During the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games I discovered my enthusiasm for archery. Korean archer An San is my superhero: She won three gold medals and casually set a new Olympic record scoring 680 points.
I was very excited to see that the heart rate of the athletes was broadcasted during the competitions. The World Archery Federation claims that doing so, archery is the first sport to stream live biometric data of their athletes at the Olympic Games. The Federation explained that they aim to convey the feeling of stress to the tv audience (you can find the announcement of the World Archery Federation here).
To not distract the athletes, the heart rate gets measured through cameras detecting changes in the skin color as well as pupil dilation to calculate the heart rate. The cameras are positioned 12 meters away from the shooting line and for obvious reasons, the results that are calculated in real time are not displayed in the arena.
Generally speaking, a low heart rate is associated with higher aiming performance in precision sport such as archery. I was curious to see what scientific studies on the topic I could find and wasn’t disappointed what the archery universe has to offer.
A 2011 study could show significant differences between experienced archers and novices in both, heart rate and accuracy performance (Clemente et al., 2011). More experienced archers showed lower heart rates while scoring higher. The conclusion the researchers draw back then was that experienced archers might be able to better balance their parasympathetic and sympathetic activity.
However, studies do not always find significant results in expert-novice comparisons in archery. A 2016 study with the beautiful name “The Importance of Being Calm” found a mean heart rate of 116 BPM for experienced archers compared to 122 BPM for novices while the difference did not turn out to be statistically significant (Ahmad et al., 2016).
The Crazy Stuff
I learned pretty fast how far the obsession with heart rate in archery goes. A research group even asked elite archers to perform runs in an attempt to induce physiological stress and increase the heart rate to measure changes in shooting performance (Açikada et al. 2019). They’ve been successful in rising the archer’s heart rates, however, they couldn’t find a significant difference in shooting scores between the “running” and “resting” condition.
A very recent study even went further and dosed athletes with beta-blockers to investigate effects on heart rate and archery performance (Ergen et al., 2021). They indeed (or unsurprisingly?) found lower heart rates for participants taking beta blockers (it was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study). However, beta blockers did not affect the aiming performance of the study participants.
A State of Mind
Listening to the broadcasting and reading news articles on archery it seemed to me that it’s not only about biometrics such as heart rate but of the state of mind of the athletes. So I was not surprised to find several studies focusing on strengthening the mental muscles of archers.
An Indian study introduced a ‘psychological skills traning’ to increase archery performance (or better say: variables they associate with a higher archery performance such as arousal regulation, motivation, goal setting). Their program ranged from writing ‘success logs’, ‘changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk’ or practicing breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation. Indeed, they could find significant increases in arousal, goal setting, imagery and self-awareness in the archers after only three weeks of training (Kumar & Saroha, 2021).
Also Korean researchers aimed to improve athletes archery performance through progressive relaxation techniques (Nam & Park, 2014). Even though they could not detect significant heart rate changes due to their 12-week intervention, they found an increase in (relative) alpha waves. Very general speaking, alpha waves are associated with feeling calm and relaxed – probably a desirable state for precision sports.
Açıkada, C., Hazır, T., Asçı, A., Aytar, S. H., & Tınazcı, C. (2019). Effect of heart rate on shooting performance in elite archers. Heliyon, 5(3), e01428.
Ahmad, M. A. N., Saeri, A. S. A., & Muhtar, K. (2016, May). The Importance of Being Calm: The Impact of Heart Rate Towards Performance. In Proceedings of the Business Management and Computing Research Colloquium (BMCRC), Raub, Malaysia (pp. 15-17).
Clemente, F., Couceiro, M., Rocha, R., & Mendes, R. (2011). Study of the heart rate and accuracy performance of archers. Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 11(4), 434.
Ergen, E., Hazir, T., Celebi, M., Kin-Isler, A., Aritan, S., Yaylıoglu, V. D., … & Cinemre, A. (2021). Effects of beta-blockers on archery performance, body sway and aiming behaviour. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 7(2), e001071.
Kumar, R., & Saroha, S. (2021). Effect of three weeks individualized psychological skills training on archery performance of national level players of Chandigarh India.
Nam, S. N., & Park, S. W. (2014). The effect of EEG and physiological changes to participation in progressive relaxation technique of The University archery Players. Journal of Digital Convergence, 12(1), 467-473.