Bowling for Health and Performance

There is an overlap between games and sports. Generally, sports require some sort of physical effort of specialized skill while games are more organized affairs with rules. The word game has several meanings. You can, for example, play a game of sports, but you can't sport a game. A good example would be if you think of the Olympics. The Olympics are referred to as the Olympic Games yet the game is a competition to collect as many medals as possible by partaking in specific sports. Whether you are a fulltime professional or a weekly leaguer, there’s no refuting that bowling deserves its place on the pillar amongst other sports. A physiological analysis confirms bowling requires strength, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility to perform in the upper echelons of the competitive scene. Long gone are the days of calling bowling a “pastime.” Cutting-edge knowledge and techniques are being applied to the training protocols of top professionals and Team USA members. Being cognizant of your personal fitness levels can only help propel you to the top of your game as well.

Physical activity alone promotes muscle toning and strengthening, weight loss, stress relief, and reduced risk of disease. Depending on your weight, you can burn 200-600 calories per hour of bowling. Not only does bowling favor the aforementioned benefits, it can improve your social life, increase hand-eye coordination, and can be enjoyed at any age. Unlike most sports, the health gains far outweigh the risks for injury. Incorporating strength training, cardio, and stretching into your daily routine will not only make you a better bowler, it will improve your overall quality of life.

It’s been noted that Alzheimer’s patients can benefit from bowling because it improves balance and preserves motor skills. Also, repetitive movements like that of bowling may decrease anxiety because patients don’t have to make decisions about the activity.

Warm-ups and flexibility have been traditionally linked, but it is important to differentiate between them as they have different key functions. Warm-up is designed to prepare an athlete for training or competition and can improve subsequent performance and lessen the risk of injury. A well-designed warm-up can increase muscle temperature, core temperature, and blood flow and also disrupt transient connective tissue bonds. These effects can have the following positive impacts on performance:

  • Faster muscle contraction and relaxation of both agonist and antagonist muscles
  • Improvements in the rate of force development and reaction time
  • Improvements in muscle strength and power
  • Lowered viscous resistance in muscles
  • Increased blood flow to active muscles
  • Enhanced metabolic reactions

The degree of movement that occurs at a joint is called the range of motion (ROM). The ROM of a particular joint is determined by a number of factors including connective tissue structure, activity level, age, and gender. Range of motion is specific to each joint’s anatomy and the movements required at that joint. Flexibility is a measure of ROM and has static and dynamic components. Static flexibility is the range of possible movement about a joint and its surrounding muscles during a passive movement. Static flexibility requires no voluntary muscle activity; an external force such as gravity, a partner, or a machine provides the force for a stretch. Dynamic flexibility refers to the available ROM during active movements and therefore requires voluntary muscular actions. Stretching should be performed following practice and competition. Post practice stretching facilitates ROM improvements because of increased muscle temperature. It should be performed 5 to 10 minutes after practice. The increased body temperature increases the elastic properties of collagen within muscles and tendons, which allows for a greater stretch magnitude. Post-practice stretching may also decrease muscle soreness. If increased levels of flexibility are required, additional stretching sessions may be needed. In this case, stretching should be preceded by a thorough warm-up to allow for the increase in muscle temperature necessary for effective stretching. This type of stretching can be especially useful as a recovery session on the day after a tournament or league play.

Bowling is primarily considered an anaerobic sport, or one that does not place a demand on the cardiovascular system such as running or swimming. It focuses on short bursts of anaerobic power that stress the musculoskeletal system instead of the circulatory and pulmonary systems. During activity, the degree to which aerobic and anaerobic systems contribute to the energy being produced is determined primarily by the intensity and secondarily by the duration. Because a bowling session can last a few hours over the course of several days in most tournaments, training the cardiovascular system is equally as important as training for strength and power.

Because bowling is predominantly an anaerobic activity where you don't get sweaty and winded, it may not look, or even feel, like you're exercising.

Bowling competitively requires a certain amount of physical prowess from head to toe. Strength training the upper body, core, and lower body is more important now than ever before. Exercises for your upper body you can do at home like push-ups, bicep curls, and dumbbell rows can go a long way for your game. Grip strength is a commonly forgotten area of great importance. Even squeezing a racquetball at your office desk as little as 10 minutes a day can help make that 15lb ball feel several pounds lighter over time. Lunges, squats, and calf raises are excellent strength building exercises for your lower body, but developing your stabilizer muscles via balance and isometric exercises can be a game changer.

Prime movers work more efficiently with strong stabilizer, or fixator, muscles. Stabilizers contract, primarily isometrically, to immobilize a limb so that another part of the body can act. For example, the hip flexors are immobilized during knee flexion, and the abdominal muscles serve as stabilizers when the arms rolls a ball. In bowling, when the core muscles act as stabilizers the trunk transmits leg power to the arms, which translates to ball speed. A weak stabilizer inhibits the contraction capacity of the prime movers. Improperly developed stabilizers may hamper the activity of major muscles. The arms and legs are only as strong as the trunk. A poorly developed core is a weak support for hard-working limbs. Strength training programs should first strengthen the core muscle before focusing on the arms and legs.

Knowing Your Roll

Why It's Important

There are many variables that can affect the way your ball rolls. Some are related to the way you release it and your unique delivery. Other variables can be credited to that evil lane man and how he conditions the lane. Then there are factors that are above and beyond anyone’s control, and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot change them. We are going to discuss the subtle distinctions in how you roll the ball that play a bigger role than you might think. Understanding these characteristics will help you in choosing your next ball and, furthermore, help your pro shop operator decide a layout for your brand new toy.

Did you know that your ball actually decelerates as it travels down the lane?

The chemical composition in conjunction with the surface preparation of the coverstock matters greatly. A solid coverstock with a low grit surface texture will lose speed at a higher rate than a polished, pearlized coverstock. Friction reduces ball speed, so this actuality is highly linear with that of wood lanes or lanes that have not been oiled in a long time. In the published Ball Motion Study conducted by the United States Bowling Congress, the ideal bowling ball speed is about 17 miles per hour measured at impact with the pins and about 20-21 miles per hour when the ball is released onto the lanes. Bowlers with high ball speeds and without the revs to match can be considered “speed dominant.” They will typically favor more aggressive surfaces and layouts to help their ball pick up sooner on the lane. “Rev dominant” players with slower ball speeds typically like less aggressive balls, layouts, and surfaces to help prevent their ball from overreacting.


What is rev rate?

Rev rate is a calculation of the amount of revolutions a bowler imparts on a ball. The common unit used is revolutions per minute, or RPM. Over the years, bowlers have generalized the RPM gamut into three categories: stroker, tweener, and cranker. Understanding your rev rate (and its relationship with your speed, axis tilt/rotation) is important because it helps to categorize your specific needs as a bowler. Knowing what type of ball to buy, what techniques need to be applied, or the type of wrist device needed all depend heavily on your rev rate.


What is axis tilt?

Axis tilt is the vertical angle at which the ball rotates. Commonly known as spin, axis tilt is determined by the position of the thumb during the release. If the hand turns too early, the thumb exits on top of the ball. Bowlers with a high degree of axis tilt will be able to see the top of their hand during the release and follow through. The resultant path of a ball with a higher degree of axis tilt is extended and the amount of backend potential is reduced. Oily lanes become quite difficult when the core is rotating in a vertical fashion, but is actually favored on drier lanes. Being able to have the thumb exit at the bottom of the forward swing minimizes axis tilt. The lower the axis tilts, the sooner the ball will enter its roll phase before making impact with the pins.

Axis rotation is the horizontal measure of the angle of the ball's revolutions, and much like axis tilt, it is also determined by the bowler’s release. Axis rotation is commonly known today as side roll. When the ball has no axis rotation, the fingers exited directly underneath the ball at the 6 o’clock position. End-over-end roll (0° of axis rotation) removes all hook potential from the ball regardless of the amount of revolutions, speed, or lane conditions. High amounts of axis rotation (90° of rotation) will cause the ball to skid further, but unlike axis tilt, will cause an intense hook angle at the breakpoint.

Players with high amounts of axis rotation will favor drier lanes, and lower amounts of axis rotation usually like more oil. Higher amounts of friction will cause the ball to lose axis rotation at higher rates. Initial axis rotation, ball speed, axis tilt, and lane friction all dictate when side revolutions become end-over-end revolutions. Generally speaking, balls skid, then hook, then roll. Less rotation will shorten the skid phase and get the ball into the hook phase earlier, while maximum rotation will extend the skid phase of the ball and increase its hook potential down lane. Manipulating your axis rotation is a valuable tool because it will change the ball’s reaction while still allowing you to stay in the same part of the lane and use the same break point. Ideally, you would like to limit lateral moves on the lane because it forces you to make multiple adjust­ments. And often, particularly on challenging conditions, the zone you’re going to have to play and the break point are pretty defined.

Through practice, you can alter or enhance your ball speed, rev rate, axis tilt, and axis rotation.  The best bowlers in the world have the ability to manipulate any and/or all of these at a moment’s notice. Technology of the sport today only enhances the subtleties of your game. Rubber balls and wooden surfaces did not place an emphasis on shot making versatility.  Ball technology and oil patterns of the modern era force quick-changing conditions and different parts of the lane to be utilized that were not in play thirty years ago. Knowing your roll is more important now than ever before.