What’s Back Tension, and Why Do I Need to Use It?

You don’t need big biceps, strong quads or six-pack abs to be a great archer. In fact, archers don’t rely on the same muscles used by most athletes.

The main muscle group we use is our back muscles. It might sound like a reason to visit your chiropractor, but back tension is in fact the act of using back muscles during your shot and it’s beneficial to your shooting.

Why is back tension important?

Few people know more about archery than national head coach Kisik Lee. “When I asked Coach Lee what the most important thing a new archer needs to know he said, ‘back tension,’ ” said Jennifer Mazur the Archery Trade Association’s director of archery and bowhunting programs. When the nation’s top archery coach says “back tension,” that’s a pretty strong endorsement.

Coach Lee feels strongly about back tension because it’s the building block for accurate and efficient shooting. If you use your bicep, forearm and shoulder to pull the bow, then you’re relying on several small muscle groups to control your shot. However, our back muscles are one large muscle group and because they are stronger, using our back muscles reduces wear on our shoulders.

“Back tension is important because it helps prevent injury,” Mazur said. “Especially rotator cuff injury.” Injuries in archery aren’t common, but they are virtually nonexistent when archers use proper form and their back muscles.

Using your back also makes you more accurate because it allows you to relax your forearm which will lead to a better release. The muscles helping us achieve all these benefits aren’t typically used and take practice to properly engage.

How do you use back tension?

When your elbow rotates behind your head, you should feel your shoulder blade move closer to your spine. That feeling and rhomboid position is back tension. After you master it on the stretch band, move to your bow and give it a try. Photo Credit: USA Archery

Back muscles doesn’t mean we use our whole back, just one muscle group. The specific muscles we use are the rhomboid muscles or your shoulder blade. To find your rhomboids make a thumbs-up with your hand and place it behind your back. Your thumb will touch your rhomboids.

When you start learning back tension use a stretch band or a bow with a low draw weight. Pull your stretch band and imagine a string tied to your elbow. Pretend the string is pulling your elbow back and around your head as you reach full draw. When your elbow rotates behind your head, you should feel your shoulder blade move closer to your spine. That feeling and rhomboid position is back tension. After you master it on the stretch band, move to your bow and give it a try.

Perfecting this technique is much easier with the help of an archery instructor who can watch you and provide instant feedback. Most archery stores provide coaching, or they can help you find an instructor in your area. You can also locate a certified instructor through our tool or the USA Archery listing.

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