Recurve Archery Technique – Set Position (Hook & Grip)
Recurve archery is about consistency, and your hook and grip are the two permanent contact points with the bow through the whole shot. As a result, the set position is very important for consistent technique. Everyone’s hands are different, and the exact way you place your hook and grip will be personal to your recurve form.
Recurve grip placement is very consistent among the worlds top archers. Most archers use a custom recurve grip which fits their hand, but the actual placement of the bow hand is generally very similar between top archers. However, there is a lot more variation between the hook. This is likely because grip position is subject to two main variables: bow hand shape and the grip shape on the bow. The hook is subject to three variables: hand shape, tab shape and face shape. This is because your hook has to allow you to achieve a good full draw position.
To learn about the basics of recurve archery, see our Recurve Technique Basics guide.
To find drills to improve your set position, see our Drills & Bow Training section.
Key Points: Recurve Archery Hook & Grip
Recurve Archery Technique – Set Position (Hook & Grip)
THE BOW POSITION
There are many different ways you can place your bow for the set position. Like all technique, there is not one position which is best for everyone. However, we recommend starting by placing the bow on your foot. Then, when you set your hook and grip you’ll need to lift your bow to an intermediate position. This overall method pairs well with the square stance that we also recommend to start with.
Again, you can experiment once you become experienced with the basics of the set position.
LIFTING THE BOW
You can see the starting position for the set position in Fig 1a. At this point, you have set your stance & posture and have the bow resting on your foot ready to start the shot.
Firstly, you place your draw fingers on the string to form your hook (Fig. 1b). Then, you stretch out the web of your bow hand and place it into the throat of the grip (Fig 1c). At this point you should only feel the bow in the web of your hand as shown in Fig. 2a by the pivot point circle. Then, you slightly tension the string with the draw arm and lift the bow by directing the web of the bow hand into the bow. This is the set position as you can see in Fig. 1d. Most of your pressure should still be directed through the pivot point until coming to the set-up position.
You can see this full motion in Video 1 below.
Figure 1a. Set position 1
Figure 1b. Set position 2
Figure 1c. Set position 3
Figure 1d. Set position 4
In Fig 2a/b, you can see the position of the bow hand more closely when the bow is on the foot. Touching the back of the bow with your fingers can help to lift the bow to the set position. You can also notice that when the bow is still on the foot, the bow arm elbow is not straight yet.
Importantly, you should position the bow to help make this stage of the shot as easy as possible. Don’t place the bow too far away from your body so you have to reach to the grip. If you bring the bow too close to the body it can make it awkward, too. You should aim to have the upper arm of the draw arm close to the side of the body. Furthermore, the draw shoulder should be in a neutral position.
When the bow is too close to your body, there will likely be a gap between your upper draw arm and the side of your body. When the bow is too far away, you will have to reach with the draw hand and your draw shoulder will likely raise up and forwards which is not good.
Figure 2a. Bow hand position at set from side
Figure 2b. Bow hand position at set from front
Video 1. Recurve set position, lifting the bow from the foot and setting hook and grip
Recurve Archery Technique – Set Position (Hook & Grip)
THE BOW HAND (GRIP)
PRESSURE & PIVOT POINT
The throat of the grip is where you place your bow hand during the shot, this is called the pivot point. When you shoot, you must balance the pressure through the pivot point with a pressure through the bottom of your bow hand (using the thumb pad). This allows you to direct the bow towards the target without tilting it.
As a result of this, there will be a singular point on your grip where it feels as if you are pushing the bow from. This is the pressure point. You can see the pressure and pivot points in Fig. 3b.
On your bow hand, your pressure point should be on the thumb pad side of the palm of your hand. It is directly below your pivot point in your hand. You can see the bow hand pivot and pressure points in Fig 3a along with the areas where the bow grip should and should not contact.
Video 2. The recurve grip position. Examples from different angles.
As you raise and then lower the bow to the set-up position, you should shift the distribution of pressure in your bow hand. Initially the forward pressure is solely against the pivot point when the bow is on your foot. This means the pressure point is effectively in the pivot point. During the raising and lowering of the bow, you should increase the pressure through the thumb pad which will move your pressure point down. By the set-up phase, you want your pressure point in it’s final position. This makes sure that you have a solid connection with the bow through your hand and into your shoulder during the rest of the shot.
Lastly, the pivot and pressure points should be aligned with the centre of your grip. This helps prevent any torquing of the bow when you release.
Figure 3a. Bow hand pivot and pressure points
Figure 3b. Bow grip pivot and pressure points
The key to correct bow hand position is to firstly start with the correct left/right position. A good way to get the feel of the centre alignment of your bow hand is to perform the exercise shown in Fig. 4a. The centre part of the web of your hand should be in line with the centre line of the recurve grip.
Secondly, it is important to place the hand in the grip at the pivot point first, using the slightly stretched web of the hand to initially position your hand. Later in the shot you can then place your pressure point in contact with the surface of the grip.
At full draw, the bow hand knuckles should be at least at a 45 degree angle. This helps you direct your pressure onto the bow more consistently and prevent your hand slipping around the left side of the grip. You can see this in Fig. 4b, notice also how the knuckles are curled (Fig. 4c) and not completely relaxed.
Figure 4a. Locating the bow hand into the grip.
Figure 4b. The bow hand position at full draw.
Figure 4c. Bow hand position and knuckles back.
THE ‘RELAXED’ RECURVE GRIP
It is incorrectly commonly taught that the recurve grip must be as relaxed as possible. However, this causes many issues. If you allow the wrist and bow hand to be completely relaxed, your hand will slide off the grip. This compromises the bow arm positioning and your release on the bow arm side. This commonly can cause string contact issues with the arm.
There must be some tension in the bow hand in the correct places. You must slightly pull the ring and little finger knuckles of the bow hand back (see Fig. 4c and 5a) and directly push your thumb straight towards the target. The thumb direction to the target is crucial for consistent forward pressure. You can see the direction created by the thumb in Fig. 4b and 5b.
In fact, the knuckle position in Fig. 4c could actually be pulled slightly further back to look more like the archer in Fig. 5a. Lastly, it is crucial to have good bow arm elbow rotation to make the proper connection between the grip and the archer. Read about this more on the Recurve Technique – Set Up page.
Figure 5a. Grip positioning example 1.
Figure 5b. Grip positioning example 2.
A finger sling is essential for competitive recurve archery. We recommend using a simple piece of string or shoelace tied between the thumb and index finger of the bow hand.
Some people place the finger sling on the middle finger, instead of the index finger. However, it is better to place the finger sling on your index finger. It helps your knuckle angle to be at least 45 degrees whereas it is tempting to lessen the knuckle angle if you use a sling on the middle finger. Also, using the sling on the middle finger generally compromises the feeling of forward direction and your bow hand release compared to using the index finger.
Recurve Archery Technique – Set Position (Hook & Grip)
THE DRAW HAND (HOOK)
As with many areas of recurve archery, there is a lot of individuality that makes up your exact hook on the string. As a result, it is possible that you might need to adjust your hook slightly to account for your hand or face shape. Focussed experimentation and good feedback is key.
The start of any hook is where you place your fingers on the string. You should place the string in the groove of the top and middle finger and slightly in front of the groove on the bottom finger. For most people, the top two fingers should be in the groove, with the third finger placement varying slightly to accommodate individual hand sizes.
You can see this finger placement shown in Fig. 6 below. The thumb and pinky finger are positioned out of the way to show the finger placement properly, this is not the position they will be in during the shot!
Figure 6. Finger placement on the string.
In Video 3 below, you can see a common mistake many archers make. The hand is rolled over too far so that it is very hard to place the string in the groove of the top finger. You can see how the string is incorrectly initially deeper than the groove of the first finger.
Firstly, once the finger position is corrected by rotating the hook slightly clockwise, the finger placement is much better. Secondly, the wrist angle is now less kinked. The archer is now able to connect the hook with the arm and back, an essential skill to be competitive in recurve archery.
Lastly, the draw elbow and shoulder is in a much better position when the hook is correctly connected. In the first example, the draw elbow and shoulder is too high as a result of the hooking. Once corrected, the archer has a lower draw shoulder at the set position and this will help with connecting the hook to the rest of the shot.
Video 3. Finger placement for the recurve hook.
THE HAND & WRIST
It is common for archers to kink the wrist inwards at the set position and maintain this throughout the shot. You can see an example of this in Fig. 7b where it is clear that the wrist is bent. Notice also how the joints of the draw hand fingers, wrist and elbow do not form a straight line. This is not good.
Compare this to the better position shown in Fig. 7a and the difference is obvious. The wrist is much straighter and the joints of the fingers, wrist and elbow line up. This is a much more efficient position biomechanically and will help reduce the chance of injury. Throughout the shot, the hand and wrist angle should either be in neutral, or the wrist joint should be kinked slightly outside the arm line rather than kinked inwards.
If your wrist and arm is kinked as shown in Fig 7b, it is very difficult to connect your hook through to your elbow and scapula. This means that drawing the bow will be much harder and achieving good alignment and scapula positioning will be extremely hard.
Figure 7a. Acceptable draw hand/wrist position at set.
Figure 7b. Incorrect draw hand/wrist position at set.
LITTLE FINGER & THUMB
There are different options for the placement of your thumb and little finger on your draw hand. Different archers place these fingers quite differently, and finding an option which works for your hook and recurve form is key.
Importantly, you should know that the amount you curl or tension your little finger has a direct impact on the amount of tension on your ring finger on the string. Also, how you position your thumb can change the shape and feeling of tension in the whole hand and wrist. You should make sure that your thumb position doesn’t negatively impact your draw hand wrist position.
In Fig. 8a, you can see the thumb is straight and the little finger is curled. This can provide a nice position of the thumb at anchor as the thumb can fit snugly against the neck and jaw. However, this thumb position can encourage you to kink your wrist as shown in Fig. 7b, so extra care is needed to prevent this.
Fig 8b shows the little finger curled and the thumb roughly at a 45deg angle. This position is possibly the most common and offers a nice balance between having the thumb placed well at anchor, but not encouraging the wrist to bend. As the thumb isn’t ‘set’ against any reference, care must be taken with this position to make sure the thumb doesn’t move during the shot.
Fig 8c shows the thumb and pinky touching. This can be a good option to stop both the thumb and pinky moving around, but it may be slightly harder to find a natural anchor position.
Figure 8a. Thumb/pinky position 1
Figure 8b. Thumb/pinky position 2
Figure 8c. Thumb/pinky position 3
When thinking about finger pressure, the main thing is to keep it simple. For most people, the majority of the pressure should be on the top two fingers with less pressure on the bottom finger. As a very rough approximation, you could think of this as 50% middle finger, 30% top finger and 20% bottom finger.
Often, many people worry too much about what exact percentage of pressure should be on each finger, but this is not important. It is much more important to have good finger and grip strength and maintain your hook securely through the shot. The key thing is to find a hook which is repeatable and helps the rest of your form.
Finger Pressure Direction
The direction of pressure is important at the set position because it prepares the direction for the opening of the bow. As viewed from overhead, at the set position you should feel as if you are pulling the string slightly to the right (RH archer) so that the pressure of the string is directed slightly to the finger tips, rather than straight through the finger joint. This will help the overall position at set and the rest of your shot.
The common direction of pressure can be seen by the red arrow in Fig. 9, whereas the green arrow shows the better direction. This change also helps the position of the wrist and shoulders.
Figure 9. Recurve hooking direction.
Recurve Archery Technique – Set Position (Hook & Grip)
THE OVERALL SET POSITION
POSTURE AND SHOULDERS
As you lift the bow from the foot, it is very easy to lose the connection with the core and allow your posture to weaken. This commonly can cause you to lose engagement in the core and allow the ribcage to lift. As a result, it could compromise your shoulder position and make it harder to feel where your shoulders are positioned.
It is very important whenever you are lifting the bow against gravity to make sure to maintain your core and posture as a result. You can see examples of doing this correctly and incorrectly in Figs 10a and 10b. Although the difference may seem subtle at first, this will have a huge impact on your shot and how it feels.
You can also do exercises in the gym to help this. Take a look at our exercise page, Recurve Archery Exercises.
Figure 10a. Acceptable shoulder positioning and posture
Figure 10b. Incorrect shoulder positioning and posture
Key Comparison Points
You can clearly see in Fig 10a the orange line indicating a slight angle the shoulders have at set. The bow shoulder is lower than the draw shoulder. This is important to provide direction in this stage of the shot. You can also see how the core is maintained and the ribcage is not lifted up. Furthermore, it looks as if the bow arm is being directed towards the target (red arrow) and the bow shoulder position reflects this.
By contrast, you can see a compromised position in Fig 10b. The root cause of this is that the archer has lost core engagement and the ribcage is elevated. They have then lost their shoulder stability and direction. This has finally compromised the posture and shoulder positioning. You can see that the bow shoulder is not being directed towards the target properly. It appears as if it’s being pushed into the body (red arrow). As a result, the orange line is horizontal too, compared to the optimum slight angle in Fig 10a.
In general terms, the archer in Fig 10a is grounded and is attacking the shot towards the target. In comparison, the archer in Fig 10b is almost leaning back. It looks like the whole shot lacks direction towards the target.
Figs 10a/b are stills from video clips. Video 4 shows these clips side by side where it may be easier to see the differences mentioned above.
Video 4. Set position comparison
POSITIONING THE BOW & HANDS
The overall position at set is extremely important to help you open and draw the bow efficiently. This is a combination of your body position, hand position and bow position. The position of the bow is often completely ignored but it is of great importance. We will assume here that your posture is good and overall body position has been set.
Bow & Hand Positioning
At the set position it is important to place the bow in a position which allows you to set your hook and grip. Also, the position should not compromise your draw hand wrist angle which we addressed previously. Furthermore, the position of the bow should encourage you to open the bow properly with proper shoulder positioning.
The most common issue is caused when the bow is in a position similar to that in Fig. 11b. The draw hand is closer to the body line (annotated yellow line) than the bow hand. This position encourages a kink of the wrist and makes the bow strongly angled to the right of the target (blue line). This overall position is very weak.
By comparison, you can see in Fig. 11a that the draw hand is further from the body line than the bow hand. The bow is angled to the left of the target as a result, which is much better.
It can also help to have the bow slightly canted at set (see Fig. 11a) so that the bottom limb is closer to the body than the top limb. However, this is more personal preference.
Figure 11a. Acceptable set position and direction
Figure 11b. Compromised set position and direction
Incorrect Direction of Movement
Recurve technique is about direction and movement. The two illustrated positions in Figs 11a/b give very different directions for opening the bow. Video 5 shows these two shots side by side as well.
In Fig 11b, it is clear the archer is thinking about pushing the bow hand straight into the grip and towards the target (red dot) whilst pulling the draw hand straight towards the body. This direction is shown by the red arrows. As we previously mentioned in Fig 9, the hooking direction is straight into the finger joints too, shown by the orange arrow.
This leads to the many issues we have already discussed. In Video 5 you can see that the overall direction of opening the bow is very closed, and overall the shoulders appear compressed and ‘hunched’. The final shoulder alignment is not good either.
Good Direction of Movement
In Fig 11a, the feeling of direction is very different. Here, the archer feels as if he is directing the bow from the right hand side of the grip shown by the red dot and arrow. This balances the opening direction of the draw hook as shown by the other red arrow. Furthermore, you can see the orange arrow indicates the string pressure is directed properly in the fingers now. This set position feels as if you are readying yourself to open the bow away from you, rather than drawing it straight into the body.
It is important to note, the red arrows on Fig. 11a do not necessarily trace the path of the body, but represent the feelings that the archer has at the set position. The same is true for the dot on the right side of the grip. It does not mean that all pressure is on the side of the grip and there is no contact or pressure on the front of the grip, it means that it feels as if you are balancing the outward force of hooking by directing the bow from the right side of the grip.
In Video 5, you can clearly see that opening and drawing the bow is easier and much more efficient with good positioning at set. Also, the final shoulder alignment is far better. Finally, the shoulders remain more neutral and relaxed through the whole shot.
Video 5. Overhead comparison of hand and bow positioning at set.
CONNECTING TO THE BACK
With the rest of the set position executed correctly, you should be able to connect your hands (your grip and hook) with your shoulders and back. The correct direction of movement mentioned above is the first stage in achieving this.
At the set position you should feel a connection between your hook on the string which reaches all the way into the back of the draw elbow (point 2 in Fig 12). This then connects around your body (orange line) onto your lower right shoulder blade (blue ellipse). On the bow hand side, your pressure point should connect through the underneath of your arm (orange line), to your bow arm tricep and finally to the lower part of the left shoulder blade (blue ellipse).
The overall feeling should be that your whole shot is connected in a ‘loop’. You can feel this as a slight engagement of the lower part of the shoulder blades or the area underneath the armpit. Fig 12 shows this connection as viewed from overhead and behind the archer. It should feel as if there is a strong rope between the back of your draw elbow and your hook. You can replicate this feeling by drawing the bow with a formaster.
Points 1 and 2 and the associated red arrows on both diagrams are the same, just shown from different angles. We should note that the orange line and blue ellipses are not literal. The orange line shows the feeling of connection through the parts of your shot. The blue ellipses show the feeling of activation on your back, NOT where the shoulder blades are positioned.