Learning to use the lower back muscles utilizing the Biomechanically Efficient Shooting Technique.

"One Archer's Approach"

By Thomas Tenerowicz, NAA Level II Instructor

I would like to preface this article with the following:
"Reading is an excellent way to begin to learn about any subject. However you need to seek out a certified coach to help you correctly learn the B.E.S.T. method. It is the coach that will understand the students' development. Where they are in the process and what is needed to get the desired result. It is the coach that understands the many ways to get a point across to the student. It is the responsibility of the coach to assure that the technique is taught is a safe manor that reduces the possibility of injury."

Please understand that I am in no way, shape or form an expert in the B.E.S.T. method. My goal is to convey one archer's travails within the B.E.S.T. method, to relate the benefits I gained by adopting this new method and how I have approached the learning process.. There are many parts to the B.E.S.T. method so for this article I choose to focus on developing the use of the lower back muscles because of the issues I have due to a previous shoulder injury.


When reading on the web about the "Korean Method", "Australian Method" or the "B.E.S.T." system whatever you may call it, I was intrigued by the idea of being able to shoot without any pain. I suffer from a rotor cuff tear in my draw shoulder. An old softball injury that did not plague me when shooting a compound. However when transitioning to a recurve (I love shooting with my fingers) I was faced with having to shoot a limited amount of arrows, perhaps 60 maximum followed by a couple days of shoulder soreness and downtime. So to me, the idea of not using your shoulders and upper back muscles to draw a bow seemed too good to be true.

Teaching myself:

As my interest increased I did what most archers will do: I bought the bible on this new method; "Total Archery" by Kisik Lee and Robert DeBondt. I eagerly read the book and tried to apply what I thought I'd read. Draw the bow and then initially take 1-3 seconds to load the back. Sounds simple enough. Using a lighter 28# pound limb I drew the bow as I'd been taught in the past years and when I got to my anchor I tried to get my lower back muscles to work.
NOPE, NADA, NO WAY. At full draw regardless how light of a draw-weight I used down to about 20# on my fingers, I could not get my lower back muscles to fire and transfer the load. I went back to read the bible again and see what I had missed. Obviously I had misread or misinterpreted something. Four, five and six time I would read the bible, retry this new draw method ending up without success. Not failing but finding ways that did not work. Then in a phone conversation with an instructor who would end up being my NAA Level II Course instructor I learned that everything you needed to know is not itemized in the bible. There were components not clearly in the book that would be covered during my NAA Level II certification course that would clear it up.

Being Taught:

Attending an NAA Level II certification course, I was taught what I needed to learn in order to teach myself the technique. The excellent training was given by two coaches, one a NAA Level IV and the other a NAA Level III. coach.
There are a few keys to using the lower back muscles to draw the bow. It is these lower back muscles that you need to use to transfer the bow poundage load.
The first key I was taught is "the shoulders." It is imperative that both shoulders be kept "low" before, during/after the draw and during the transfer of the bow load onto to lower back muscles. I accomplish this by shrugging my shoulders. I shrug my shoulders during the "pre-draw" part of the shot sequence. What this means is that I raise and deliberately lower the shoulder when I am at the pre-draw position.
The second key is what I was taught as "folding the wing." This is the movement of the draw arm shoulder, repositioning of the draw-arm scapula, firing the lower back muscles and lats. In my eyes this is what is referred to in the bible as "transferring the load".
The third key is "rotation of the torso towards the target." This allows for the correct PRE-DRAW set-up without having to raise your shoulders.
The final key for me was watching other archers on video who use this technique. What I learned was that initially while learning the technique I could not try and emulate their movements. They have been working on the technique for months or years. They have the required muscle memory to perform the technique correctly as outlined in the bible. Myself, not having the muscle memory, I needed to learn how to "get started".

Getting Started:

***** As I understand the B.E.S.T. system as it relates to using your back muscles, it is completely differed than what I was originally taught 30 years ago.
I was originally taught to use my shoulder muscles and my upper back muscles to draw the bow and then create "back tension". You draw the bow back to an anchor point on your face or jaw. In this old method the anchor point on the jaw determined your draw length. In 30 years using this technique I was never able to feel my back muscles working.
The B.E.S.T system teaches that your draw length is not a function of where you place your hand on your face. Your draw length is a function of the movement of your draw-shoulder scapula. Once the draw-shoulder scapula is fully repositioned during the "folding of the wing", you have reached your draw length. At this draw length you then need to find what is referred to as touch points to assure that you have a consistent rear aim. Using the B.E.S.T. method I feel my back in every shot. If I do not feel my back, I have done something wrong. Usually, it relates to my shoulders being too high. ******

Getting started required that I understood the shot sequence. That being ;

The STANCE, the foundation and the roots of the shot

The NOCKING, affixing the arrow onto the bowstring

The SET, positioning the bow hand correctly on the riser, positioning the draw hand fingers correctly on the bowstring. Adding a bit of tension on the bowstring. Making sure that the bow arm is oriented correctly.

The PRE-DRAW, raising of the bow arm and the draw arm, rotation of the upper body torso towards the target in preparation for the draw. Assuring that the shoulders are kept low.

The DRAW, the reverse rotation of the upper body torso straightening out the alignment between the bow arm and the bow shoulder.

The TRANSFER, the movement of the draw arm shoulder scapula, by activating the lower back muscles.

The HOLDING, raising of the draw-arm and the draw-arm hand in order to position the string at the archers touch points.

In order to understand how to use the lower back muscles I also needed to understand how each piece of the shot sequence was setting me up to use the correct muscles.
To begin, if you do not keep your shoulders low, you will activate the wrong back muscles. If the shoulders are up at all you will activate the upper back muscles. Once you activate the upper back muscles you cannot activate the lower back muscles.
I needed to learn how to keep my shoulders low during the PRE-DRAW, DRAW and the TRANSFER parts of the shot sequence. Here is how I did this.

Using a 6-foot piece of rope I would hold both ends of the rope in my bow-arm hand. I then could regulate the length of the loop of rope that was formed until I could get the rope loop to I thought would be my correct draw-length. I could then pull on the rope as it were a bowstring and try and activate the lower back muscles to move the draw-shoulder and scapula into the correct position. I was unsuccessful.
What was I doing wrong? What I found was that I was not keeping my shoulders low. Trying to draw the rope with my bow hand up above my bow shoulder as detailed in the bible, I could not keep my shoulders low. Lack of muscle memory was allowing my shoulder to rise up.

Remember when I wrote that I found I could not emulate those archers on video who were doing the technique! This is when I found this out. So what to do? I found that if I lowered my shoulders in the PRE-DRAW and kept my bow-arm and my draw-arm low, below the level of my shoulders and then drew the rope across my chest, I could activate the lower back muscles. I ended up drawing the rope to a position app. 8 to 10 inches below my chin. I could then raise my bow-arm, my draw-arm and my draw-arm hand all in one unit to get to my holding points. I really needed to FOCUS on the lower back muscles keeping them fired while I raised my bow-arm, draw-arm and draw-arm hand.

As I worked with the rope in this manner I began to learn enough muscle memory keeping my shoulders down while drawing the rope so that I was able to start the draw sequence of the shot higher and higher in relation to my shoulders. Until I was able to hold my bow-arm at the correct height as needed in the pre-draw and then draw the rope rearward on a slight downward angle so that when I had folded my wing, my draw-arm hand was positioned approximately 2 inches below my jawbone. At this point in the shot sequence I then raised the draw-arm hand and the draw-arm up in one motion to get to my holding points.

Being able to perform the motions as required, I switched to a bow. I attempted to draw my bow. NOPE, NADA, IT WAS NOT HAPPENING. I used a lighter bow of 20#. NOPE, NADA, IT WAS NOT HAPPENING. What was wrong? What I found was that although I could perform the motion, I had no strength in these lower back muscles to carry any load. How was I going to develop these muscles? I knew I needed to use as light a weight as possible. I went back to my rope. By holding the rope in my draw-arm hand so that a loop of rope approximately 16 inches long was left hanging adjacent to my thumb, I could loop this rope around the bow string of the 20# bow and place my draw-arm fingers through the loop. This effectively shortened the draw length by about eight inches and the draw-weight down to approximately 15 pounds. At 15 # I was then able to draw the bow using this technique and was able to fire the lower back muscles. Repeating the motion a number of times each day I was able to gradually shorten the rope, adding draw-length and draw-weight. Over the course of a couple of weeks I drew the bow for 20 repetitions two to three times daily. This strengthened the lower back muscles gaining muscle memory until I was able to draw the 20# bow with my fingers on the bowstring.

I then switch to drawing my tournament bow with the shortened draw-length continuing to gain strength. It took me 14 weeks to get to the point where I could draw my tournament bow with my fingers on the bowstring using my lower back muscles.

Subtle Points:

Two subtle points of the "SET, PRE-DRAW, DRAW and TRANSFER" sequence of the shot are the rotation of the body, specifically the rotation of the torso during the PRE-DRAW and the reverse rotation of the torso during the DRAW.
When performing the "SET" you will add pressure on the string. This effectively will increase the distance between the string and the riser to about twelve inches. In order to keep your shoulders low during the PRE-DRAW and keep the distance between the riser and the string the same as it is in the "SET", you need to turn the torso of your body towards the target. If you do not rotate your torso, you will do one of the following:
1) Raise your draw-arm shoulder in order to reach the bowstring resulting in activating the upper back muscles.
2) Increase the distance between the bowstring and the riser effectively not doing the pre-draw and moving right into the draw. Most times this will also activate the upper back muscles.

You can go back to the rope to help learn the correct PRE-DRAW. Hold the ends of the rope in your bow-arm hand with a loop of about 12-16 inches that you can hold in your draw-arm hand. Holding the rope you then raise your arms up in the PRE-DRAW position.

Final Points:

I look at the shot sequence of the PRE-DRAW, DRAW and the TRANSFER in the following manner. This is how I personally break down the sequence of events.
The PRE-DRAW maintains the distance between the bowstring and the riser as determined during the SET. The PRE-DRAW is attained by raising the bow-arm and draw-arm into position. To keep the shoulders low as you raise your arms, you have to rotate your torso towards the target. This forward rotation creates a "V" between the bow-arm and the torso.
The DRAW is the reverse rotation of the torso so that the "V" between the torso and the bow-arm is eliminated.. As I learned this sequence my draw-arm did not move. The DRAW is completed when the relationship between the bow-arm and the torso is straightened. This effectively positions the bowstring approximately 4-6 inches in front of the archers face.
The TRANSFER is the activation of the lower back muscles, repositioning the draw shoulder scapula out, down and towards the spine. Once the load of the bow poundage is transferred to the lower back muscles you can raise the draw-arm and the draw-arm hand into the hold position. You continue to focus on these lower back muscles during the AIM/RELEASE & FOLLOW-THROUGH of the shot sequence. The position of the draw elbow is also very important. Keeping the draw elbow even or just slightly above the arrow line helps you feel the lower back muscles at work. I found that for me, raising the draw elbow to high eliminated me being able to feel the lower back muscles working. Feeling these muscles work is imperative.
As you develop the correct muscle memory, the DRAW and TRANSFER will eventually become one continuous motion. At this point you will find that you can raise the bow in the PRE-DRAW, DRAW the bow, TRANSFER the load and come to your touch points in a similar manner as can be seen watching videos of the worlds top archers. You've arrived at a new plateau in your shooting experience. CONGRATULATIONS!!

I hope this article sheds some light into my journey into the B.E.S.T system. Remember to seek out a certified NAA coach that has been through specific training in the B.E.S.T method. I have and could not have traveled as far as I currently have without their assistance.

Many thanks to the NAA LEVEL IV & LEVEL III coaches that taught my certification course.