| Back tension is a very simple concept in archery. Unfortunately, many who try to teach it have difficulty articulating what the student needs to hear to achieve it.
Back Tension is a result of proper form and relaxation: It is not the cause. Contrary to most teaching methods, back tension comes about with proper form and lack of pull arm tension automatically because there is no other way to support the bow weight. Back tension should not be taught without also teaching the relaxation of the pull arm. Relaxation of the pull arm is the key! When that is achieved, back tension must result. When it does, and it is understood, then you can teach an archer to use it to control their shot. The feeling is unmistakable.
Why is Back Tension so Important?
Back tension controls the movement of the relaxed arm to make progress through the clicker. The more relaxed we can get the pull arm, the more consistent shooting will become. The idea behind proper form is to remove all unnecessary muscle tension in the body during a shot. This enables the archer to more easily duplicate the form. The human body cannot tense the same over and over, however, it can always relax the same. When tension is removed from the pull arm, it becomes much easier to reproduce a good shot delivery. The less the tension, the more consistent. In a sense, the fingers become more like a mechanical release the more the arm is relaxed. There is less to get in the way of a good shot.
We must remember that an archer can be using good back tension but also have arm tension at the same time. When that is the case, the back tension cannot do a proper job controlling the shot.
Coaches can spot whether an archer is using back tension properly by using two indicators.
What does the pull arm look like? A relaxed pull arm has very recognizable look to it. The natural tendency of the human hand when held at the side of the face as archers do is to face the opposite way than we force it to when we shoot. That is why most release shooters shoot with the hand facing the opposite way as finger shooters. When there is no tension in the arm at full draw, you can see the hand and wrist want to twist behind the fingers. The twist can be seen in the line made by the four base knuckles. That line actually turns into the face at the top and a little outward at the bottom (which also provides for a much more solid anchor from the point of string contact all the way back). The best way to get a feel for this look is to look at archers who shoot with relaxed pull arms: Justin Huish, Butch Johnson, Allen Rasor, etc. versus those who do not.
Recoil. The best way to tell whether an archer is using back tension properly is to look at their follow through. There is an extremely common occurrence in most archers in the world that I call "Cosmetic Follow Through." This is an effort by the archer to look correct on their follow through even though they may not have a true "Recoil." Follow through, when a result of proper relaxation and back tension, is actually a recoil resulting from the release of the stored energy held at full draw. When back tension is used without arm tension, there is nothing to get in the way of that recoil. Once the string is released, there is no tension to keep the hand and arm from breaking away from where it was being held. Mechanical release shooters experience this true recoil regularly. They are a good source to look at when trying to learn what true recoil or follow through looks like..