Preventing bow arm shake – archery

One of the challenging parts of archery is keeping the bow arm still. Go ahead and try to hold a bow completely still while aiming. This isn’t possible for even the most experienced archers. Although you will never completely remove all the vibration from your bow arm, you should try to limit it as much as possible. So even if you don’t think it’s a big deal for you, this article might be helpful for you. There are so many factors that may influence how much your bow arm shakes, so it’s time to discuss this in detail. If you, however, don’t fancy reading this entire article, maybe this short answer is helpful:

The most common cause of a shaky bow arm is a too heavy draw weight bow. When your muscles are getting tired you will lose control, which causes shaking. Other causes of bow arm shake are related to your technique, like a tight grip, a bent bow arm, or misaligned shoulders.

In the short answer you have learned the most common causes of bow arm shake. You probably now want to resolve the issue. To do so, I would highly recommend reading the remainder of this article. I discuss the main causes in more detail, give tips on how to solve the issues and discuss differences between preventable and unpreventable vibration.

What causes your bow arm to shake?

As discussed in the intro, there are many factors that influence how much your bow arm shakes. You may notice that all these cases are related to your technique and fitness. Bow arm shake is caused by the archer and has nothing to do with the type of gear you’re using. The tuning of your bow, the aids installed and arrows used have no influence on this issue. Therefore, it might sound a bit harsh, but the problem is caused by the archer.

A too heavy draw weight

The number one issue that creates bow shake is shooting with a too heavy bow. Especially for starting archers this is most often the issue. Most starting archers overestimate their abilities regarding draw weight and therefore buy a too heavy bow. This issue happens due to muscle fatigue which causes spontaneous contractions in the muscles which is causing the shaking in the muscles. Therefore, you should first try whether you also have this issue with a lower poundage.

Some archers even experience that they have to lower the poundage of their bow after a year. Changes in your fitness, diet, amount of training amongst other things, can all influence your ability to draw the bow. Therefore, you shouldn’t rule out this cause just because you could draw the bow without issue previously.

Most often the best solution is to decrease the poundage of the draw. But this most often involves buying new limbs or a completely new bow. The second option is to train your back muscles, but this is a though process and you shouldn’t expect results within a month. Anyway, if you want to take this route, I would highly suggest reading this article:

How to train your back muscles for archery

Your shoulders are not properly aligned

When you are at full draw your shoulders should be properly aligned. In the first place this makes sure that not all of the force of the bow has to be supported by muscles. Some of the draw weight will be directed through your bones instead, which gives you an advantage. This helps you prevent muscle fatigue, which is one of the main causes to a shaky bow arm. Additionally, aligning your shoulders will give your more control over your bow.

If you believe that you might have an issue with the alignment of your shoulders, you might want check this with a fellow archer. When this isn’t possible filming yourself, or training in front of a mirror might improve your alignment. Especially filming from a bird’s eye view can be really insightful. This makes it really easy to spot misaligned shoulders.

In this picture, the shoulders are not aligned with the bow hand, which makes the draw feel much heavier
In this picture, the shoulders are aligned which increases your draw length and prevents shaking

A tight bow grip

Most archers that are just getting started think that you should grip the bow really tight. It seems reasonable that you want to have a tight grip to have control over the bow. But in the contrary a tight bow grip can really mess up your shot for multiple reasons. This is often called ‘’the death grip’’ by archers, since it can have a detrimental effect on your scores.

The first issue with a tight bow grip is that you might interfere with the arrow. Since you are holding the bow really tight, any minor twist in the hand will be directly transferred into the bow. When we are firing the bow, we also make some movements unconsciously. Therefore you can easily create an interference issue with the arrow without even knowing it.

Another issue with a tight bow grip is caused by your muscles. If your grip is really tight, you will tension all your muscles in your hand. Try making a fist right now and tension your hand muscles. If you look closely, you will see that your hand will start to shake lightly. When you are holding the bow in a tight grip this is exactly what happens with the bow.

The solution to solve this is simple; make sure that your fingers don’t hit the riser behind the grip, when at full draw. Don’t relax your full hand though; you should still slightly tension your muscles in your palm to control the bow.

Your bow arm is bent

In general, most archers agree that you should keep your bow arm relatively straight. If you bend your bow arm, you will have to use your arm muscles more to keep the bow drawn. This may also create variability in your draw length since you can slightly change your arm’s orientation between shots. You also have less control over the bow when your arm is bent, then when your arm is straight. This may create shaking; therefore you might want to try to shoot with a straight bow arm.

Too focused on the target

It might seem counter intuitive but if you try to force the sight pin on the target, you will start to shake more. This happens because you are tensioning the muscles in your bow arm too much. You will never be able to hold your arm completely still. Try holding your hand in front of you with a stretched arm. Look closely at your hand, and you will see that your arm slightly moves. This is the slight movement that you see translated into the sight pin. Therefore, archers often say: ‘’let the sight pin float’’.

Therefore, you should allow the sight pin to float. Trying to force it in the middle of the target will only create more issues. Your muscles will start to over compensate which makes the floating motion change in a more excessive shaking motion. If you are way too focused on the target, you might even start to flinch, which is often called target panic. Read the article below, if you want to learn more about flinching and target panic.

How to prevent flinching in archery

Low blood sugar

For most people low blood sugar wouldn’t be a problem. But especially if you are dieting, taking special medication or drink a lot of alcohol it’s good to know that this might influence your bow hand shake. If you suspect that this might be an issue, I would highly suggest reading the article below from Medical News Today. This will help you to get the issue solved:

Can you have hypoglycemia without diabetes?

A disease

If you keep shaking while you tried all the tips above, it might be a good idea to visit a doctor. Especially if you are also shaky during other activities. The issue might not be related to archery, but you might unknowingly have a disease.

The difference between floating and shaking

In the previous section we discussed that you shouldn’t force the sight pin in the middle of the target. The sight pin should be floating, meaning that it will not be in the center the entire time. The difference between shaking and floating is the speed of the motion. If you shake the motion will be very fast, which means that you can’t anticipate the movement. The floating motion on the other hand is much slower. The sight pin slowly moves over the target, allowing you to control for this movement.

It might seem counter intuitive, but your sight pin doesn’t have to be dead center on the target when you release. Our body naturally corrects for the slight difference. Our mind is conditioned to hit the middle of the target; therefore there are a lot of processes which the archer is not aware of. This is really hard to explain, but you might already experienced this without noticing.

You often hear archers say: ‘’I thought that arrow was shot way worse’’. This happens because we noticed that we weren’t at the center when we shot the arrow. But our body naturally compensated for this.

This doesn’t mean that aiming isn’t important at all. This just means that archery isn’t only about aiming. You should still try to keep the pin at the center at the target, but you shouldn’t expect your arrows to land exactly where you are aiming. If you want some tips to improve your aim, I would highly recommend reading the article below:

7 tips to improve your aim in archery

How to solve the issue

When you want to solve this issue, you should first find out what causes your bow hand to shake. The only way you can figure this out is by experimenting. The first thing I would try is to decrease the poundage of the bow. About 90% of the cases this is the issue, even if you could comfortably draw the bow before. Our muscles mass and our techniques are often changing, therefore you shouldn’t rule out this option. Try shooting at a significant lower poundage, if this isn’t the issue, you will have to do more experiments.

The next step will involve more work, since you will have to check every single aspect of your technique. You can ask a fellow archer to look at your form or you can use a camera and record yourself. Look in particular at your shoulder alignment, bow arm and your grip, but also consider other aspect of your technique. This can take quite a while since you shouldn’t focus on more than one aspect of your technique at the same time. If you focus on more than one technique it will be very difficult to pinpoint the exact issue.

If these tips won’t work, there is one final step that you can try. Since we do so many things unconsciously in archery, we can’t check everything. Therefore, we sometimes do something wrong, which we can’t really correct. Sometimes we should, therefore, try to reset our mind. In my experience I found that it can sometimes be helpful to just quit archery for a few weeks or even a month. If you are really struggling you often really start to get frustrated, therefore you tend to lose focus. When you start after your break, you will have to start thinking about the shot process again. This can be a great way to lose those subconscious bad habits.

How to reduce vibration

All shaking and vibration of the bow before the shot is fired is caused by the archer. But you should note that you will never hold the bow completely still. Not only will your sight pin float, your hand will also create some vibration. You can’t control this vibration and it differs between archers. You can, however, severely limit the amount of vibration, by using stabilizers and dampeners. I understand that you might be wondering what the differences is between vibration, bow arm shake and a floating sight pin. Therefore, I have made a table below, with the most important differences.

Bow arm shakeExtreme fast movement of the sight pin, you can visually see your hand and arm shake
VibrationSlight but fast movement of the sight pin, you can’t see your hand and arm shake
Floating sight pinSlow movement of the sight pin

Stabilizers and dampeners won’t resolve excessive shaking of the bow arm. The vibration produced by excessive hand shake can’t be reduced to an acceptable level. To resolve this issue you really have to make adjustments to the draw weight or your technique. These devices will also not remove the floating effect, since these movements are too slow. The goal of the stabilizer is to remove small vibration produced when an archer is using the right technique.

If you shoot a bow with a sight, but without a stabilizer, you will see that the sight pin will vibrate a little. When you add a stabilizer most of the vibration should be gone. There is, however, more to it than screwing a stabilizer on your bow. You should still consider what stabilizer you want to use and what type of dampener. To maximize the amount of vibration removed, you have to make the right choice. Therefore, I have written an in dept article about stabilizers, that you can find below.

Stabilizers – how they work and what to buy

Final words

This was one of the most difficult articles I have written so far, because there are so many different aspects that can cause your arm to start shaking. I wanted to make a concise list, so I had to leave some causes out. If you have a story about shaking issues in your bow arm, please leave them down below. This will help fellow archers and help me improve this article!

Tim van Rooijen

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by archery. First due to its historic significance but later because I like being outdoors. With this blog, I share my knowledge about Archery and how you can improve your shot. More about author…

4 Replies to “Preventing bow arm shake – archery”

  1. Mayank says:

    i want to ask you that low strength in shoulders can also be the issue?

    1. Tim van Rooijen says:

      Hi Mayank,

      Yes, that can definitely cause bow arm shake. In that case, you have two options: decreasing the draw weight or training your shoulder muscles.

      If you want to do the latter, this article might be helpful:

      But that probably won’t solve your issue in a few weeks since it will take quite some time to develop your shoulder muscles.

  2. Clark says:

    Love this! Too much to compliment, but I’ll point out one: I like how you included the more obscure option of simply putting archery on a hiatus to help clear your mind and to try to get rid of unconscious bad habits. Indeed, hard to explain the psychobiology of. But it’s a good sort of last resort idea.

    And just a typo. Under the section “What causes your bow arm to shake?” I think you meant to write “with the type of gear YOU’RE using”.

    1. Tim van Rooijen says:

      Hi Clark,

      Thanks for the compliments, I always try to make my article in-depth and highlight all kinds of tips. I have also changed the type, thanks!


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