What is FreeStyle Recurve (FSR) archery?

There are so many different words that describe different archery styles. For new archers, this terminology can be quite confusing. Many starting archers wonder: ‘’what exactly is freestyle recurve archery and what makes it different from Olympic recurve?’’ In this article I will focus on these two questions but also discuss how free style recurve compares to other styles.

Are you just looking for a short answer to these two questions? Please see the paragraph below for a short summary.

Freestyle recurve archery is a division within target archery competitions. This division allows you to use a modern recurve bow with a sight, stabilizer, and other modern features. Therefore, freestyle recurve archery is the least restrictive recurve division and the division Olympic recurve archers partake in.

In this article, I will discuss this question in a lot more detail. I will also discuss why there are so many divisions and what the differences are. The differences between Olympic recurve and freestyle recurve will also be discussed. Finally, the different archery federations and rules will be discussed. So, keep reading if you are interested in these things!

So what is it, exactly

Although some countries, clubs, and competitions often use different divisions, most use the following class system:

  • Compound Standard
  • Freestyle recurve
  • Compound barebow
  • Barebow recurve
  • Traditional

Starting at the top, the compound division is the least restrictive, allowing you to shoot with let-off and a release. Going down this list, the rules are getting more and more restrictive meaning that you can’t use certain aids like stabilizer, sight, and carbon/aluminum arrows.

The freestyle recurve class is the least restrictive division within the ‘’non-compound bow’’ category. This means that you can shoot with a sight, stabilizer, carbon/aluminum arrows, button, and much more. There are still some restrictions though. You can’t for example use a magnified sight, have a bow with let off or use a mechanical release. These tools are only available for archers in the compound standard division.

Since traditional archery is the most restrictive discipline, traditional archers can theoretically also participate in freestyle recurve competitions. There are no rules that tell you that you should use a modern bow and arrow. But of course, if you do so, you will be horribly disadvantaged. Therefore the ‘’freestyle’’ in freestyle recurve tells you that you are free to choose the recurve style you like. In reality, however, most archers participating in this discipline will use all aids that they are allowed to use.

Why do we have all these disciplines and divisions?

Before we can answer this question, we need to discuss the history of archery. Since the inception of the bow (estimated around 10.000 BC), engineers have progressively improved the design. One of the first advancements was the introduction of flat limbs, shortly followed by the development of recurved limbs. These advancements improved the energy transfer and thereby the power and precision of the bow.

To this day, we are still improving on the design of bows. One of the major inventions was for example the compound bow, which was invented in the seventies. In the last few months, there is even a German hobbyist, which invented a device that allows you to store multiple arrows (click here to see the device in action). Although this isn’t adopted by the archery community yet, it might be in the future.

Of course, all these improvements to archery are really exciting, but there is always resistance. If archery would become too easy, it wouldn’t be such an accomplishment to master it. It’s just like riding a unicycle, of course, a bicycle is a superior device, but that’s kind of the point. The skill gap in archery makes it such a challenging and exciting sport.

Therefore, there are different competitions within disciplines, which allows each archer to choose where they want to compete. Some people really like the old-school archery style, while others like the modern compound style. If everything was allowed, everyone would use the best equipment to get the most advantage. An archer with a simple longbow, wouldn’t be able to compete with archers with modern bows.

If you want to know more about the history of archery and the benefits of a bow with recurved limbs, I would highly recommend reading this article:

What are the benefits of a recurve bow

What is the difference between FSR and Olympic recurve?

Another confusing term that is often used in archery is Olympic recurve. If you search for images on Google with both the keywords ‘’freestyle recurve’’ and ‘’Olympic recurve’’, you will find very similar images. Therefore some people think that both words refer to the same thing, but that is technically not true.

Whereas freestyle recurve refers to the competition division, Olympic recurve refers to the shooting style and the type of bow. Olympic recurve archers shoot with a sight, stabilizer, button, and other aids, that improve the performance of a recurve bow. The bow is often made out of modern materials and has removable limbs.

Although Olympic recurve archers participate in freestyle recurve competitions, the reverse doesn’t have to be the case. Not all archers participating in freestyle recurve competition, are Olympic recurve archers. An archer that is shooting without a sight, is not an Olympic recurve archer, but can still participate in freestyle recurve competitions.

In general, however, about 99,9% of participants in freestyle recurve competitions are shooting the Olympic recurve style. For a barebow archer, participating in these events isn’t much fun. Since they are shooting with superior bows, you are heavily disadvantaged. It’s like driving a solar power car in a Formula One, you may participate, but you have no chance of winning.

Do you want to know more about Olympic recurve archery? Read this article:

What is Olympic recurve archery?

How FSR compare to other divisions

Freestyle recurve is the least restrictive division within the recurve shooting style. This means that you are allowed to use multiple aids that are restrictive within the barebow and traditional divisions. There are still some aids; like a magnifying sight, release aid and let-off; that aren’t allowed.

The least restrictive within archery is the compound division. There are of course still rules about what you can and can’t use. You can’t for example use a bipod of something similar, since this would make aiming a lot easier. The exact divisions and rules tend to differ between, countries and competitions. In the next section I will discuss this in more detail.

Compound standardFreestyle recurveCompound barebowBarebow recurveTraditional
Wooden arrowsXXXXX
Carbon arrowsXXXX
Modern bowXXXX
Release aidXX
Magnifying sightX

Archery associations and rules

Every competition can decide what exact rules they want to follow. Although a few competitions still have their own set of rules, most follow the rules of a national or international archery association. These associations have a set of standardized rules for each division within each discipline. The goal of these archery associations is to make archery accessible and to standardize the sport. If every competition had its own rules, it would be complicated for archers to get familiar with all these different rules. Therefore these associations do their best to make all competitions follow these specific rules.

Archery associations exist on three levels: national, continental, and global level. Starting at the global level is the association known as World Archery. This organization was formerly known as FITA, which is an acronym of Fédération Internationale de Tir à l’Arc. This association was founded by multiple countries in Europe and by the United States in order to organize international championships and to get archery in the Olympic games. In July 2011, the name World Archery was introduced, since the old name tends to be quite confusing.

Since the introduction of World Archery, many national archery associations joined this international initiative. Most member associations follow the exact rules of World Archery, but there are still some exceptions. The continental associations are all part of the same organization as World Archery, but their focus is on competitions within their continent.

If you want to know what exact rules apply to you, consult the information of the competition. If they mention World Archery or FITA, you know that they follow the standard international rules. Click here if you would like to see the archery association of your country.

Disciplines, classes, and divisions; what’s the difference?

Archers often used multiple terms like disciplines, classes, shooting styles, and divisions. We often use these terms interchangeably to discuss what type of archery we practice. For example, Olympic recurve archery is often called a shooting style or discipline. Technically, Olympic recurve archery isn’t considered a discipline, but a division according to World Archery. World Archery considers 3 levels in order to classify a competition and your pool, which I will discuss in more detail in this section.


The first level, the disciplines, are regarding the general rules and environment of the competition. The goal of both indoor and outdoor archery is both to get the arrow at the center of the target, only in a different environment. Some disciplines, however, feature completely different targets like 3D archery. Another discipline flight archery doesn’t feature a target at all, the goal within this discipline is to fire an arrow as far as possible. These more specialty disciplines are, however, practiced by a small minority of archers.


The next level, classes, are based on both your gender and your age. There are even senior classes (officially called Master women/men), since most seniors lose muscle mass. These classes are not the same for every disciplines. Some disciplines use only a few classes, otherwise the classes would become too small. Most popular and traditional archery disciplines use all archery classes.


The last level, divisions, discusses the materials you may use to shoot the arrow. This is what most people think about when they hear words like classes, divisions, disciplines, and shooting styles. This is also often where most competitions apply different rules since the World Archery rules tend to be quite restrictive. For target archery (like indoor and outdoor archery) there is no traditional division, only a barebow division. Technically traditional archers can just partake in the barebow division, but that wouldn’t be fair competition. A modern bow has some advantages an old-school traditional bow doesn’t have. Therefore, my local club always ads a traditional division to target archery competitions.


These three levels together form what is known as a category. For example, within the indoor archery competitions, there is the category of recurve men. Not all competitions, however, feature all possible categories. Within most target archery competitions, most categories are available. Even though some categories only feature 2 or 3 persons, which is especially the case for the categories for minors.

This information comes right from the World Archery rulebook, so if you want to take a look yourself, please follow this link. I summarized the most important part, but if you really want to know the rules, it might be worth a look.

More about freestyle recurve archery

In this article, I covered most of the boring parts of freestyle recurve archery, the terminology, and the rules. I have written a lot of in-depth articles about archery regarding: improving your technique, tips regarding your gear, and much more. So if you are interested, I would highly advise looking at the Olympic recurve category:

Olympic recurve archery

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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