What is olympic recurve archery?

If you want to get into archery you hear a lot of names and jargon. One of these terms is ‘’Olympic recurve archery’’. You might get confused that this is archery for athletes that participate in the Olympic games. Although the term has a connection to the Olympic games, not only olympian athletes participate in this shooting style. On the contrary, thousands of people around the world participate in Olympic recurve archery. For a short explanation see the bolded paragraph below:

Olympic recurve archery is an archery style that is often seen in the Olympic games. The style allows you to shoot with a sight, clicker, stabilizer, and many other aids, that help you improve your accuracy. Many archers start with this shooting style since it’s easy to switch to compound or traditional archery.

In this article, I will explain in more detail what Olympic recurve archery means and more information behind the name. Next, I will discuss how it differs from other shooting styles. At the end of this article, I explain how to get started and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is a recurve bow?

The difference between a recurve bow and a ‘’standard’’ bow is that the limbs are recurved. This means that the limbs are pointing forward when not under tension. This makes the overall profile of the bow a lot shorter. Some archers mention that it also makes the bow more accurate, but I honestly don’t know since I never saw research about that.

Recurve bows are however not always Olympic recurve bows. The word ‘’recurve’’ only refers to the shape of the limbs, not the style of shooting. Many more traditional bows are also recurve bows but are not Olympic recurve bows. Actually many bows that are sold nowadays are recurve bows, since they tend to be way easier to wield. There are even a few compound recurve bows, although they are quite scarce.

The three classes

I already spoke about these shooting styles, but I would like to explain them in a bit more detail. There are many different shooting styles that fall under one or more of these classes. Think for example about the barebow class, which entails shooting without a sight.


Traditional archery is more back to basic than olympic recurve archery. Most aids are not allowed, for example: the stabilizer and sight. There are however different competitions that allow different bows and aids. In some competitions for example you are allowed to have a modern riser with a plunger and a modern arrow rests, while there are also more restrictive competitions where you are only allowed to use wooden arrows and bows. Therefore there are huge differences within this class, but since this article is about olympic recurve archery, I am simplifying this a lot.

Olympic recurve

We already discussed recurve archers are allowed to use certain aids on their bow, that make archery easier. Some aids that are distinctive for Olympic recurve archery are:

  • Riser of modern materials (metal for example)
  • Limbs of modern materials (carbon or composites for example)
  • Sight
  • Clicker
  • Stabilizer
  • Adjustable plunger
  • Adjustable arrow rest

Although Olympic recurve archery is typically associated with target archery. There are often also 3D competitions where Olympic recurve archers are allowed to partake.


The compound class is even less restrictive. The main thing that differs between the compound class and the Olympic recurve class is the cams. The cams reduce the draw weight at full draw, which makes holding the bow at full draw much easier. This reduction is called the let-off and generally falls between 50% and 90% of the peak draw weight. Because of the let-off compound bows can have a heavier draw weight.  With Olympic recurve archery on the other hand the heaviest point of the draw is at full draw, which makes that it is more demanding on the muscles. Another advantage is that you may use a release aid in the compound class. This makes it easier to cleanly release the string, in comparison with Olympic recurve archery, where you hold the string with your fingers.

For all classes, however, you need a lot of skill to master it. In general, the more aids you have on your bow, the higher the number of points expected. In compound it is often to see that you only score 10’s with a few 9’s. In Olympic recurve archery however it’s much more common to see scores ranging between 7 till 10.

Is Olympic recurve archery the right style for me?

Olympic recurve archery is a lot of fun, but if it’s the right class for you depends on what you like. A lot of archers start with an Olympic recurve bow since they tend to be more forgiving than a traditional bow. They are also less technical than a compound bow and therefore it’s a good starting point. If you buy an Olympic recurve bow, you can at any time decide to remove all the aids and shoot it completely barebow. With this setup, you can even partake in less restrictive traditional tournaments. Therefore I would highly advise any archer that is still in doubt to buy a modern recurve bow since you have a lot of flexibility.

Read this article if you want more information about Olympic recurve archery.

Is it hard to learn Olympic recurve archery?

As with any archery class, Olympic recurve archery is easy to get started with and improve. In the first few months, you will see huge progress. The first week you might have trouble hitting the target face, but in a few months, most of your arrows will be within the first 5 rings (10 till 5).

After one or two most archers reach a point where improvement tends to slow down a lot. You might still improve a little bit every month, but it goes much slower the better you get. You can also experience times where you shoot a lot lower scores than normally because you consistently make a mistake in your form. This can sometimes be very difficult to correct.

I have tried all three classes and in general, I don’t think the learning curve differs a lot. You need a lot of training for all these classes to improve, and progress tends to go much slower the longer you shoot. In my experience, recurve archery tends to be heavier on your back muscles, since you tend to keep the bow at full draw for a while. With traditional archery, you tend to fire your arrows faster. Finally, with compound archery, you have the let-off which removes most of the tension.

To summarize, I believe that archery is easy to learn, but impossible to master. But I believe this is part of the challenge and makes it fun.

Getting started with Olympic recurve archery

If you want to get started with Olympic recurve archery, you will need a bow and gear. If you want to know what gear you need, I would advise you to take a look at our dedicated article.

Buying your first Olympic recurve bow, what you need and tips

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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