Recurve Archery Technique – Expansion
The recurve expansion phase is the final movement you create in order to pull the arrow the last few millimetres through the clicker before you release the shot.
Recall that in the Recurve Technique Basics section we stated: “OLYMPIC RECURVE TECHNIQUE IS ABOUT CONSISTENT RELEASE EXECUTION. EVERY STAGE OF THE SHOT SERVES THIS PURPOSE“.
Your expansion directly affects this release execution more than any other stage of the shot; therefore it is the most important part of your shot. The release and follow through is a result of the direction of expansion that you create.
Every part of the shot so far has been done to make your expansion as consistent as possible. The role of your consistent expansion is to make your release and follow through as consistent as possible.
Many people think of the expansion as the last part of the shot. They spend all their energy and mental focus setting up the shot, and then lose focus and technique at the crucial moment of expansion and release.
You should think of the expansion as the start of your shot, which then continues through the release and follow through. Focus, intent, and movement must be maintained right until the arrow hits the target. The previous stages of the shot are simply there to give you the best chance of executing your expansion.
If you think about the expansion in this way, you will give it the focus and priority in your shot that it requires.
In the next section we will look at the final stage of the shot, the Release & Follow Through.
Key Points: Recurve Archery Technique – Expansion
Recurve Archery Technique – Expansion
DURATION & SIZE OF EXPANSION
The expansion movement should only be a maximum of 1-3mm and take 1-3 seconds. You can see an acceptable example of this in Video 1 below. The previous parts of the shot should bring the arrow point close enough to the clicker to achieve this.
LENGTH OF EXPANSION
The expansion is a tiny movement which is almost invisible externally. We want to keep the amount of movement as small as possible because this will allow you to expand through the clicker without moving the rest of the body. When you perform the expansion correctly, you can maintain your “real full draw” position until you release the arrow. This will make your execution extremely strong. In contrast, if you expand in a large movement it’s likely that you will move your alignment and lose your “real full draw” position. The result will be a softer execution leading to more errors.
TIME OF EXPANSION
So why do we want to keep the expansion between 1-3seconds? There are a few reasons. Firstly, most people are able to use peak mental concentration fully for about 3 seconds, so shooting within this time frame helps mental consistency. Secondly, keeping the expansion time short is much less fatiguing as you are holding the bow for a shorter time. Lastly, spending only 1-3seconds expanding means that you must have maintained your direction properly. If you hold at full draw for longer than this, it is a sign that you have not maintained direction and have stopped movement.
Keeping your expansion to a small, consistently timed movement is a key skill. In windy conditions this pays off hugely.
A NOTE FOR BEGINNERS
If you are a new archer or have just started using a clicker, it is unreasonable to expect your expansion to be within 1-3mm. This fine control takes months or years to develop.
When you first start shooting you won’t be using a clicker. When you do first start using a clicker, try to keep the amount you need to expand less than 1cm. As you become more experienced you can move the clicker so your expansion becomes finer.
Video 1. Recurve Archery Technique – Clicker Expansion
Recurve Archery Technique – Expansion
Arrow “A” in Fig. 1a and arrow “1” in Fig 1b are the same arrow viewed from different angles.
To create your expansion you should think about continuing the movement of your draw elbow around the body and along the line shown by these arrows. You should lead this expansion movement by the draw elbow. When you expand you should focus on creating an internal feeling rather than a large visible movement. You should only have a small amount to expand through the clicker, so as you create this expansion the rest of your body should be absolutely still.
The expansion doesn’t stop there though. We want a balanced release on both sides of the shot; the bow arm and draw arm side must be synchronised. The expansion is a balanced sequence of events as shown in Fig 1b. It starts with the feeling of elbow movement along arrow “1”. As you create this feeling, you should feel the lower part of the draw scapula move very slightly towards the spine (arrow “2”). Lastly, you should direct the bow straight towards the target by creating the feeling of slightly pushing the bow shoulder to the target (arrow 3).
Video 2 shows the direction of expansion demonstrated excellently by Steve Wijler. Note how the draw elbow continues confidently moving around the body and the bow hand is directed firmly at the target. Steve’s draw elbow expansion movement is clearly visible which is personal to his technique. Crucially, the rest of his body remains absolutely still.
Figure 1a. Expansion direction and movement 1
Figure 1b. Expansion direction and movement 2
ANCHOR POSITION FEELING
As you expand, your body must remain absolutely still. Whilst you perform your expansion, you must not move your anchor position at all. Commonly, archers will move the draw hand along the jaw away from the target because they are thinking about pulling the draw elbow straight behind them (directly away from the target) rather than around the body. This means it incorrectly feels as if the draw hand is following arrow “b” in the right image of Fig. 1a. The draw hand should feel as if it is moving diagonally inwards to the neck as shown by arrow “A” in the right image of Fig 1a. It is crucial that you do not try and create this movement from moving the draw hand though.
The draw hand remains at your anchor position and this feeling of diagonal movement is created by the correct elbow movement around the body.
These issues prevent a consistent expansion and can affect your scores hugely.
Your string picture must remain absolutely still. Any change in this will have a dramatic effect on the left/right position of your arrow on the target.
You must keep your mouth shut throughout the whole shot and keep the head still. It is quite common to see archers open the mouth during expansion in an attempt to make the clicker go, but this is wildly inaccurate.
Lastly, you must maintain your posture and not allow your body to shift. Many archers either lean away from the target or towards the target during expansion. This indicates an error in the earlier stages of the shot or in the method of creating expansion. If you only create the expansion from the draw elbow movement and neglect the bow side it will be easy to lean away from the target slightly.
If you try to expand on the bow arm side before reaching real full draw and starting expansion from the draw elbow, you will likely push the upper body and torso towards the target.
These issues can simply be solved by really focussing on maintaining your posture through your expansion.
MOVEMENT OR BACK TENSION?
Imagine you are at the gym doing a simple bicep curl with your draw arm. When you do a bicep curl do you think about contracting your bicep and relaxing your tricep? No. You simply think about moving the hand upwards towards your body. Trying to individually contract or control the activation of all your muscles would be extremely hard and confusing. Imagine thinking in this way to complete a complex movement such as walking, or shooting a bow!
Your body understands what to do when you think in terms of moving the joints and bones. It doesn’t understand as easily when you think about muscles. Thinking about moving the body is natural, easy and much more simple. Make sure you think about your shot in terms of moving your body, not contracting muscles.
As a result, when you create your expansion you should think in terms of movement. Thinking about “back tension” can be extremely destructive to your shot, especially for new archers. Many archers try to expand with “back tension” and tense up and lose the fluid expansion which is required.
Think about movement, not tension.
THE FEELING OF EXPANSION
We have stated how the recurve expansion should not be a large visible movement, and it is mainly internal. However, there is a slight paradox here. Internally, it feels like you are moving quite a lot and quite aggressively. Externally, it looks like you are hardly moving.
Keep this in mind when you are practicing or watching other archers shoot. What the shot looks like and what it feels like can be very different.