Shooting with a bent vs. straight bow arm

Although most archers use very similar techniques, there are some techniques that cause a debate. One of those techniques is whether you should hold your arm straight or bent. Although most archers believe that you should keep your arm straight, there are also some archers who are getting great results with a bent arm. Archery is about what works and the optimal technique sometimes differs per person. In this article, we will explore this question in more detail, but if you just want a short answer to the question of the title, please see the summary below:

Shooting with a straight bow arm has a lot of advantages; therefore it’s recommended that archers shoot with a straight arm. There are some reasons why you might want to shoot with a slightly bent arm. But in general shooting with a straight bow arm makes it easier to keep your draw weight consistent and reduces the strain on your muscles.

In the remainder of this article, we will discuss the advantages of both shooting with a straight and a bent arm. I will also mention a few things you should avoid at all costs. At the end of this article, I will also give some recommendations.

The advantages of shooting with a straight arm

Like I said in the intro, most archers recommend shooting with a straight arm. Shooting with a straight arm simply has some advantages compared to a bent arm. In this section, we will discuss these advantages in more detail.

Longer draw length

Archers often want to increase their draw weight. The goal of increasing the draw weight is to increase the speed of the arrow. With a recurve bow when you increase the draw length, you will automatically increase the draw weight. The draw weight of a recurve bow increases exponentially when you increase the draw length, so this can make a huge difference.

But even with a compound bow, increasing the draw length will result in a higher arrow speed. When you increase the draw length, the bow will has more time to accelerate the arrow. The power stroke of the bow is primarily determined by the draw length. So increasing the draw length will result in a higher arrow speed regardless of the bow you are shooting.

Shooting the arrow with a higher speed has a few advantages. The first advantage is the decrease in arrow drop. This means that you can shoot longer distances without bottoming out your sight. Another advantage is that your arrow will be more stable when shot. This means that the arrow will be more wind-resistant and will experience less interference from vibration.

A common mistake is to overextend your arm, which can cause nasty string slaps

Requires less muscle power

Increasing the draw length can make it more difficult to draw the bow. Holding your bow arm straight will require less muscle energy. When you are doing push-ups you can clearly notice this. When your arms are fully straight, it will not be hard to keep your arm steady. But when you go closer to the ground you will start to feel the muscles in your arm.

This is the case because most of the resistance of the bow is transferred through the bones. That’s why archers often talk about bone alignment. If you can align all the bones in your upper body, you won’t have to use your muscles as much. This in turn can make your shots steadier and allows you to shoot more shots per day, which are both very important benefits.


As an archer, it is very important to be consistent with your technique in every shot. Every minor change in your technique can cause tremendous differences in the target. One thing that can be quite hard to keep consistent is the draw length. This is, however, primarily the case for recurve archers. Compound archers configure their bow to a certain draw weight and therefore you will notice when you are inconsistent with your draw.

For recurve archer, this is a lot more difficult, since you don’t have a hard limit for your draw length. When for, example, your draw length is about half an inch (1.3 cm) less than normal; you will shoot below the center of the target. The reverse is of course true when your draw length is longer than normal.

You might think that these small differences won’t make that big of a difference at the target. But because the draw length increases exponentially with draw length, at the end of the draw the bow will gain the most draw weight. On a 30 LBS bow, a change of about half an inch (1,3 cm) can increase or decrease the draw weight by about 2-3 LBS. Especially at long distances, this can make a huge difference.

Even when you shoot with a clicker, it is important to be very consistent. The clicker is not meant as a tool to make it easier to find the right draw length. It’s a tool that forces you to keep the same draw length every time you shoot. When your draw length isn’t consistent enough, shooting with a clicker will be an absolute pain.

The advantages of shooting with a bent arm

Although I just discussed a lot of disadvantages of shooting with a bent arm, there are also some advantages. So I will provide you with an overview of the most important advantages of shooting with a bent arm.

String slap

One of the most painful things in archery is string slap, especially if you shoot without an armguard. But even with an armguard, it can be quite painful. I have even seen instances where the armguard was completely ripped due to the string. Although string slap only happens when you mess up your technique, it’s more likely to happen with a straight arm.

If you arm is bent, the string will be much farther away, so you will have to do a lot of things wrong to make it hit your arm. For new archers who don’t have sufficient protective gear, this might be a legitimate reason to shoot with a slightly bent arm. It is just a bit more forgiving than shooting with a straight arm.

Keeping the angle of your elbow consistent is more difficult when you shoot with a bent arm

Interference with the arrow

When your arm is straight, your arm will be closer to the string. Except for string slap, you might experience another issue when shooting with a straight arm. When you are wearing clothing with loose sleeves, the sleeve can be caught by or interfere with the string. This can not only be uncomfortable, it will also decrease your accuracy and can sometimes be dangerous. Additionally, it can of course cause damage to your clothing.

When you are shooting indoors with short sleeves or tight sleeves, you most likely won’t experience any issues. But if you are shooting outdoors with a winter jacket on, you might notice that your string is scuffing your jacket. Wearing a tighter jacket or wearing a long arm guard that compresses the jacket, might resolve the issue. But one of the easiest ways to solve this issue is to slightly bent your arm. That is exactly what a lot of hunters do in the winter.

What you should avoid

Although shooting with a straight arm has a lot of serious advantages, it is less forgiving than shooting with a bent arm. There are some technique issues, which can cause serious issues both in your accuracy and in your body. Therefore you should always be on the lookout to make sure that you don’t make these mistakes.

Hyper/overextending your bow arm

When you have just read the advantages of shooting with a straight arm, you might think: ‘’The straighter my bow arm the better’’. In general shooting with a straight arm is a good idea, but you should be wary that you hyper/over-extend your bow arm. This is the case when you are pushing your hand forward as much as possible.

When you do this, your bones won’t be touching each other. That means that you will have to bear the full draw weight with your muscles. You will have less control of the bow and you might experience issues with excessive vibration. This position is also very unnatural; therefore, it can also be harmful to your elbow and wrist.

Instead of hyper-extending, your arm should be straight in a relaxed manner. When you are shooting it’s quite tempting to hyper extent because your mind thinks that bow should be as far away as possible. If you shoot a recurve bow it’s therefore a good idea to check your draw length once in a while. If it’s increased a lot recently, you might be hyper-extending.

Locking your elbow

Although locking your elbow and over-extending your bow arm have very similar results, they mean two different things. Not every locked elbow is also hyperextended and vice versa. Most often, however, when an elbow is locked it’s often due to a hyperextension issue.

When an elbow is locked, you won’t be able to move the elbow anymore until the pressure is removed from the joint. In archery, this means that you can’t let the bow down while keeping your draw hand at the anchor point.

So it’s very easy to check whether you have this issue. If you pull the bow to your anchor point, try to let down the bow with the bow hand instead of the draw hand. This means that the bow will be close to your face, so be careful. If this isn’t possible, your elbow is locked and you need to solve the issue.

Try to draw the bow again with a bent arm. If you can then complete the exercise with a bent arm you were probably hyper-extending the bow arm. When you, however, still can’t complete the exercise with a bent arm, you might want to contact a doctor, since this could indicate joint issues.

Raising up the shoulder

The last common issue is caused by the draw weight. When we draw a bow our body has to resist the draw weight. When the draw weight becomes too much for our muscles our general form and technique will start to suffer.

As we discussed earlier, when we draw the bow, we want to align our shoulders. Our shoulders should not only be aligned, looking from above but also in height. In general, the left shoulder (for right-handed shooters) should be a bit lower than the right shoulder. The left shoulder should at least never be higher than the right shoulder.

Therefore if you notice that your right shoulder is going up when you draw, you have to work on your technique. Decreasing the poundage of your bow might also solve the issue since it often happens when your muscles are experiencing muscle fatigue.

The verdict

In the previous sections, I discussed both the benefits of shooting with a straight and bent arm. I wanted to keep it as neutral as possible since there is not only one thing that is right. Archers often talk about the right and the wrong technique and often say that one option is superior to the other. But archery is about what works, if you are shooting way better with a bent arm than a straight arm, it doesn’t make sense to force yourself to straighten your arm. Every archer is different, so every archer has to check what works for him/her and what doesn’t work.

That said, I do think that shooting with a straight arm is better than with a bent arm. Shooting with a straight arm has a lot of benefits and you can work around the negatives. You can of course also work around the negatives of a bent arm, but I believe that it’s more difficult.

I tried both techniques for a while and I found it much easier to stay consistent with a straight arm. Additionally, I felt less muscle strain and it felt more comfortable in general. So I would highly advise you to try both techniques. If you don’t experience much of a difference, I would stick with the straight arm. Most archers nowadays have switched to shooting with a straight arm, so it’s beginning to become the standard.

Final words

I hope you liked reading this article and that it was helpful for you. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them down below. I will respond as soon as possible. You will receive an email notification when I answer.

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…

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