What is Back Tension in Archery?
It doesn’t take long before a new archer hears the term “back tension.” It sounds like something bad that you might need to see a chiropractor for. Many new archers have no idea what back tension in archery is, let alone how to actually shoot a bow with back tension. If you’ve been wondering what back tension is in archery, you’re in luck, because that is what we’re going to figure out.
Why Back Tension is Important For Archery
1. It Helps You Avoid Injury
Sure, this is the weakest point in the argument for back tension, but it’s still true. There are only two options when it comes to shooting, utilizing back tension or straining your arms. If you are just casually firing off a few arrows every once in awhile, it doesn’t really matter.
However, if you are putting in real practice time, you need to be using back tension. Why? Not using back tension means you are keeping all of the strain on your arm muscles. After a while, this fatigues your arm muscles, especially with heavy draw weights. If you keep trying to shoot when those muscles are fatigued, you are risking injury.
You know the saying, “put your back into it,” of “lift with your back.” These are not just meaningless phrases. You back can exert significant force. This is extremely helpful and will help keep you from injury, whether you are lifting a heavy box or shooting a bow.
Shooting a bow with back tension increases your draw power. In addition to fatiguing the arms faster, without back tension, your form is cramped. This limits the weight you’re able to draw.
Many arches, especially compound bow hunters, are shooting with too heavy a draw weight. You can see them struggle when drawing and they can only shoot a few arrow before their arms are fatigued.
It is possible their draw weight is just too much for them, and the bow needs to be adjusted. However, it is also possible they could handle that weight if they were shooting using back tension.
3. It Helps Your Shooting Form
Using back tension is also connected to good form in archery. This is also known as the T-form. Working on the correct form is the place to start when you want to incorporate back tension. Once you start shooting a bow with back tension, it becomes a familiar and necessary part of your shooting sequence. You won’t even think about it. It will just be how you shoot a bow.
In archery, good form leads to continued good form. It becomes habitual. However, bad form leads to worse form. The reason for this is that muscles fatigue quickly with bad form. When this occurs, and you continue shooting, your muscles groups have to compensate by getting help from other muscles which further messes up your shooting form.
4. It Helps Your Accuracy
Back tension is a critical part of consistent accuracy. I previously thought it was just a part of good form but I’ve come to think it is one of the most crucial aspects of good form. The reason is that the back is center of the T-form. When you use back tension, it frees up your bow arm for aiming and draw arm for release.
Your back and chest also form the center of alignment for your entire body. Shooting a bow with back tension aligns you in your T-Form which leads to accurate shooting.
It’s natural to overuse your arms when you are new to shooting a bow. For starters, it’s possible a beginner hasn’t heard about back tension in archery. But shooting a bow with back tension is also a learned form.
What I mean is that if you hand someone a bow for the first time, the natural form is to hold the bow out with one arm and draw the bowstring back with the other arm.
If you’ve been shooting for a while and are just now learning about shooting a bow with back tension, don’t let that discourage you. Most sports involve learned motion. Take basketball for example. If you hand someone a basketball and tell them to shoot, most likely they won’t shoot the ball with good form. They need to be shown things like proper hand and arm placement, keeping the elbow in, and follow through.
Every archer shooting a bow with back tension had to LEARN how to shoot that way, and you can learn how to shoot a bow with back tension too. Levi Morgan wrote a great article on back tension you should read.
Look at Your Back Tension If You Are Not Shooting Well
When your arrow groupings start to look like they were shot by 12 different people, and aren’t really a group at all, it may be time to stop and evaluate a few things. I’ve been here plenty of times, and for some reason, I always suspect something is wrong with my equipment.
On occasion, your equipment can get messed up, and of course, maintenance and checking our your gear frequently is necessary. However, for the beginning archer and the seasoned archer in an accuracy slump, it could be time to take a look at your form.
I’ve learn a lot from NuSensei over the years. Here is a video he did on back tension.
How To Work on Shooting a Bow With Back Tension
1. Put Down The Bow
First, you need to understand using back tension. Get a release aid, resistance band, or even a rope and stand in front of the mirror. Go through your shooting sequence and look at your form. Perhaps more importantly, feel your form in full draw.
Are you holding the resistance in just your arms? You need to expand your chest in full draw and transfer the tension to your back. Consciously do this and observe the differences in how it feels and how it looks.
If you are really serious about improving your accuracy and working on your shooting form, I highly recommend the Dry Fire Pro Archery Trainer. This is thing is incredible! This trainer is the closest thing you will find to shooting with a real bow. Not only does it help you keep your shooting muscles in shape, it is also the best trainer for working on shooting form. You are able to use your release and you can actually attach your own bow sight.
Using this archery trainer will definitely help you improve your accuracy. It’s really nice if you life live in cold country like I do. When the temps get into the negatives, I’m not really enthusiastic about practicing outside. Archery trainers give you a good alternative during the winter months. It’s also really nice if you travel for work. You can easily carry this with you on the road and do something productive in your down time. The Dry Fire Pro is the best available archery trainer but the Bow Trainer is cheaper alternative. It’s not as good for working on shooting form but will help keep your shooting muscles in shape.
2. Start working on T-Form
As previously mentioned, shooting a bow with back tension is connected to correct form and vice-versa. Check out this article on accuracy. If you follow the steps, you can break down your shooting form and evaluate each part. This not only helps in identifying weakness in your form, it will also give you correct form for using back tension.
3. Lower Your Draw Weight
Yes, shooting a bow with back tension increases your draw power, but you need to be able to shoot with back tension first. You need to get down the form, and then you can do up in draw weight. Shoot a bow with lower draw weight or adjust it down if you’re shooting a compound.
4. Watch Yourself
If you are able, take a video of your form while you are shooting. The differences between shooting a bow with back tension and just using your arms are subtle, but they will be there. When you watch the video, does your form look cramped or expanded? Pay attention to your release.
Releasing with back tension looks slightly different than just using your arms. It should look like you are pulling through the shot and expanding. Releasing with arms typically looks more like forward collapsing. These are subtle differences from a visual standpoint.
Don’t worry if you feel like you can’t tell the difference at first. The most important thing is for you to FEEL this tension in your back. Concentrate and expanding, pulling through your shots, and you will be shooting with back tension in no time.
Shooting with back tension is vital part of becoming a good archer. It will take some time to learn but it is well worth the effort. It is however, only one aspect of overall form. If you would like to learn more about how to work on your form I would encourage you to read one of the articles below depending on which bow you shoot.
Author: Kasey Jones
Published: May 30th, 2018
Category: Archery form