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 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 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.
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.”