Across all sports and from athletes of all levels the same question is constantly asked:
How much should I be practising?
This question is asked from school children onwards, as if time spent doing something is the answer to achievement or attaining the desired level.
In my university days it was curious how much better I felt if I had spent 3 hours in a library, not achieving anything of worth or value but just there, it must be better than sitting in my flat or in a bar I reasoned.
So it is with archers, their skill and dedication measured in the number of arrows they shoot a week, so how many arrows shot each week equals “great” 1000? 1500?
When I put it like that I hope you see what an overly simplistic measure this is. This prescribed number takes in to no account the personal circumstances of the individual, how well the arrows were shot or if this is the best use of their time. This magic number is a figure that stands up to no scrutiny and in other, more evolved sports, would be laughed at by their fitness advisors.
In recent months I have heard a coach, of some note, float a magic number of arrows a week without thought as to the audience they were addressing, the number of arrows required of this squad a week quickly dampened the enthusiasm of even the most ardent.
What part of their life could they give up to achieve these 1000 arrows a week?
Would 750 make them three quarters as good?
It seemed not to the latter question although a small reprieve was given that 30 minutes of reversals was equal to 250 arrows shot. Where this equation has been proven I know not and obviously it is of less value to the compound shooters than the recurves even if it were true. Similarly compound shooters come out of many of these magic number shooting plans poorly as they require physically more time to shoot the shots, never mind an argument of increased stresses on joints.
So if we are to not dispirit and physically break archers how do we formulate a practice plan that has a qualatitive as well as quantitative measure of its worth.
First we must look at the time of year; there is a difference in volume over intensity during practice with respect to the competitive season. Volume practice is “magic number” non-analytical, shoot a set number of arrows and leave for each session. Intensity training or practice is where the athlete mirrors the competitive situation shooting the correct number of arrows per end to time, and scoring a specific round during a session. During high intensity training stamina and fitness is achieved and maintained through cardio-vascular training and gym work, it is no longer acceptable to use “magic number” training techniques during the competitive phase for fitness; as shooting in a non-analytic manner will be deleterious in this phase. During the competitive season an archer will increase the intensity of their practice and decrease the volume. This again destroys the “magic number” method as this theory does not differentiate between times of competition and the off season.
Within more professional sports this basic understanding of a competitive and off-season is the building block for training programmes, a professional footballer does not continue the volume of physical activity during the competitive season that they had in the off season. Within these professional sports there is also time factored in for a complete break from training, usually at the end of the competitive season. This break, normally 4-6 weeks is absolutely critical for the athletes health and well-being, it allows re-couperation and prevents staleness and psychological problems. During this break an athlete does nothing more than the lightest of non-specific physical training, it is accepted for them to lose physical condition. This period allows the athlete to come back rejuvenated in body and mind and their training programme will be structured over the same amount of time again (4-6 weeks) to get them back to physical fitness, this is done with high volume, low intensity training. The idea that an archer may “forget” how to shoot during this break is incorrect and all other sports have seen the value of this lay-off time.
Now that you are back, fully fit, in time for the competitive season you must tailor your practice to the competitive events that are most important to you. The model most widely, and effectively, used is a five week model.
|Competition planning, goal setting, gym work for stamina and fitness, increasing intensity practice.
|Warm Up Competition
|Analysis of warm up competition, reducing volume
|Reduced gym work, no volume, high intensity practice
|5-7 days no training (sport specific or gym)
This model can be manipulated slightly but shows that in order to control the peak performance of an athlete their season must be managed. It is impossible to perform at a peak level for extended (more than 3 weeks) periods of time. If an extended period of peak performance is required then practice during this time must be kept to a minimum. The athlete is physically fit enough and technically prepared enough so that excessive volume of practice will lead to jadedness and poor performance.
It is important to point out, in conclusion, that this model is not for elite athletes alone, this model is for use at all levels. Obviously the novice archer will have a greater emphasis on technical training and teaching but in order to perform at their full potential any level of athlete must learn these aspects of practice maintenance and periodization . If this model of management of practice is utilised early on in the career of any athlete it will reduce injury and mental apathy, and make practice and training, if not a pleasure then, a directed and fruitful process; something the “magic number” technique can never do.