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Bowling News USA - March 3, 2014 Fitness For Bowling Blog with Heather D’Errico-CSCS, CPT, Fitness Specialist

Does Physical Training Affect the Biomechanics of Bowling?

As I begin a series of “Fitness for Bowling” blogs….I know the bowling world seems to be quite divided on this topic. Many elite bowlers out there have already become fitness gurus as they have had positive outcomes from changing their lifestyles. Others are still stuck on the idea that bowling does not require additional exercise or training off the lanes and the greasy bowling alley food is just a part of the game. So let me explain some reasoning behind my advice now to get us on the same page. Bowling is a sport that anyone can do, regardless of fitness level, and it is quite amazing how so many styles of bowling can achieve success as understanding ball motion, lane play, and a tough mental game are vital components to being a successful bowler.  So why would physical training for bowling really be important?

Bowling may not be a physically strenuous activity like other sports that involve running and jumping BUT bowling balls do weigh more than any other ball used in other sports, if you think about it. If you think that doesn’t take a toll on your body- THINK AGAIN! How many bowlers do you know with complaints of knee, hip, and/or back pain? I can almost guarantee everyone knows someone in their league complaining of aches and pains and they usually blame it on “getting old”. But I’m going to suggest otherwise. Bowlers are constantly resisting tension from the bowling ball on one side of the body, and then placing tension on the opposite leg which creates muscle imbalances in the body leading to those aches and pains that unlike common injuries in other sports, are more of chronic overuse injuries and can affect you long term. 

Not only can training prevent long term injuries but it can help improve overall performance too! A stronger and more powerful body can lead to a greater awareness of body movements and improve stability and consistency throughout the bowling approach. Coming from someone who used to have a ball speed of about 11mph prior to my quest of being a fitness buff, it can also help to alter ball speeds (in either direction depending on the type of training, I can save that topic for another day). Anyways, for those skeptics who like research and facts to prove points my first article is just for you. For those who have already bought into the idea that fitness for bowling can be beneficial you may not care to read into the technicality of this article and may just want to stay tuned for the next topic. Either way you choose here is a bit on the Biomechanics of Bowling.

Biomechanics or the study of forces acting on the human body, and kinematics which is the study of movements, are both important considerations and heavily researched in any sport. However, there are very few studies on the kinematics and biomechanics in the sport of bowling and how physical training can alter those biomechanical factors. This was one area of interest I had while obtaining my Master’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of Central Missouri. During the course of my last year in school I conducted a study on the X-Factor in bowling while implementing a training program for the Women’s bowling team. The X-Factor in biomechanics is simply put the separation between the hips and the shoulders (Joyce, Burnett, Ball, 2010). The X-Factor has recently become an area of research in biomechanics because of the implications it may have on sports involving throwing and rotating. 

Most of the studies on the X-Factor have been done on golf. A study by Yungchien et al. examined biomechanical variables and the effects on performance during the golf swing on 308 golfers. Their data showed significant correlation from the X-factor and ball velocity. When there was an increased separation from the upper torso with the pelvis, more power was generated from the swing (Yungchien et al.). Lephart et al. 2007 took X-factor kinematics a step further and created a physical training program to improve the X-factor in golf.  Training to help improve the X-factor includes strengthening the hip adductors, hip external rotators, hip extensors, and trunk extensors as well as the abdominal muscles (Bechler et al. 1995). 

When looking for research on the X-factor in bowling, all the results are geared towards cricket bowlers.  Biomechanics in bowling has certainly been examined in other ways and the importance of the lower body during the approach has been stressed by coaches everywhere. Brian O’Keefe is the assistant coach at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas and he has said “the best way to increase or decrease ball speed is by using your legs, not your upper body” (O’Keefe, Joe Slowinski has broken down the biomechanical elements pertinent in a bowler’s approach including the lateral flexion of the trunk which “helps create space for the swing slot as well as enhancing torso rotation” (Slowinski, 2011).  

My professor and I put together a study to examine the X-Factor in bowling and also to assess the effects of a training program over the course of a semester. To conduct the study four video cameras were used to obtain four different angles from 9 NCAA women bowlers. We used Vicon Motus 3D imaging to look at the X-factor from the top of the backswing through the release and follow through. From October until December I also implemented a training intervention that focused on the lower body and core.  The 3D imaging was conducted again after the 3 months of training and comparisons between the X-factor and ball speed were examined.

After months of digitizing the data and recording all the data points in the biomechanics lab which I refer to as the dungeon (this was a painfully slow and tedious process), I was able to run some statistics. The data recorded included the 3D angles and angular velocities of the shoulders and hips during the backswing, release, and follow through. T-tests were conducted to determine if the post training angles and velocities were significantly different from the pre-test data. The results showed a significant difference between the 3D angles of the hips at release, as well as the angular velocities of the shoulders. At the follow through the 3D angles of the hips were significantly different. For each shot the bowlers took, their speed was recorded and the pre and post ball speeds also had a significant difference with the average being lower. This can be debatable, however, because it is difficult to say how accurate the system was at detecting ball speed but we did make sure we used the same exact oil pattern on both days in attempt to keep as many variables consistent as possible. 

The results show that physical training for bowling will have an effect on the kinematics during the approach.  Often times bowling is overlooked as a sport that needs exercise to improve chances of success because bowlers of many different statures and sizes can be successful. However, it is a sport that requires using your core and lower body to stabilize the body in a solid position at the line, and hip strength to produce speed and force at the release. Paul Butcher discussed the importance of exercise for bowlers in his article “Does Physique Matter?” stating that although different body types may be successful “being overweight can impede and compromise the bowler’s range of motion, strength, balance, and endurance levels” thus causing issues in the long haul (Butcher, 2011). 

The X-factor study provided some insight as to what can be affected by physical training. After this study I gained more knowledge on strength and conditioning and became an NSCA certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and began my career at Next Level Strength and Conditioning. I have many theories on ways to train as a bowler that I plan on sharing in upcoming articles. It has always been frustrating to me that bowlers do not always get the respect for being an athlete. But the truth is often times we don’t deserve that respect because we aren’t taking care of our bodies the way other athletes do. If we truly want to excel in our sport and see the sport grow then we should be putting in time to improve on the lanes as well as off the lanes. I hope by sharing my knowledge with the bowling community more people will understand the importance of putting in some time to physically train as a bowler!


Butcher, P.  Does physique matter? Body type and the competitive player.  Bowling This Month. 2011; 18(9): 6-9

Cheetham, P., Martin, P., and Mottram, R. (1994).  The importance of stretching the “X-factor” in the downswing of golf: The “X-factor stretch”.  In P.R. Thomas (4th ed., Ed.)  Optimising performance in golf (pp. 192-199).  Brisbane (QLD): Australian Academic Press.

Slowinski, J. 2011.  Defining the game through biomechanics.  Bowling This Month, 57-62.

Joyce, C., Burnett, A., & Ball, K. (2010).  Methodological considerations for the 3D measurement of the X-factor and lower trunk movement in golf.  Sports Biomechanics 9(3): 206-221.

Myers, J., Lephart, S., Tsai, Y., Sell, T., Smoliga, J., & Jolly, J. (2008).  The role of upper body torso and pelvis rotation in driving performance during the golf swing.  Journal of Sports Science, 26, 181-188. 

Yungchien, C., Sell, T.C., & Lephart, S.M. (2010).  The relationship between biomechanical variables and driving performance during the golf swing.  Journal of Sport Sciences28(11): 1251-1259




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