Archery | What is Back Tension?


Hey guys, this is NUSensei. For those of us who are learning archery you may find there are many similarities between archery and other sports such as martial arts, golf, shooting sports, even snooker. However, there are several aspects which are unique to archery and one of these, is back tension. If you have been given advice from your coach or you have been given feedback from a form check or you are just shooting really poorly, this is very likely to be the problem area. So, what is back tension? Back tension is the difference between this… and this. Surprisingly for some, archery is not particularly reliant on your arm strength. Although you do obviously use your arms, this is not where your power comes from. Rather, most of your power comes through your back and engaging the back muscles maximises the strength you have, to make the shot. Let’s look at some examples of common beginner mistakes that illustrate the lack of back tension. The first is what many first-timers will instinctively do when picking up a bow. They will pull it back in front of their face and everything looks really cramped. Many people begin to draw very low and hold the bow with a chicken wing position. And, one of the giveaways of poor back tension is in the release. Where it looks too static, or the shooter is pulled forward during the shot. Many people who use the bow for the first time will make this mistake. They will put way too much tension on their drawing arm in this case, my right arm. They shoot from a very cramped position and all the tension is located in the wrist in the tricep, in the elbow, basically everywhere but the back. If you are using a light bow, as many beginners do then you wont notice it as much. You can actually shoot like this and at short distances you wont notice that much of a difference. However, once you start using heavier draw weights you will find that this method is nearly impossible and I will go as far as to say, that shooting like this is going to give you a much higher risk of injury. The reason for this is quite simple. Your back muscles are far stronger than your arm muscles alone. You may have heard the phrase “put your back into it” for many things from doing work to playing sport. This true for things, like, throwing a punch or, swinging a bat these things require much more engagement of your whole body rather than just using your arms. In archery, by putting the load onto the arms you are creating an unstable alignment. You are effectively putting a higher amount of weight on to muscles that cannot efficiently take that load. The result is poor alignment, poor control of the shot a poor release and much more fatigue. If you have been taught archery at a club you probably would have been told to make this adjustment. Lift the drawing elbow. Getting the elbow in line, or above the line of the arrow allows you to engage more of your back. The actual motion involves rotation of the shoulder and this gives you a picture of what your form is meant to look like for a good shot. To demonstrate back tension, I am going to use this simple training tool. This was sent to me by Mark Swords who developed this for use in the National Archery in Schools Programme. This is the string trainer manufactured by Crow Caddy. It’s a very simply designed tool, with Velcro straps, a plastic tube for a grip and para cord which can be adjusted for the users draw length. This tool is meant to be used alongside the Ten Steps to Archery Success as taught in the NASP system and was designed as a practice tool for kids at home without using their bow. The goal is to snap the Velcro straps apart using back tension. The Velcro straps can be adjusted more contact, means more emulated draw weight with 100% contact being around 30-35 lbs. Let’s try this using the chicken wing position. I’m not faking this. I can’t actually expand through the shot. This position is so compressed that I can’t stretch beyond my anchor point at all. All the tension that I am putting, is concentrated on my triceps. This is why the release is static if you don’t use your back. It’s hard to draw a full strength bow like this and even doing so, your shot has no power in it. So you might think, ok, I’ve got strong arms. I’ll just use brute force to get it off and you can. But it is far more difficult than it needs to be and believe me, you can feel it in your arm this is not the right way to draw the bow. If I use the form that was taught to me keeping the elbow above the line of the arrow and making a conscious effort to push and pull using my back muscles, it comes apart with substantially less effort. Not only that, but my follow through flows naturally behind my ear. Indicating what could be a smooth release and clean arrow flight if this was a real bow. Knowing this principle is essential for becoming a successful archer. The key, is to keep a line of tension through your shoulder blades keeping the weight effectively on your back and your shoulders. This way, you can shoot with far more stability, with far more power and without turning your arms in to wet noodles after 50 shots. To recognise the feeling of having good back tension you have to maintain that shape and line a T-shape that you are trained to maintain and keeping your tension line in your shoulders. So when you apply the power stroke of your draw you can squeeze your shoulder blades together and you should execute a good snap. This means that you are expanding, you are opening up after the shot. That is good motion and good engagement of your back muscles. If you are shooting and you are collapsing forward that means you aren’t using back tension you are concentrating your energy elsewhere and that means your shot will not be stable it will swing inwards and that means a weaker shot. With proper use of back tension, you control the bow without it, the bow controls you. If you are just starting out, you are probably not doing this correctly and that’s to be expected. If you are learning by watching others this is one of those things where you might need someone to point it out and explain it to you. If you are an experienced archer and you are going through form slumps, this may also be one of the common causes. Often, we do slip in our form and we do start getting lazy and relax of our back tension. Especially if you notice that you are not coming through the clicker smoothly. If you are a compound shooter this is even more important. The reason is, you must set your bow for the correct draw length. Not only does it affect your peep alignment, it also affects your back tension. If your bow’s draw length is too short, you will be shooting from a very compressed position and that means that all the weight is on your arms and you are not getting your back stretched out. Furthermore, some target compound shooters use a back tension release. So, instead of using a trigger that is activated by the finger or the thumb, it’s activated by using your back tension to angle the release aid and snaps back correctly. This may sound terrifying to compound shooters who want full control over the trigger, but bear in mind that a trigger can sometimes mask form problems. This is also the reason why many recurve shooters find it easier to transition to a compound bow because with recurve, you have to use back tension to get the bow fully drawn back. With a compound, that let-off, can lull you in to a false sense of control. If you are a compound shooter and you have a bad habit of only using your arms to draw, you may find it very hard to hold the full weight of a recurve bow. If you can understand the principle of back tension, then you are making a breakthrough from being a backyard newbie to becoming an archer with confidence and control over their shot. Understanding back tension will also help explain form breakdowns. If you are training regularly and shooting 100s of arrows per day, you will be fatigued. That means you will not have the same control of your back muscles. Like with weight lifting, you may reach your peak. The point where you simply cannot get the bow to your full draw and pull through that clicker. The bow will simply control you and you will collapse forwards, no matter what you do. You have to understand, that to be a good consistent archer, you must have good conditioning. This is also a very important reason why beginners should be starting on a light draw weight. A lot of beginners will go full macho, with the big arms and a 45 lb bow, but if you can’t get that anchor point with correct back tension, then as far as I am concerned you haven’t proven that you can handle the weight. Anyway, this is NUSensei, hope this was helpful? Thank you for watching and I will see you next time.

39 thoughts on “Archery | What is Back Tension?

  1. I've been trying to develop my draw this week. Using an angular draw. But I'm not really feeling anything in my back. I can tell by looking in a mirror that my back is moving as it should, but I feel no tension in the muscles and it requires no effort to hold in this position. Is this just a sign I'm using a bow that is too low poundage? The only muscle I feel tension and fatigue in is my bow arm triceps.

  2. Thank you for doing this video. I am a Basic Archery Instructor Trainer (BAIT) for NASP and the "Shot Set Up" step in the "11 Steps to Archery Success" that you mention in your video, which is setting up proper back tension for shot execution, is the hardest concept to teach new archers. You did a great job explaining it!

  3. Thanks to this video, i know this is may an old one, but as a new comer in archery we really need it.
    I watched two Sjef Van den Berg's videos, saw his back side while shooting..
    An unique scapulae movement i saw, would you like give some explanation..
    Best & Regards

  4. Thank you very much for a well explained and demonstrated lesson, as usual. As a novice archer your advice is wonderful and helps me to progress quite quickly through the range of bows at my club.

  5. Not trying to be bragging or anything but when I shoot, somehow I always use back tension and this was before I even know what back tension is. By the time I know what it is, it turns out I already have it xD

  6. Thank you!!! I struggle with high fatigue after archery sessions
    Now i realize why
    I should try following these tips!!!

  7. Do you know https://www.kinovea.org/ ? Its a free video editor for sport. Quite useful for archery. I am using it for my own bow's training. (really like your channel. Weighted advices, clear explanations and… In short, fine and helpful teacher's work 🙂

  8. yep been soing the chicken wing but then again ive only been doing archery for like 2 months so i dont feel bad

  9. I started using a clicker for the first time today, and found my form slipping towards the end of the session, making it harder and harder to get through the clicker. Watching this vid again provided me with the likely reason for the form slippage (and collapsing). Guess I know what I'll be focusing on next session… 🙂

  10. Thank you NUSensei. You helped me to determine my first bow with this video. I was thinking of getting a classic recurve bow, but the brand I was looking at only comes in 40lbs. and up. Now I'm looking at an ILF riser, and 20lbs. limbs. It might cost a little more, but in the long run, I think it'll be worth it.

    I can't tell you how much I enjoy your channel. You have a dry wit, and are of tremendous help to beginners like me. Top stuff, and thanks again.

  11. Just a quick question , i have an english longbow and i ve heard in one of your videos that archers are trained to shoot with both eyes open , i find my shots more accurate if i shoot with one eye closed . Is that a bad habit i should get rid of ?

  12. Great explanation. I've been getting back into shooting my recurve after a few years away and this was hugely helpful. I was having a hell of a time getting to my normal draw length and couldn't figure it out. Turns out I was using my arms and collapsing in and tilting my head forward, which was also ruining my aim. I grabbed a weight band after watching this and immediately remembered that back feel I was missing. Thanks again for the great video.

  13. Nicely said I use do archery as a kid into early adulthood as a junior I was one the best in western australia and I can say the back is so important besides I have scoliosis so proper form in archery actually helped with pain from the curve in my spine

  14. That is so important to know and I will remember it when I get my first bow and begin using it. I thank you for sharing this information with us and I find this information very useful.

  15. No matter how many videos on back tension I watch, I still have no idea if I am using back tension, let alone doing it properly 🙁

  16. I was having performance issues this and last week and i thought it was my release that was the main issue, focused on making a clean release and follow through but the more i focused on it the worse it got, so i thought to myself 'maybe im thinking too hard on it and should just trust my body', so i relaxed but had only a slight improvement. Then to my suprise i realize that it WASNT my draw arm that was the issue, but my bow arm! I was collapsing inwards slightly during release wich was what made my arrows go where they felt like. So i shifted focus on making sure i didnt move my bow arm until the arrow was in the wall, and i had a significant improvement!
    However now im a bit confused, because i thought i really was 'putting my back into it' so to speak, i tried to focus on using back muscles but.. after what you said here (as in if you collapse inwards when shooting you arnt using back tension properly) im now wondering how to sort that out..

  17. My bow ar jumps forward on releas i dont feel it and feels like i have a solid bow arm. but on slow mo i can see it . is this a sine of por form or is it nothing to worry about?

  18. As beginner archer i wish to thank you for this very clear explanation that helps me to gain the correct form and better shooting.

  19. I just started getting into traditional archery. This is an great video! Most people just say, "Squeeze your shoulder blades together." Clay Hayes also had an excellent video using paint mixing sticks to demonstrate back tension and alignment.

  20. that is not traditional or instinctive shooting. looks like a video game. i challenge you. one shot! your choice. leave that spider web bow in the rice factory.

  21. This really helped me visualize back tension. I did a few bow pulls while watching this video and the difference is immediately evident.

  22. Watched this and worked on my back following your advice – noticeable improvement. So thanks.

    I’ve worked out that at my current rate of progress I only need to live to 132 to get to the same level as the worst archer in Korea.

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