Olympic Archery Explained: Draw Weight
There’s no question the archers who will compete in the Olympic games in Rio this summer are the best Olympic recurve archers their home countries have to offer.
They train hard, shooting their bows for many hours every day. And they’ve been doing that for years.
So it’s no stretch to think of these athletes as the strongest Olympic recurve archers in the world. That is, they are the archers who have the most finely-tuned archery muscles.
Archery is known for using a unique combination of muscles in the back, arms, shoulders and core.
These Olympic competitors have to be shooting the bows with the heaviest draw weights of any archers, right?
Sixty, 70 pounds?
That is, after all, what we typically hear about in discussions of the upper end of draw weights in archery.
How about roughly 40-48 pounds for the women, and 45-55 pounds for the men.
Brady Ellison, the top American male archer heading to Rio, typically draws 53 pounds. Mackenzie Brown, America’s only female archer competing in the games, draws 46.5 pounds.
Usually, when you hear discussions about draw weights pushing 70 pounds, the archers are talking about shooting compound bows.
Regardless of the type of bow being shot, heavier draw weights allow for greater arrow speeds and flatter arrow trajectories. This can help an arrow cut through the wind with less drift and more accuracy.
In drawing an Olympic recurve bow, the draw weight actually gets heavier the farther the bow is drawn back. A 70-inch-long, takedown recurve bow – common among Olympic recurve competitors - reaches its marked draw weight when the archer draws the bow to 28 inches. So a bow that’s marked as having a 44-pound draw weight, hits that mark when the bowstring is pulled back 28 inches.
Some archers have long wingspans and draw lengths, drawing their bowstrings beyond 28 inches. Their bows continue to increase in draw weight by approximately 2-3 pounds per inch beyond 28 inches.
At full draw, Brady Ellison holds 53 pounds of tension on the first three fingers of his right hand.
Compound bows, on the other hand, have what’s called let-off. The bows, which employ grooved pulleys - called cams – and cables, reach their peak draw weights roughly halfway through the draw cycle. When the cam rolls over, the draw weight lets off, so the archer is holding significantly less poundage at full draw.
Most modern compound bows have anywhere from 65-85 percent let-off. Using that range, an archer drawing a bow with a 70-pound draw weight would hold 24.5 - 10.5 pounds of string tension at full draw, thanks to the let-off.
And nearly all compound archers today are holding that weight with a mechanical release that’s either strapped to their wrist or held in their hand. Their fingers don’t touch the bowstring.
So while Olympic recurve archers typically do not draw as much weight as compound archers, they’re probably holding anywhere from two to five times more weight at full draw than most compound archers. And that’s when holding steady is most critical to accuracy.
A competitive Olympic recurve archer regularly trains by shooting an average of 300 arrows per day. The cumulative weight that's drawn, held and release with their fingers is between 7 and 8 tons.
During an Olympic competition day, archers can shoot nearly 100 arrows between scoring and practice ends, totaling about 4,000 pounds of cumulative draw weight under the extreme stress of competition.