Using Back Tension Effectively

Disclaimer: This is my rendering of Back Tension. Your opinions may differ.

Back tension to me is something very different than what it has become in archery discussions today. I almost want to believe it was like the school room experiement where you whisper something in each person’s ear around the room and see how far off it is with the last person. Back tension is not a method used to primarily activate a release. Instead, it is used to hold steadier on target and shoot at a higher level of accuracy for a longer period of time.

Before I start diving into this topic, I want to first give a definition of back tension. This is my defintiion as I see it applying to the archery world. Back tension is simply, using the larger muscles in your back to aide in drawing back the bow and then holding the bow against the stops at full draw during your shot execution, while steadying the body through the use of the core muscles.

When talking about muscles to be used, you want to focus on the larger back muscles that will pull your shoulder blades together. What many people will do is incorporate too many muscles into this though. They’ll start bringing in the upper shoulder muscles as well as the lower neck muscles. When this happens you start seeing the condition of hunched shoulders and a lot of the times the pin will be bobbing and dropping below the target. This is because you’ve created a hinge point in the shoulders.

So when and how should back tension be used? It needs to start at the time you draw the bow back. You need the draw elbow level or above level when compared to your wrist on the drawing arm. This will engage the back muscles and allow you to draw the bow back with them as well as the arm and shoulder. Once you get the bow back to full draw you will want to relax the lower neck and upper shoulder muscles. This relaxation will bring the shoulders down and into place, but the bigger benefit will be how it engages the back muscles to hold the weight of the bow. This relaxation will bring the release elbow back and around and as you transfer the weight from the arm into the back. What this is doing is loading the weight you are holding at full draw into the larger back muscles, where you can hold more weight longer becuase of its larger mass. This tension you build up here is back tension. It is the tension and force holding the bow back and more importantly, stabilizing your core, or torso. The basis behind stabilization in the body is your core muscles. Effectively using them will give strength and stability to your whole shot. Now on the bow arm side, relaxing the lower neck and upper shoulder muscles should provide a divot above the shoulder joint. This divot when held there will keep your skeletal structure in alignment and keep the shoulder from creeping up during your shot. You will want to rely on the tricep muscle to hold the arm out straight and use the back muscles to hold the bow up. This will help you keep your bow steadier while you float on target.

The controversial part of this all is how the release is activated. When talking about back tension, you most likely heard you increase the tension in your back and pull and pull and the release goes off. But that’s simply not the case. It’s often a topic an archer will try and get confused on because their results will fall apart and they will see erratic point of impacts on target. What I teach as the corect manner of using back tension is not a pulling sensation. It’s an increase of tension to hold the bow at full draw and stabilize your core. You increase the tension while holding on target, not firing just floating, and see where the float becomes the smallest. When you find this, it’s your sweet spot. This is the amount of tension you need to in your back muscles each shot to achieve your best results. Once it’s found, you aren’t increasing it to fire the shot. You maintain the tension and activate the release by one of the techniques here. Note on some of the relaxing methods you will be pulling back the elbow during the relaxation at times. This is because you are elongating the hand and you need to take up the slack created, by using the back muscles. You are not going to increase tension beyond your sweet spot, instead you are maintaining the tension needed to stay in the sweet spot you have found previously.

I wanted to add a brief insight into my shot sequence where it involves back tension.

  1. With the bottom cam of the bow resting on my leg and the grip of the riser in my hand I will attach the release to the d-loop and then set my hand into position on the grip where it will be for my shot. I will then pull back slightly on the release and push down and out with the bow hand as the bow comes off my leg. This will push the bow arm shoulder down and out as it will need to be at full draw. At this point I will bring my bow arm up in an arc, leaving it extended out and hinging at the shoulder socket. This will create the divot in the top of the shoulder when done correcly and use my skeletal structure for support.

2. I then come to full draw with my release hand coming back just above where I will anchor and the bow hand just above the shoulder. At this point I relax my lower neck and upper shoulder muscles and this will  bring my shoulders and release hand down into place. I anchor in and transfer the   tension from my arm into my back. I’ll increase this tension to the spot I have found to steady my float the most and hold the tension in place. During this I will be placing my pin into the center of my target.

3. Next I will let the pin float and start to execute my shot.

Now I know this is a controversial topic and has been discussed in length and argued over many times. This article is not intended to become part of this argument. It is merely the results of my findings over the course of time that work the best for me and many others that I have helped and talked with. I struggled through trying to fit into a societal norm and felt I was doing wrong by stepping outside of the box. I felt this only to later discover that what I found to work best for me was actually what worked for many other archers whose results far exeed my own as well. Hopefully this will give another option to anyone looking to suceed in archery while using back tension to their benefit.

Here is a link to the video that goes along with this post:

8 thoughts on “Using Back Tension Effectively

      1. pwrstrgs16

        I just created my wordpress acct. My previous replies were from Kerry H. I love all things archery, been at it for many years. I am happy to show support to anyone sharing their time helping others. Especially with excellent info learned thru trial and error. Thanks again and happy shooting!

  1. VVV

    Thanks a lot. Extremely useful overview on backtension and, which is very important for me, on bow shoulder positioning. Please, keep writing and making videos. And happy shooting, of course.

  2. Himanshu

    Nice video and effective technique on backtension, but I have problem that, I won’t be able get my sight pin up in the middle.
    So you have any fix on this.
    And your videos are helpful for me. keep doing it.

    1. rcrchery Inc. Post author

      There’s so many things that could be unfortunately. Rear shoulder being high. Loop too short. Loop too long and losing pull and leverage. Front shoulder being incorrect. Draw length. Anchor positioning. Peep height. The list can go on. I do offer a form coaching package that’s under the tabs on my blog here to read more about what is covered in it. Id be glad to take a look at you and if you wanted work with you.


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