This note covers Stabilisation and is based on a BOOST session BLCAC ran a couple of years ago. What I can’t do here is give you the practical hands-on section, you’ll have to put up with the theory side ~ for now anyway. Please note this is a topic where it would be possible to go into great detail and look closely at the physics involved. I do not intend to do so for a number of reasons, not least because it’s 49 years since I took my Physics “O” Level” (remember those) and whilst I passed it I would be lying if I said I understood it then or remember any of it now, even if it is relevant. If I do touch on the physics please take this as any early apology for my muddled thinking and any inaccuracy. To be honest this is one of those topics where I’ll say “trust me” and hope that you do.
The more I read the more complex the topic appears I’ll, therefore, aim to make it as simple as possible ~ if you are craving complexity by the end let me know and I’ll point you towards some sources that will meet that need.
I’ll aim to give you a feel for what stabilisation does to your bow and how it might help your shooting.
Imagine you are in a training room and I say:
1. Hands up all those who have stabilisation on their bow…
2. Hands up if it’s simply the longrod that came with your kit…
3. If it’s something different hands up those who tried more than one different set-up before putting the new one on the bow…
4. Finally hands up all those who really know what the stabilisation they have does to their bow…
My guess is that most people would have stopped raising their hands at question 2 and that very few would have their hands up for question 4. You’ll know where you fit on the scale and the chances are that you are reading on because you had your hands down at 4 or if you had them up that you were being slightly untruthful ~ or fancy having your thoughts confirmed. The chances are you have some understanding of what stabilisation does but are not truly au fait with all the nuances. I’ll be frank ~ I have an understanding but am certainly no expert, the fact is I know enough to have a broad understanding but also to realise how little I truly know. If any of you spots errors in the following notes let me know and I’ll put them right and learn something in the process.
WHY DO BOWS NEED STABILISATION?
You’ve all shot your bows so know that they move in your hands during and after the shot and that you need to check all the screws and bolts from time to time as they have a tendency to work loose. These two things relate to the fact that a) the bow is out of balance both at full draw and during the shot and b) shockwaves that occur during the shot (vibrations) work things loose. Stabilisation seeks to overcome these issues and, in doing, so improve your shooting.
Everything has a balancing point or centre of gravity (COG). When you release the bowstring at full draw, the string, limbs, sight and indeed the arrow all move and the centre of gravity alters. This only stops when either gravity has taken effect or you grasp the bow and stop the movement.
For most bows the COG is behind the bow below the grip ~ this means a bow without stabilisation tips backwards when shot (upper limb moves towards the archer), so long as the archer isn’t gripping the bow tightly.
Most archers add weight in front of the bow (longrods) which alters the COG and means that during the shot they tip forward and energy is directed towards the target, which is where you want it to be so that makes sense.
The next thing archers do is add v-bars. Why? Often this is because they have seen others with them and so decide they must be a good idea, not because they know what they do and how or even if they might help the shot, I’ll try to cover their effect later in this note, for now I’ll concentrate on their impact on COG. Adding v-bars has the opposite effect on COG to the longrod, they bring it backwards, and so to counteract this the archer adds in an extender rod between the riser and v-bar to move the COG forward again.
Every addition of a rod or bar adds weight to the bow, which may impact on how easy the archer finds it to control. This is impacted by the fact that, as mentioned above, bows are essentially unstable at the start of the draw and throughout the shot as the COG keeps changing as the bow is drawn and after the release.
Adding stabilisation seeks to counter this but inevitably, as the COG is changing, whatever you add is a compromise. The set-up you are looking for is the compromise that suits you best, which may not be that easy to find. It’s a matter of trial and error and may take some time. In a practical session it’s at this point I would have included a session allowing you to try out a number of different set-ups to get an idea of what the differences are ~ it would be too short to enable you to find your ideal but would be a start.
WHY DO ARCHERS NEED STABILISATION
The majority of this note looks at the types and arrangements of stabilisers and their effects on reduction of unwanted bow movements and vibration, those are the primary and central aspects to the whole topic, but there are additional and important resultant physiological benefits to the archer which arise from those reductions.
The vibration from non-stabilised bows is transmitted to the archer into the bow hand and bow arm and that vibration has two effects on muscles and nerves over time. Firstly with vibration they become short term 'excited / stimulated' and make it increasingly difficult to establish the fine control needed by archers during shot execution over time (although not as extreme, this is akin to the longer term damage such as 'vibration white finger' syndrome experienced by those who use vibrating power tools such as pneumatic drills). Secondly the constant stimulation from vibration is also tiring.
The general effects of these two combined aspects are often witnessed / suffered by archers who see that their scoring accuracy in the later stages of longer practice sessions and especially tournaments starts to diminish. Even if properly stabilised scoring may well deteriorate through lack of archery stamina but that is a separate topic which we looked at in the separate notes on bow training. So stabilisation should help you avoid injury and, with better strength and stamina, improve/maintain your scores.
BUT WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES STABILISATION MAKE AND WHAT’S RIGHT?
In a perfect world you would be looking for something that means the bow is stable at set up, through the draw, at full draw and throughout the shot. However, as we know, the bow is moving, its COG is changing and so that’s impossible. Hence we are looking for a compromise that you, the archer, are happy with ~ you’ll spot that compromise is a feature of this note.
Adding stabilisation has an impact on how the bow feels in the hand making it feel:
• heavy or light
• top heavy, balanced or bottom heavy
• lively ~ in the direction of the shot
• solid at the point of release
• heavy or dead on release
Any one of these is fine ~ it depends on what you like. It’s not a case of copying the best archer around, after all:
• they aren’t you
• their draw is different
• their bow is different
So let’s look at what movements you are trying to control and then at the options that exist and what they do, which would normally be a precursor to having a trial of different set-ups.
• Displacement ~ This is linear movement ~ forward and back, up/down, left right
• Rotation ~ circular movement which can be parallel to the arrow or around the riser (torque) or through the grip (roll)
• Vibration ~ any wobbling be it caused by you or the way your bow is set up (n.b. bows are inherently asymmetric and will vibrate as a result)
Displacement is essentially limited by simply adding weight. It is a lot easier to move things that are light than which are heavy. However, picking up a heavy bow many, many times during practice and competition is tiring so simply adding weight is not ideal. Placement of the weight is important. That is why the vast majority of stabilisers have weights at their ends away from the bow and usually the facility to vary how much weight is involved. The reason for this is simple a small weight at a distance is harder to move than a larger one close to you. If you have a longrod to hand pick it up by the end furthest away from the bow (the weight) hold it out at arm’s length and give it a wiggle, then do the same with the longrod reversed. You should find the first easier to do than the second ~ if you don’t have a longrod try it with a broom holding it at the sweeping end first, the effect is the same with the weight being provided by the brush head.
Rotation as stated above this can be either torque or roll.
Torque can best be understood by repeating the exercise above with the longrod/broom but this time with it at arm’s length flick your wrist left and right. With the weight away from you the movement is more difficult. This is what a longrod seeks to limit.
Roll ~ imagine that you have a weightlifting bar with weights on either end and you hold it with both hands close together in the middle of the bar, then tilt the bar one way. It will feel unbalanced and your desire will be to bring it back to being level. This is the movement that v-bars (and short rods – see below) seek to limit and correct.
Vibration ~ I have already touched on the fact that there is vibration during the shot. This comes from two main sources:
• From the shot ~ shock waves when we release
• From the archer ~ heart, lungs (breathing), muscles
Stabilisation seeks to lessen the impact of these vibrations. The example I give is that of a pebble dropped into the middle of a pond. The ripples that reach the edge of the pond are smaller than those at the middle, similarly rather than have vibration focussed in the riser and bow handle the presence of long rods, in particular, means they move out away from the grip before being reflected back to the riser and the archer him/herself. By the time they get back they are less extreme and so less tiring for the archer, this is particularly so where a flexible section, usually made of high density rubber, is included. Most longrods have such a section as a matter of course.
When can/should I control these things?
The intention when shooting is to have as consistent and repeatable a platform as possible at all times. It will come as no surprise, therefore that you need to control things throughout the shot:
· Before the shot ~ steady aim
· During the shot ~ if set up properly the arrow will rise off the rest soon after release (milliseconds) so for the most part the string is the only thing in contact with the arrow.
· After the shot ~ even though the arrow has gone this period is important:
• If you anticipate movement you may do something that alters the shot even before you loose
• Lots of rattling/movement may distract other archers (is that a bad thing?)
• It can cause accelerated wear and tear to the bow
So now down to the question of what you can add. There are several options and, as already stated, each is a compromise and what you are looking for is the compromise that works best for you.
• Short rods ~ less commonly used these days but they are still seen on many archers’ bows.
• Longrod ~ most common largely as they are part of typical starter kits
• V-bars ~ often added later
OK but what do they do?
• Short rods ~ essentially impact on rotation around the arrow: Imagine you tilt the bow left or right, short rods at the top and bottom work together to bring the bow back to the vertical. It’s normal to have both though some archers opt for just one, often the top rod.
• Longrods ~ essentially these move the COG forward and impact on rotation around the riser (torque). So they help stop the archer flicking the bow left and right.
• V-bars ~ like short rods impact on rotation around the arrow but also bring the COG back, hence use of extenders to counteract this.
Vibration ~ all reduce vibration to some extent and this can be increased by adding dampeners ~ often rubber ~ either close to the riser or, more usually, away from the bow.
• When should I add stabilisation?
• Early on it’s best to keep stabilisation as simple as possible as adding stabilisation:
• can mask faults in your shot
• Adds weight and so is tiring and makes it harder for you to control the bow
• So add it when your shot is settled, probably a few months after you finish your beginners course (though some clubs have stabilisers on bows during their courses)
Good luck with finding your ideal compromise.