within your work and family commitments, then you will quickly begin making excuses to skip training.

To stay focused and motivated, it is better to start light and add hours or days as you adjust your home and work schedule to suit – and it helps to have a supportive and understanding wife, husband, girlfriend, and employer. More on time management in Part 2.

Let’s look at the other areas of commitment.

Equipment – To begin with, if you have top-of-the-line equipment, the same as that being used by the national champions, then you have eliminated one big variable and several excuses. You cannot blame the gear! Also consider the fact that the $2500+ you may invest in that new Hoyt, Easton arrows, and accessories, etc., is going to be a small fraction of the cost of the time that you will put into training and travel.

Just owning the best gear is not enough. You must learn to tune and maintain that equipment so that you will have greater confidence in using it. Be assured, confidence is part of the mental game and every bit as important as motivation, enthusiasm, and skill.

Coaching – Do you have access to a good coach to help you work on your form and guide your training? Are you willing to spend some time and money to get the best coaching you can get? Without a coach to get you off on the right foot you may spend many hours just reinforcing bad habits and not progressing. The value of a good coach cannot be over emphasized, and their time has real value ($). What you gain from a good coach will be the foundation of all your training.

Training Time – Shooting in your back yard once a week, or club practice once or twice a week, and an occasional Sunday tournament is insufficient to progress at a reasonable rate. Conversely, vast amounts of undisciplined or unstructured training has less value than smaller, frequent amounts of intelligently structured training.

Now, if you are into archery for the sheer pleasure of shooting or the social aspects of the sport, then once a week may satisfy your needs. But if you have aspirations of winning at a state or national level, then you had better be prepared to train at least five times a week plus get coached at least once a week. That daily training will then grow to twice a day when you approach the high performance level of the sport.

It is better to train five times a week for one hour, than to try and train once a week for five hours. One to one-and-a-half hours is easy to fit into your daily schedule and small amounts of frequent training helps to build muscle memory while avoiding repetitive motion injuries. But whatever your training schedule allows, each session should be carefully planned with specific training goals, video analysis, and periodic coaching.

Training Goals – A training program is usually built around the local, state, or national competitions that you plan to shoot in the coming 12 to 24 months. While you may not expect to win or even make the top ten at these events, they will add purpose to your training.

For more specific goals, this is where Eastern philosophy teaches that every long journey is a process of many small steps. If you head to the range with your shiny new Hoyt and high dollar shafts and immediately expect to shoot 10s consistently at 50 meters, you may quickly become discouraged. If you cannot shoot consistent 10s at 15 yards, you should not expect to be hitting 10s by anything except luck and random probability at 50-70 meters.

So, taking small steps, practice at a distance where you can build your confidence by tearing out the gold. Then back up 5-10 yards and work on that distance until you get the same result—all the time self-analyzing your form. Over a period of time, allowing your consistency and grouping to be the guiding light, you will find your way back to the longer ranges where you will have to deal with the additional challenges of wind and atmospherics.

In addition, use this time at the shorter distances to experiment a little with bow tuning, brace height, a different plunger or arrow rest, shaft stiffness, finger tabs, and adjustments to your form. But remember to keep it simple and only make one change at a time so as to be able to gauge its beneficial or detrimental effect on your scoring.

Competitions – There is no substitute for tournaments and matches if one aspires to be successful competitor in any sport. Participation in a single tournament has more training value than ten training sessions practicing on your own, and the lessons learned are invaluable. It is only through exposure to progressively more demanding competitions that an individual can learn to control match nerves, perform under pressure, while gauging personal ability and tracking improvement.

One secret to progressing in competition is to compete with both yourself and others. Set personal goals, such as first being able to shoot the same scores in competition as you do in practice. This does not mean matching the occasional personal best, but holding scores that you can shoot consistently.

You can also pick an individual who routinely just out shoots you and set a personal goal to beat him or her. This will give you the feel of shooting man-on-man while preparing for the pressure that comes with finals and shoot-offs. (Check out the finals of the Lancaster Classic on YouTube).

Vegas Shoot 2020

When you pick someone to try to beat, this may include learning about their training schedule and then committing to train just a little more than they do. In this way, you are motivated to train both harder and smarter.

By keeping your short-term goals small, you will frequently meet and surpass these way-points while at the same time building confidence in your abilities. Conversely, setting goals too high too soon can lead to feelings of frustration and failure. As an example, if your dream is to make the finals at the Vegas Shoot, then the first year you should be competing just to get a feel for the tournament and match format. You are also using this opportunity to study the top contenders. The second year your goal should be to make the top 20 in your division, and then, after three years of practice and experience, you are a seasoned athlete and ready to go for the win.

Travel – If you don’t have the time or finances to travel, you will probably not gain the experience necessary to make the big time. Even if you’re not a national level shooter, it is still highly beneficial to shoot in state and national competitions to get a feel for these events. The more major events you can get under your belt, the more you will become comfortable with the match format while learning to control those pesky nerves. Be assured that a significant component of successful target archery is the mental game and stress management.

These tournaments will also give you the opportunity to shoot along side the best archers in the country and learn from their successes and mistakes. Watch them like a hawk, study their form, their pre-shot routine, and video their performance for future study.

In addition to tournaments, one should be prepared to travel out of state to participate in training seminars, coaching clinics, and anything that will improve your knowledge, fitness, form, and ability.

(Note: as a national and international competitor in judo and then shooting, air travel and hotels were my biggest expenses, running several thousand dollars each year and many weeks away from work).  

     To conclude, if you are not prepared to commit to a significant amount of time and money, not to mention physical and mental effort, then your journey will end long before you reach your goals. And if that goal is at the National or International level, then the commitment must be of the same magnitude—significant!

Dare To Dream, Train Smart, Stay Focused & Never Quit

 END

Part 1 has covered training commitment in broad strokes. Look for Part 2 for the blueprint to developing a realistic training program that will take you to the next level.

About the Author: Mark Lonsdale is a professional training consultant for law enforcement and military special operations teams. He is also a former national and internationally ranked judo and shooting competitor, national coach, and has contributed articles to several publications including Archery Focus. He is currently studying the cross training values of archery and training in barebow.

Selecting the Correct Arrow for Barebow

By Mark V. Lonsdale

After considerable research, including talking with my former coach and the Easton reps at the Vegas Shoot, I settled on the Easton RX-7 23s for future barebow shooting. Up until now I’ve been experimenting with the Easton Ballistic XX75 2213s which seemed to work well from my 40 pound Hoyt Xceed.

Initial testing with an assortment of 20-year old Easton Ballistic 2213s

The RX-7s are a tappered shaft well suited to indoor barebow shooting. They are compatible with Easton 2315 Uni Bushings, one piece 100 grain bullet points, Easton 3D Super nocks, and Beiter 19/1 insert nocks.

Arrow components fresh from Lancaster Archery, including 5″ right wing, Trueflight, shield cut feathers.
Easton RX-7 23-420s

Fletched up a half dozen shafts last night so will begin testing and tuning this week. The final component that I’m waiting for is a Zniper arrow rest.

Hoyt Xceed 25″ riser with Carbon Velos limbs

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Barebow Break-in

By Mark V. Lonsdale

With the sun shining, today was the first day to get some arrows down range with the new Hoyt Xceed barebow. Still breaking in the string and getting a feel for the weight and balance, but initial results are encouraging.

Hoyt Xceed with Carbon Velos limbs running Easton 2213s
Working with an assortment of Easton 2213s with 125 and 145 grain field points. Also experimenting with the cock feather at 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock.

I have Easton RX-7 RX23 tappered shafts on order, which should be in next week. These are the ones I would like to ultimately use for competitions, but for now, the 2213s are definitely working well.

Hoyt Xceed 25″ riser with Carbon Velos long limbs

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Hoyt Xceed Barebow Project

Part Two: the arrival of the limbs today. The limbs selected to pair up with the Xceed 25″riser are the Carbon Velos Long limbs in 38 pounds

Always a good day when the UPS truck pulls up out front

Hoyt Velos limbs packaged in individual sleeves
Hoyt Carbon Velos recurve limbs are a work of art

Stay tuned as this bow comes together ……