Learning proper back tension for shooting recurve bows can be difficult and frustrating. Many coaches tell archers to use their back, but you must shoot thousands of arrows to become fully aware of those muscles. Only then can you know which back muscles to work during each shot and, more importantly, when to use them.
Why is it important to use your back? The back’s bigger muscles – such as the lats, rhomboids and lower traps – help stave off fatigue when shooting hundreds of arrows daily. Using your bicep and shoulders for the whole shot will tire you more quickly, which affects consistency and accuracy.
How can you tell if you’re using your back or your shoulders? A tell-tale sign is if your deltoids and biceps hurt while shooting – that means you’re shooting with your shoulders. If you use your deltoids and biceps to come through the clicker, bicipital tendinitis can develop and this ailment can be painful and force you to stop shooting while rehabbing your shoulder. Shooting with only your shoulder can also injure your rotator cuff. In extreme cases, surgery is the only cure.
Properly using your back requires much less effort than you might think. One way to tell you’re using your back is if your scapula (shoulder blade) moves toward your spine while drawing and at full draw. Some archers squeeze both shoulder blades toward their spine while at full draw to engage both sides of their back.
Either way, you can only move your back muscles a few inches, so it’s difficult to pull the bowstring the arrow’s full length using only your back. Therefore, archers make most of the draw with their shoulder muscles, and transfer the load to their back muscles as they anchor. This transfer is important, because holding the full draw weight with shoulder muscles can cause injuries.
Training at the gym also helps archers feel their back. You can learn many exercises relevant to archery on the internet or from a personal trainer. A good way to train your back muscles is to exercise on a rowing machine. When you pull back to row, start the motion by squeezing your shoulder blades together first then continue the rowing motion. When extending your arms, let them straighten out first while holding your shoulder blades tight, and then let both wing out, which rounds out your upper back.
Using your back isn’t just for proper archery form. It also helps avoid injuries that could end your archery career. Be patient. Engaging the back takes time to learn, and then adapt it to your body and shooting style. Be persistent. If you practice a lot, you’ll make back tension a natural part of your shot routine.