ABC That is Archery, Breasts and Chest-Guards
Females are built differently to males, we all know this but I hear most coaches are male and tend to shy away from specifically female problems in archery, namely string contact and breasts. Even other archers who are really helpful about everything else to do with archery will usually go quiet or suggest you ask other women for help. Whether they really do not know, or this maybe a form of shyness due to the sexual harassment lobby having gone so far that men are too wary to discuss it who knows. This lack of assistance may be one of the reasons why there are less women than men in Archery as we get frustrated on this particular point. I would however like to reassure all women that it is certainly a sport that all of us can do, however well endowed so do not let it stop you.
As to the male coaches, you do not have to use your hands to demonstrate if a lady really has problems. An arrow held vertically or holding the bow so that the is string against the side of the chest as a guide may be all that is needed to assist.
Not wearing a chest guard and pulling the string across the front of your chest is probably something you will only ever do once! Especially if you feel you have to look inside your top to make certain in your mind that your nipple really is still in place and you did not accidentally amputate it. Once you calm down a little you may think about the story of the Amazonian women cutting one of their breasts off and I can see the logic to this, although the myth has since been disproved. Always wear a chest guard.
This article specifically for Recurve archers. Barebow, Compound and Longbows have different string/hand positions which brings the string higher up and so they will usually not get the same problems – although it is not really a problem once you have a bit of experience behind you.
Although I have written this with women in mind, some of it may also apply to men particularly those with muscularly developed or fatty chests.
As a novice archer I found it difficult to find the best place for the string to hit, deep under my arm, middle or nearer the front and each causes different results.
I found that having the string very deep under the arm can cause the bow to cant, I have seen others mention this as well. Too far forwards and you risk the string coming around your front – with potentially painful results.
Therefore most female archers tend to have the string around half way point on the side of the breast depending on their size, smaller ladies are usually nearer the front.
Height of bow and limbs will also affect the string angle and touch, would anyone who has tried different riser and limb lengths like to comment below?
Stance and Form
We are always told to stand upright, but sometimes, leaning forward very slightly from the hips whilst holding your core (middle) muscles tight can help with string/breast position and alignment. Only the tiniest bit and certainly not so much so you over balance.
As we improve and become consistent with our form, where the string touches actually becomes a positive element. If it hits somewhere different you are either wearing a different bra or, more likely your stance has changed and you can learn to use this to your advantage.
Chestguards have two main applications, the first is to protect the nipples on males or females. The second is that it prevents the string catching on your clothing and distorting your draw, it also smooths loose or baggy clothing and especially if windy, keeps your garments flat. Make sure the guard you choose is comfortable and covers your breast when your arms are raised. Another thing to look out for is comfort if you are going to be wearing it all day or when it is hot as you may get sore if you sweat underneath it and there is any movement friction.
Many women wear the standard “unisex” style chest guards but, as you may have discovered, these do not always protect the more generously curved ladies and that they may rise above your nipple, gape in awkward places or crinkle up when the string touches them so that you cannot automatically draw the string to exactly the same place each time.
As far as I am aware there are only two places that make chestguards specifically for ladies, the first is Arrowhead UK and they make them in various colours and sizes in a traditional chestguard design but shaped for the female body. The other is a totally different idea and is a tie on lycra guard initially made, I understand, by UK archer, Lucy Holderness. A couple of us are working on an updated version of this so watch this space as we experiment with it.
If you watch videos of some of the professional female archers (especially the Koreans) they often decorate their chest guards with stitched on vinyl patches or panels to individualise their kit, once you get to know them you can also see at a glance who is shooting.
The foregoing is based on my own views and experiences and those of other lady archers I have spoken to. It was pointed out by my proof reader (who only found one spelling mistake) that some Coaches may upset by my early paragraphs. If so, then along with anyone else you are welcome to take this opportunity to share your own advice and experiences on this subject in the comments below.
Thank you to all the Ladies and Gents who have allowed me to photograph them for this article.
Compare the Ladies string positions above with these Gents below