“Body English” or “giving it the onion” is when archers move their bow arm at the last second to correct their aim. This exaggerated bow-arm swing doesn’t look like a textbook follow-through, but top archers sometimes use it to squeak an extra point or two from a shot.
For this feat to work, archers must move their bow arm before the arrow leaves the bow. They don’t need to move much. As you’ll learn in the World Archery video “How hard is Olympic archery?” a 1-millimeter movement can turn a 5 into a 10.
However, archers have a fraction of a second to make that move. According to the Scientific American article “Speedy Science: How Fast Can You React?” the average reaction time is 150 to 300 milliseconds. When reacting to a bowsight that drifts from the middle, information going from our eyes to the brain’s visual cortex tells our motor cortex to signal our arm to make the correction. Much of that reaction is likely happening before the release because our subconscious is always making small aiming corrections to keep our sight centered, which gives our reaction time a head start.
With that background on body English, we asked two top pros, Brady Ellison and Paige Pearce, if they think it works.
“I’m definitely one of those people who aims a little low on the target,” Pearce said. “So, often times if my shot breaks a little lower than I want you’ll see me on the field just huck my arm up trying to throw the arrow into the middle. The key is to throw just hard enough to get it into the middle, but not enough to throw it up into the high 9.”
Your equipment also affects body English. “We shoot blade rests a lot, which allow you to influence the arrow a lot more,” Pearce said. “When you shoot a blade rest, you have contact all the way as the arrow leaves the bow.”
Ellison has used body English successfully, but prefers a standard shot. “Last year in China I had a shot where my bow came up and around, and it was still a 9,” he said. “I think body English works, but a good shot works even better.”
Ellison is the world champion, so he should know. Therefore, try your best to make good shots, but if you think you’re about to release an arrow that’s heading off center, try giving it the onion to gain extra points.