What Muscle – Seriously?

There’s a book on archery put together by the top coaches in the sport.  I’ve read it.  Throughout the book I’d read a paragraph and pause to figure out what I’d just read.  At times what was written just didn’t pass the sniff test.

During this pandemic it has seemed like a good time to learn something new about archery.  In this case I wanted to learn to shoot a recurve bow.  Having access to a $78.00 (new price) recurve I grabbed it and some arrows to see how it felt.

The arrows were not the correct spine for the 28 pound recurve.  These were arrows intended for a 50-pound bow.  Still, they were available and this was an exercise simply for fun.  The fun quickly became an obsession.

I’ve completed the USA Archery NTS Level 3 coaching course.  So, I’m not totally unaware of how to shoot a recurve.  Having basic didactic knowledge the hands-on skill was leaving me wanting more material.  I bought several coaching books and read them in the quest for knowledge.  I’d read, study then try to apply the new information during practice.

There was an overlap among the chapters’ authors within the books.  There was also a common theme where these coaches referred to the triceps muscle activation in the drawing arm.  (There were other statements of physiological wonderments that left me baffled.  One in particular was associated with a bit of neurological voodoo, which I’ll leave alone for now.)

This repeated notion regarding the triceps was perplexing.  I certainly wasn’t feeling my drawing arm triceps doing much of anything when pulling back on the recurve string.  It seemed I was destined to fail shooting a recurve. The more I shot a recurve the more I realized my drawing arm triceps was a dud.

Well, a recurve was just for fun so it didn’t matter.  Naturally, since it didn’t matter, I ordered an inexpensive and slightly better recurve from Lancaster Archery.  Well, to be exact I ordered: a riser, limbs, stabilizers, clicker, adjustable V-bar and eye bolt, a plunger, an arrow rest, a finger tab, a bow stand, and sight.

Once I received the recurve package and assembled the gear I headed out to shoot it.  Low and behold my triceps activation did not arrive with the proper gear.  No matter shooting a recurve is simply for fun.

The more I thought about that triceps during my drawing  the more it seemed to not make biomechanical sense.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit learning muscles during my A/P courses were not among the subjects that inspires. For some it is, for me it isn’t.

I studied the muscles got good grades on tests and promptly forgot anything I didn’t need to know. Perhaps, these coaches knew stuff about muscles Professor Guyton kept to himself and a select few.

This lack of triceps involvement had me truly frustrated.  It smelled wrong.  The explanation of how the triceps functions as written by these coaches when against the grain for my education. (I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.  Thank you, Mr. Twain)

The triceps is one of those muscles, absent for me in archery, rarely on my mind during my medical career. Then, maybe I was just being stupid – I’ve been stupid before, I’ll be stupid again.

Of the piles of learning everyone must go through to earn a doctorate much of it is put aside as academicians begin to specialize.  One thing we all remember is where to go to fill in blanks.  One place I look for file in blanks is among peer-reviewed journals.  I headed to the electronic stacks to see what I could learn about activation of the triceps muscle during the performance of archery.

I was not alone in the wonderment of muscle activation during archery.  Naturally, research on archers and their muscles has been done.  Archers, as athletes, are easy to study.  Archers stand really still.

Hiroshi Shinohara and Yukio Urabe in Japan did a study designed to analyze the muscular activity in archery. (1) They found that triceps activation was significantly lower in elite archers than pre-elite or beginner groups of archers.  They further concluded that,” The lower trapezius muscle of the draw arm is actively involved in scapular fixation during shooting. Therefore, in order to improve the archery competition score, training focused on the lower trapezius muscle is necessary.” To me that made sense.

This brought forth a new dilemma.  See the lower and middle trapezius muscles are not individual muscles, but rather they are the lowermost sections of fibers in the trapezius muscle.

When I’m told to use my “lower trapezius muscle” my mind kind of goes blank.  I can’t isolate muscle fibers to the degree it has been suggested to isolate.  All that meat in my back is connected and innervation to sections of fibers within the same package of muscles can’t be separated.  It is all or none.

If you watch as archer drawing a bow you will see the trapezius muscle do its job.  You’ll also notice the triceps aren’t pitching in. Sure, there is some minor innervation of the triceps, but it is not the focal point.

There are a lot of self-important know-it-alls hanging up coaching shingles.  Some are really great coaches, but they don’t know it all. Many are really smart, few are actually sports physiologists.  If you are being taught something that doesn’t pass you sniff test – look it up later.  If you listen, you not be surprised to hear some ‘coaches’ regurgitate the same misinformation they were sold with authority.


(1) Hiroshi Shinohara , Yukio Urabe . Analysis of muscular activity in archery: a comparison of skill level. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2018 Dec;58(12):1752-1758.

doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07826-4.Epub 2017 Dec 1.