Tag Archives: back tension

Back Tension from Different Anchor Positions

QandA logoI got an absolutely fascinating question about anchor points just yesterday. Here it is:

Hi, Coach Ruis:
I am working on my anchor point and back tension. I typically use a split finger/chin/nose anchor point for my Olympic bow and sight. I also recently acquired a Samick Sage recurve I use for roving/stump shooting. I have been trying to figure out string walking/point of arrow aim for my Samick for stumping.

I started to use a three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor to reduce the string walking crawl sizes relative to a split finger, under chin anchor. Using the corner of the mouth anchor and string walking, my crawls decreased ~75% in size. My precision using the corner of the mouth anchor has also improved noticeably over my under chin anchor (and the bow sounded much happier when loosing).

My question really is about back tension. When using the three-fingers-under/corner of the mouth anchor, all of a sudden I can easily feel the barrel of the gun through my upper back relative to the chin/nose anchor. My draw length increased a full inch using the corner of the mouth anchor, so I am guessing this is the cause of the new positive upper back sensation.

I am thinking that if I could get this sensation with my Olympic bow/chin/nose anchor, this would be a very good thing. How can I make this happen?

* * *

There are quite a few changes going on in both of these anchoring positions. One you do not mention is draw arm position. When using a “high” anchor, corner of the mouth or higher, your draw arm position is different. (Stand up, assume the position of your low, under chin, anchor and then switch to the high anchor position and note the different positions of your draw arm at full draw.) The whole purpose of the low anchor is to be able to shoot longer distances. Back when everyone “shot off of the point” the line of sight across the arrow point and the point of aim (POA) fixed the arrow point in space somewhat. To get more distance it was necessary to lower the back end of the arrow, hence the lower anchor position for longer shots. This draw arm position affects the use of muscles in your back.

Shooting long distances also results in upper body tilt, which changes eye angle and lots of other things that affect “feel.”

Another point you do not mention is head tilt. In order to get a workable low anchor, I must tilt my head up slightly. If I use the same head position as I have with my high anchor for my low anchor shooting, my string fingers, positioned under my jaw line are on a surface sloping down, so when the shot is loosed, the top finger slides along the jaw line … downward which creates resistance and drag. By tilting your chin up slightly the path the string follows as the string flicks them out of the way is cleared.

Such are the sources of different feelings (along with the ones you mention).

My impression is that the high anchor encourages involvement of the muscles somewhat higher in your back, which when bunched up due to contraction are easier to feel. The low anchor involves muscles lower in your back which I suspect are somewhat harder to feel. (When archery coaches talk about using muscles lower in your back, they are referring to muscles lower … in your upper back.) So, I suspect that the difference in “feel” is real and you basically do not want to have the same feeling of back tension in both because that would mean you were using the same muscles when your arm angle was different.

If shooting Barebow as you describe (which I love) is relatively new to you, then the sensations in your back are relatively new and hence more noticeable. With time they might fade to the same level of feeling as in your high anchor shooting. Also, in many shooting techniques, surrogates for back tension are employed. For example, many of the Koreans focus on the feeling of the position of their draw elbow instead of the feeling in their backs. To some extent this is because the feeling of tension in the back diminishes due to humdrum regularity.

Another possibility is that you might need to open your stance when shooting Olympic Recurve. If you are particularly flexible, you may not be engaging your back muscles enough to get a strong feeling. In Rick McKinney’s book, “The Simple Art of Winning,” he claims that having an open stance allowed him to “get into his back” better. I found this puzzling at first, until I found some pictures of Mr. McKinney (in his prime) with his open stance and his draw elbow 2-3 inches past line. If he had been using a square stance, his elbow would have been even farther past line which have had negative influences on his shots. Unfortunately, their success lead to the adoption of the open stance by almost everyone, but this is a source of problems. In McKinney’s and Pace’s cases the open stance reduced their ability to get in line, which lead to a stronger feeling of back tension, strong enough that they could use that feeling to tell whether they were in the correct full draw position. If you are not as flexible as they were, this would be a mistake as it would probably reduce the quality of your alignment (as it does for hundreds/thousands of archers, young and old, I observe).

The only way to tell whether this is in play for you is to experiment a bit. I like to use a 10# bow for this, but any light drawing bow will do. Start with a square stance and draw to anchor and see what your back feels like. With a 10# bow you can play a little, moving your draw arm and shoulder around and feeling the effects of those position changes. Then open your stance by 10 degrees and repeat. Then another 10 degrees, etc. McKinney shot with about an 80 degree open stance when he was shooting in stiff wind (the torsion in your trunk helps stabilize your stance), so you can go as far as you want with this experiment … or as far as you can. ;o) The key thing is if you get a better feeling in your back with one of those stances and you can maintain good line, then this is something you might want to incorporate into your shot. The key element, though, is maintaining or achieving good line. In the Chicago area, you can recognize almost any recurve archer who has worked with me as they probably shooting from a closed stance. (Orthodox sources on form and execution do not even mention closed stances any more.) A closed stance makes it easier for you to get in line and after my students learn to shoot with good line I encourage to explore any other stance they want, as long as they maintain good line.

Is this enough food for thought? If not, do note that high and low anchors do change draw lengths (and affect tunes thereby). For compound archers changing from “fingers” to “release” or the reverse also affects draw length.



Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

Expand: How and For How Long?

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,
I have discovered the secret to shooting small groups for me. All I have to do is ensure that I expand after full draw. I realized this a couple months ago, but I overdid it and tore my rotator cuff. How can I get the benefits of expansion without excessively straining my rotator cuff? Rather, how much expansion should I do and how do I know when I should stop expanding?

* * *

This student is a Barebow Recurve and archer and, for those of you on the compound side, the “expansion” is a euphemism for the compound term “back tension” which is a euphemism itself. I can remember a while back when, in compound circles, someone would use the term “back tension” and everyone would respond with “What’s that?” The idea of engaging the back muscles to draw the string of a bow has been around for at least 500 years, but our communication on these topics has been so poor, that generations of archers have had to learn this as if it were recently discovered. <sigh>

The “expansion” is really just the use of the back muscles to swing the rear shoulder around toward the spine so that the shoulder line ends up pointing at the bow. (These are the same muscles we use to eShoulder anatomy #1xpand our chests, hence the source of the term.) This shoulder alignment is required to make the now famous “archer’s triangle.” This flexing of the muscles in the middle of the upper back continues through the release with no let up. To make sure that it happens that way, most recurve archers continue that action all the way to the end of the shot (1-2 s past release). This, in no way, should involve the rotator cuff of your bow arm and only slightly affects the one in your draw/string arm. The purpose of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the upper arm bone’s position vis-à-vis the shoulder socket (which is part of the scapula). Only if these bones are poorly aligned do the rotator cuff muscles get invoked significantly.

At full draw, you should only have a small amount of movement in that direction left (see my former post on range of motion), so little should happen because of that (unless things are out of alignment in the first place). When the loose of the string occurs, though, the entire weight of the bow must be borne by the bow arm alone (prior to that it could be supporting as little as 50% of the weight of the bow) and if there is any misalignment there, a problem could develop.

Now, and of course, this doesn’t address the myriad things archers do post release. If this phase is done correctly, the shoulders squeeze a little closer together in your back and your draw hand moves back a couple of inches (finishing with the draw/string fingers under your ear). If your hand finishes in any other place, then you did something that was neither necessary nor effective. Paying attention to your body position post release is an essential skill for archers: you can decipher all kinds of things about how your body was aligned at full draw from where the bits and pieces ended up later.

PS How come I get all of these questions from recurve archers? Are there any compound archers out there? Steve

PPS I know that I just opened myself up to all kinds of snide comments about compound archers; please restrain yourself.

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A