Best Archery Stance

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The first step in learning the shot sequence: finding the best archery stance for you

There are several archery stance variations that have been championed by different archers over the years, depending on the type of bow and experience level. We’ve done the research and broken it down so that you can find the best archery stance for you.

Adopting the correct stance is the first step in the sequence of shooting your bow. It’s also arguably the most important. Correct stance and posture are the foundation that will allow you to shoot consistently. It will pull all the other steps in the shot sequence together. It gives you the right balance, stability and alignment necessary to hit an accurate shot.

No matter which stance you pick, all of them focus on aligning your body parts together. Even the smallest movements and differing positions of your body can affect the consistency of your shot. Your body will have natural negative tendencies. You must overcome them to maintain correct archery posture. If you don’t, these natural tendencies will misdirect your arrow in a fraction of a second. It will take lots of practice, but when mastered, good archery form will feel like second nature.

An image showing an archer with perfect form for the three major stances: open stance, closed stance and square stance
Left to right: Square Stance, Open Stance and Closed Stance

Quick Summary: the best stance is what feels most comfortable for you. You can use the methodology at the bottom of this post to find your ‘natural stance’. However for the purpose of learning the shot sequence, most beginners are told to start with the square stance. This is due to the ease of repetition. Therefore we would also recommend that your first few shots are done in this stance. However the most commonly used stance by high-level professionals is the open stance. So that is the stance you eventually want to work towards if it feels comfortable to do so.

What’s the best type of stance for an archery beginner?

The best archery stance for a beginner will be the stance that you can most consistently reproduce over and over again, whenever you shoot. For many that will be the ‘square’ stance, due to it being very straightforward. This stance is also known as the ‘even’ or ‘neutral’ stance.

It is the most common stance for beginners and even some professionals. This stance is quicker to learn and easier to maintain the correct position. That means it will allow you to make more consistent shots during the learning period. It will also give you a solid base whilst you get used to the pressure of pulling back on the bow string, and will place less stress on your body. Even if you plan to experiment with your stance later; first get familiar with the square stance.

However it’s worth nothing that for beginners, the ‘open stance‘ is today being taught more and more frequently. This is because it is the more widely practiced stance amongst Olympic-level archers. However it is more difficult to re-produce this stance as a beginner. It requires more effort to get it right.

Identifying the main three archery stances

The most significant difference between the varied stances is the position of the feet and the hips. What that means is, largely the correct posture of the body will be the same for all stances, with some minor adjustments.

An image showing the feet position of the main three stances: Open Stance, Square Stance, Closed Stance

Note: many archery guides will use the term ‘stance’ to refer ONLY to the position of the feet and hips. However in this shot sequence guide, the best stance refers to your entire body being in the best posture; in preparation for shooting. You should be able to adopt your stance even without holding the bow and arrow.

A correct archery stance physically aligns all body parts for the rest of the shot sequence. Try doing the below stance in front of a mirror and make sure you can repeat the correct form from memory, before moving on to the rest of the shot sequence.

We shall detail below the best archery stance for beginners in regards to the full body posture. This will be based on the ‘square’ stance for simplicity, with some comments on the open stance. After this section we will go into more detail on the subtle differences of the other popular stances.

Feet position for the best beginner archery stance

Your front foot will be on the same side as the hand which holds the bow. Your back foot will be on the side that pulls the bow string. Don’t know which hand you are meant to be holding or pulling with? Make sure to cover the basics of archery before you start shooting.

In all stances, both feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart and an even distance from each other. If you’re struggling to know where shoulder-width is exactly, then it’s better to be slightly wider than narrower. The key is to feel the weight of your body flowing to the floor and giving yourself stability. If your stance is too narrow, or too wide, you will feel unstable when you pull the bow.

Pro tip: a trick that beginners are often taught in order to find the correct ‘shoulder width apart’ position is this: stand with your feet close enough to touch in a straight line, then fully rotate the balls of your feet anti-clockwise so that your toes touch on the pivot. Then from the pivoted position, straighten your feet up by pivoting on your heels only. This will now be your ‘natural’ shoulder-width apart position. Images courtesy of @Nusensei

Specific feet position for the square stance

Imagine a line connecting the toes of your feet together. This line should be straight and pointing towards your target. At shooting ranges, this line will be represented by what is literally called ‘the shooting line’. It is a T shape.
The horizontal line of the T points to the target, and the vertical line goes through your legs. Your feet would stand either side of the vertical line – see image below.

If you’re shooting at home or in a field without a line, place your arrow on the ground and pointing to the target. This can then act as your ‘shooting line’ to get your feet into the position.

Some experts also recommend that your toes should slightly point away from each other – whilst others recommend both toes slightly pointing towards the target. Choose whatever feels most comfortable. But in either case we’re talking a matter of millimetres – generally your toes need to be facing forward.

Image of feet in a square stance aligned on the shooting line

Specific feet position for the open stance

The front foot should move 4 inches backward from the position where it was level with the other foot. Keep them still shoulder-width apart or there abouts. Then, the front foot should pivot on the heel about 30 degrees towards the target (so pointing slightly away from your back foot).

This ‘opens’ your hips and shoulders towards the target. It’ll allow you to have more space to hold the bow and for the string to clear after the shot. This stance is therefore appropriate for those who’s chest often get in the way of the string.

In order to get into this same position consistently, it’s best to alternate the starting position of the back foot. In the ‘square stance’ we suggested placing the tip of the toes on the line pointing towards the target. For the open stance you should instead place your back foot so that this line goes through the instep. This line goes towards the tip of the front foot after it moves backwards. This allows two reference points to make sure you hit whenever you try this open stance. This will ensure you are enacting the open stance consistently each time (see below).

Image of feet in a openstance aligned on the shooting line
Whichever stance you pick….
  The most important thing for either stance’s foot position, is that you need to put equal weight on each foot. Plant them firmly to provide a solid base that will stop you swaying when the bow is pulled.

If you are practicing at home or in a field, try to do this stance without shoes. Correct posture starts from the contact point between you and the ground. To get the best foundation, you can literally use your toes to grip the surface, and then relax your upper body. Alternatively, if you need to wear shoes, make sure they have as flat soles as possible. You can then still try to replicate the feeling of gripping the ground with your toes through the shoes!  

Correct leg position for beginner archery stances

No matter which archery stance you’re in, the legs need to be straight, and whilst a lot of guides will mention that your knees should be slightly bent, this is often misinterpreted. Don’t focus on bending your knees, just make sure your knees aren’t so straight that your kneecaps are flat.

You also need make sure your weight is slightly forward so that you are ‘over the feet’. Remember that by ‘forward’ we always mean in the direction of where the back foot’s toe is pointing.

Do not actively try to lean forward. Stand straight, but just have a ‘feeling’ of putting 60-70% of your weight on the balls of your feet with the other 30-40% on your heels. This feeling should come from the ankle, which if done correctly will tilt you forward at a gradiant to account for the extra weight on the front of your feet. This is mainly about getting your hips over the feet (see image below).

Do not lean towards or away from the target. Keep your ‘sideways’ weight at 50/50 but your ‘forward’ weight at 60-70/30-40.

Pro tip: to help get good grip and stability, you should also rotate your legs clockwise, without moving them. This will help tighten your gluteus (butt) muscles, which in part helps keep your back flat and solid (see below section on the lower back).

Image showing archer with correct leg position posture.

Correct hip/pelvis/lower back position

Your hips and pelvis should remain still and relaxed in a forward-facing position. Do not twist them towards the target when you turn your head to aim. Even when you have an ‘open stance’ and your forward foot rotates toward the target, the hip needs to remain forward-facing and over the feet. Do not twist your hips! However it’s important that relaxing your hips and pelvis doesn’t mean that your bum sticks out beyond your heels.

The spine of your lower back will need to be flat and straight. This can be achieved by pushing your bum – or your pelvis and hips – ‘underneath’ your upper body in a straight line. Think of it as trying to get your hips underneath your shoulders.

Image showing the perfect stance from the perspective of the hips being over the feet but the lower back straight

Getting a flat lower back like this can be difficult. Especially for those who have an ‘arched’ lower spine shape. This can be caused by spending too much time sitting at a computer!

To get your bum and hips under your upper body and straighten your lower back, you‘ll need to ‘tense’ two muscle groups. These are your lower abdomen (i.e your belly) as well as your glutes (i.e your buttocks). Tensing or ‘engaging’ both your core and your glutes will help you to roll your hips under your body, keep your lower back straight and maintain the stability of your bow.

Correct upper body/back/chest position

Your upper body should also be straight. There will be a slight angle compared to the lower body (see above image). This is to make sure that your:

  • Chest plate is underneath the hands as they hold the bow
  • Shoulders are over the hips
  • Collar bone is parallel to your arrow when your bow string is pulled back fully.

The lower body has this angle because of the slight ‘lean’ onto the balls of the feet. However the upper body position is to ensure your bow is held at a straight/90 degree angle. Your upper body aligns with the bow.

As the below image shows, you can imagine a secondary straight line going alongside the line representing your ‘lean’ gradient. This line goes from between the insteps of your feet (or the shooting line) up through your spine and head. This is your centre of gravity.

Image showing the straightness of the upper body in the stance

It’s worth reiterating again to not at all lean sideways toward the target or backward away from it.

This is particularly important if the bow is heavy; you may have a natural tendency to lean toward the target. Make sure you don’t! Stand straight with your weight evenly on both feet, though remember you should also have your weight slightly forward. The most important thing is to feel like your hips and shoulders are over the feet.

A common issue beginners will have with upper body posture is puffing out their chest. This comes from an oversimplifcation of what people think it means to ‘stand straight’. Puffing our your chest will put too much weight ahead of the feet. The trick is to relax your chest and rib cage. Imagine them compressing downwards underneath the hands, but don’t drop them forwards.

Correct shoulder and elbow position

When the bow string is being pulled back, it’s important you do not tense and lift your shoulders. They need to be relaxed and in a downward/normal position in line with the rest of your body shape. You can see from the above image that the shoulders are in line with the feet and over the hips.

You may find that whilst you pull on the bow string, your shoulder extends upwards like a ‘shrug’. Try to avoid this. You do not shoot the bow by using your hand and arm, but rather by the movement of your shoulders. This creates engagement with the lower part of your shoulder blade as you pull on the string. You will discover more about this further into the shot sequence guide.

Elbows, like your shoulder, will be covered in more detail in the section on ‘pulling back the bow string’. The elbow and shoulders will generally move in a certain direction whilst the rest of the stance stays still.

Generally speaking, the elbow on the arm pulling the bow string needs point in the opposite direction of the target. This also means your forearm is parallel to the ground (see below image).

The elbow on the arm holding the bow needs to pointing outward and be slightly bent. The tip of the elbow should face the bottom left (or bottom right if left-handed) of the target. This is so you avoid the bow string slap which can occur if you have your arm too straight. Like your knees, there is a fine line between a bow arm that is too bent and one that is too flat. There are varying opinions on this, and it will be covered in more detail for the guide on how to hold a bow.

Correct head position

The neck should follow the body in its vertical position (upright and straight) but your head should be rotated towards your target. It’s important for your head to be in a natural, relaxed position, so that it does not strain your neck. So do not focus on turning your head all the way. About 50/60 degrees towards the target from the forward position should work. Again, do not lean your head to the target or back away from it. Imagine again that straight line going from the floor inbetween your feet, all the way up to your upper body and neck. This neck position should not move throughout the shot.

Beginner archery stance highlights

As mentioned, further down this post we will indicate how the other stances beyond the neutral stance can slightly alter your full body posture as a beginner, but here is a summary of what we’ve learned about the general best stance to practice as a beginner:

  • Feet should be flat, shoulder width apart, equal distance and equal weight between them. Do not sway side to side but keep feet still and straight. For open stance varation, shift front foot backwards to halfway point of back foot and tilt angle 30-40 degrees toward target.
  • Legs straight without knees being flat, with body 60% body weight on balls of your feet. Slightly rotate your toes outward a few degrees only to create the feeling of rotating your toes outward & into the ground, to activate your bum muscles
  • Tense your bum and your core to help straighten your pelvis & hip underneath your upper body. Keep your hips over your feet.
  • Keep your upper body and back straight, but over your hips. Keep your chest relaxed and your body weight downward to a strong centre of gravity
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and not held high
  • Your bow arm elbow should point at roughly 90 degrees from the target, whilst your string pulling elbow should point directly away from the target
  • Head should look at the target without twisting the neck around – keep the neck mostly forward and aligned with the straight body

That’s it for beginner tips!

And that’s it for a beginner’s archery stance. Essentially it boils down to keeping your body straight with good posture, relaxed and aligned with your feet facing forwards, and just your hands and head facing towards your target. This continual alignment of the stance from your feet to the hips, lower back, chest, shoulders and head is what will let you shoot consistently and accurately. Make sure to maintain this stance throughout the rest of the shot sequence.

What is open stance in Archery?

As discussed earlier, for more experienced archers, an open stance is generally more popular. It is nowadays even more frequently being taught to beginners. This is because it is generally seen as more stable whilst also being more comfortable. It will however be far more difficult for you to perfect and, if not executed properly, will lead to inaccuracy.

As mentioned, most of the principles with the feet and hips are the same as the ‘square’ stance. The first main difference is the front foot will move backwards so that the toe is halfway down the opposite foot, and then rotated roughly 30-40 degrees towards the target. This also opens up the ‘hips’, though it is important to clarify what this means. Essentially your hips are no longer parallel to your shoulders, as they will follow your front foots 30-40 degree angle towards the target.

Image courtesy of kisiklee.com/kslshotcycle

Additional tips for how to enact open stance properly

Whilst your hips will be more open, they need to remain over the feet. And do not twist the rest of your body round to follow the hips. Doing this correctly should create a small bit of tension in your stomach, as your shoulder remains straight and parallel to the target whilst your hips are in-line with your front foot. This is good. You want to keep your abs tensed during the sequence as this will help keeping a straight lower back.

Keep your weight 60/70% onto the balls of your feet.

If you find that you struggle to pull your shoulders back when drawing a bow in the square stance, then the open stance should grant you more room for your shoulder blades to open.

Proponents of this stance also claim it has a stronger foundation for windy conditions, as it allows for a wider base of stability than the square stance. There may be reduced ‘swaying’ during the shooting sequence, too. It will of course though be more difficult to replicate this stance as a beginner due to the nature of your hips and feet being at a slightly different angle to the rest of your body, and having to remember their exact angle every time you reset your stance.

What is a closed stance in archery?

A closed stance is the opposite to the open stance in regards to foot position.

From the square stance position, drop your back foot down to the middle of the front foot, and tilt it 30-40 degrees away from the target. This ‘closes’ your hips in a direction away from the target slightly. To make sure this stays consistent, imagine the shooting line going through the middle/instep of your front foot, with the tip of your back foot touching the line (see below image).

Similarly to the open stance, your hips and back foot will tilt at an angle away from the target. However, you must maintain your other body positions as they were.

The closed stance helps if you need more draw length as you’ll be able to pull the string back further. Proponents of this stance claim that the extra draw length can allow more power in the shot. However, you may get more of the dreaded ‘bow string slap’ with this stance.

Like the open stance, it is also difficult to get right as you will feel your body twisting away from the target – so it requires a lot of practice to get the accuracy right.

Closed stance feet position

What is the oblique stance in archery?

The oblique stance is one of the rarer stances and is more common for Kyudo (Japanese) and Korean archery. This is because the bows are much bigger and therefore require far more draw distance to shoot the bow.

The foot position is like a more extreme version of the open stance. Your front foot will be 60 degrees towards the target, but the tip of the toes on that foot should still be touching the shooting line. Your backfoot meanwhile should be in front of the shooting line, with your heel touching it. This creates a wider distance between the two feet.

Proponents of this stance are also capable of leaning forward, which is typically bad form for smaller bows, but is often the only way to shoot a larger bow. A good guide for this stance can be found here.

How to find your natural or preferred stance in archery?

Once you have practiced the shot sequence with your chosen stance and have developed some consistency, you may want to experiment. Especially if neither of those two stances are feeling ‘comfortable’.

Whilst discipline and practice is required to get consistent shooting in archery, and things may not always feel easy at the start, there is no hard-fast rule that says you HAVE to choose one of the above stances forever. It is perfectly fine for you to adjust your stance how you see fit.

However we would recommend a certain process to adjust yourself to your own stance.

Finding your body’s preferred stance

Rather than just placing your feet at random, you can work out your body’s natural or ‘preferred’ stance by following the below methodology. To clarify, it is best to only test out the below once you have shot consistently with a set stance.

  1. Set yourself in the square stance and aim your bow and arrow at the target.
  2. Have someone stand behind you. Whilst holding your aim at the target in your anchor point, turn ONLY your head towards them.
  3. Close your eyes and turn your head back to the target with eyes closed, using your friend to make sure your trajectory has not shifted too much away from the target
  4. Shoot and judge how far your arrow went either to the left or right of the target
  5. For right-handed-bow archers – if the arrow went to the right of the target, adjust in millimetres your feet towards an open stance. If it went to the left, make the same tiny adjustment to a closed stance. If you use a left-hand-bow, reverse this process!
  6. Repeat step 3-6 until the arrow hits close to the target. Whatever position your feet are in now is your body’s ‘natural stance’ – as you didn’t have to see the target to shoot accurately towards it whilst your bow was aimed in that direction.

What is the best stance in archery?

The best stance in archery is the one that works best for you!

No one stance is necessarily better than another for any situation. Even among the best archers in the world, we can see a variety of stances on offer. What works best varies from person to person based on their build, natural tendencies, bow type, and the type of archery they are engaging in.

You may find for example, that even with a perfect open stance, that you are still getting the ‘bow-string slap’ simply because your arm and chest are too big for the bow you use, and you will therefore want to change the stance to be a bit wider. Whereas someone else may have to use closed stance because they need to pull the bow string back further than the open or square stance allows. Everyone will have different needs.

Start with the square stance and develop your form – once perfected with consistency, you can adapt your stance using the ‘natural’ stance methodology in the previous chapter, to see if it improves your shot in any way.

The key thing is that the stance you adopt can be repeated exactly the same, every time you shoot.

That’s why beginners are recommended the square stance – because it is easy to always keep your feet shoulder length apart, you will be able to repeat that position again and again without issue. Whereas with the other stances requiring your feet to be slightly uneven – it is difficult to remember exactly where your foot was each time you shoot.

Best Archery Stance highlights:

  • Square stance requires the least strength to maintain position and is the simplest to line up consistently with your shoulders and hips. It places a low amount of stress on the body; however, it is less stable in the wind due to its narrower footing and may have a limit on draw distance for certain archers.
  • Open stance is stronger in the wind, can be better at reducing the archer’s sway and is also a better position for maintaining a strong core/straight lower back. However, it can be slower to learn, is more difficult to know if you are leaning into or away from the target, and requires more flexibility and strength in the upper body.
  • The closed stance has similar strengths and weaknesses to the open stance, however it will allow more space to pull back on the bow string to grant extra power in the shot. However this will require expert positioning to enable without drawbacks!
  • The ‘natural’ or ‘preferred’ stance is based off a methodology that works out your body’s natural direction to shoot without line of sight to the target. This is only worth experimenting with when all of the above stances have been tested in the full shot sequence, however.
  It’s also key to make sure you’re documenting your position so that you can improve the chances of learning from your mistakes as you get used to proper archery form and posture. Film yourself, get a coach, or even just practice in front of a mirror or with a friend. The stance is the key element to get right before anything else, so take the time to make sure you’re not building bad habits into your form.  

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