Field fitness: making the difference

Lucy O’Sullivan won a Pro Series field event at the first try. How did she do it?

As many of you may know, I am a target archer through and through. I was however lucky to get a chance to shoot the Pro Series, at the last shoot they did in Wales at the end of 2018.

The Pro Series was an “unofficial World Cup of field archery” for compound archers run by Alternative Sporting Services – unfortunately they had to stop holding it last year, but it might be back. 

The last edition of the year, it was held in an old mine in Wales so there were woods, cliff edges and fields. I’d shot a marked round in Jersey before – but nothing quite like this. 

It was my debut into shooting in the woods. I very luckily had my good friend, Simon Froggatt, coaching me through the course and teaching me to trust my range finder. I kept it so simple – essentially all I did was use the finder, no fancy gimmicks or trying to work out cuts, and just trust in my equipment. What came next was a shock to all – I won!

But how can a target archer with no idea about cuts, or bubble shooting or distancing measuring, win?  

A tricky hillside shot requires careful foot placement

I put it down to both cardiovascular strength and physical strength. The more body aware you are the easier it is for you to make the tough shots on a course like that.

At the end of the day the middle of the target is the middle, you are not aiming at anything else, your sight picture stays the same, so what changes is the angles of your body, where you place your feet, and other factors like the lean of your spine.  

I’m not going to lie, walking around an old mine in Wales was the hardest physical shoot I’ve ever had to do. Just the fact that you have to carry your archery equipment, and backpack, up and down tight overgrown paths and then try and make a great shot was challenging! What helped was the fact that I often go running.

My cardio was really great for that shoot, I had been doing a few 5k runs at park run before this competition, and what that means was that my recovery after trekking around the field course was fast. So my cardiovascular system was where I needed it to be.  

However as in life, we always want better results and our goals get bigger and better, so since 2018, I have made it a point to try trekking the north coast of Jersey, where I live,  which is incredibly rocky and hilly and hard.

I have been readying myself for when the Pro Series is back on, one day! Once I have trekked the north coast, I will be doing it again with my archery backpack filled up, to really get my heart rate used to spiking, and then having to decrease rapidly for a shot. 

The next part of the puzzle was the physical strength, at the time I was doing lots of general strength work such as compound body exercises; squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups, bench press and bent over rows.

Very simple exercises but working on the whole body rather then just doing a lat pull down or leg press, for example.

I became so aware of my body, I could feel when my knees fell in on a squat, or if my hamstrings (back of my legs) and gluteus (the muscles in your bottom) didn’t squeeze enough on a deadlift. And all of this body awareness made for the perfect shoot.

Setting your feet on a rock or down in a ditch doesn’t seem too scary, when you know how balanced and strong you are. Tilting your spine 45 degrees plus didn’t seem that bad either, when you are aware of what your body can do.

Getting stronger for field

Many archers are simply not strong enough to handle difficult, long competitions. If you follow my previous articles in Bow on fitness, even casually, you should be finding yourself much stronger faster. I think if you team up that “brute” strength with balance work, it will make for one strong machine to work with. 

Sports like stand-up paddleboarding really helped me with my balance work, as you are having to stand on a big surfboard, while waves move underneath you, and you have to keep stood up.

Again I’m very lucky living where I do that I can do trekking, paddleboarding and parkruns to improve my archery. But for balance work it can be as simple as practicing single leg balance holds while brushing your teeth, which can really improve proprioception of your feet.

Winning my first – and only – Pro Series event

You can work with balance boards and balance trainers every day and incorporate them into other routines – even while watching TV. They will improve the balance and posture in your everyday life too, without exerting a lot of energy.

So to sum up my experience at field archery: I took a chance, learned how to use a range finder, how to use my bubble and how to aim up and down hill, and it netted me £2000 and some of the most fun I’ve ever had. But it was the fitness that definitely made the difference on the day. 

Needless to say, I recommend trying some of these things out; at the end of the day your body is a machine; what you do with it and how you train it to work, is up to you! 

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Posted in Technique
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