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BACK TO BOWLING: Getting Back Into Shape For League Season

By Carolyn Dorin-Ballard

Bowlers are a lot like school kids. August means summer is coming to a close and September signals the start of classes… in the case of bowlers, the start of league season!

So, how are you going to get yourself prepared? Are you going to wait until the opening night of leagues, then pull your ball and shoes out of the closet and use the 15-minute warmup period to get your game right back to where it was when last season ended?

Don’t laugh. Plenty of bowlers take that approach. They’re also the ones who come to the center a few days later saying, “Oh, my shoulder is really sore,” and “Oh, my legs are so sore,” and “Oh, my hand hurts because my ball doesn’t fit.”

There are ways to avoid those pitfalls, and they don’t require five days a week at the gym or a month of practice. With a little physical preparation and a few short practice sessions you can get yourself back into bowling shape.

EXERCISE
The first step in your bowling rehab doesn’t require a bowling center, or even a bowling ball. There is a lot of muscle memory when it comes to sports, and when you are away from a sport for an extended period of time your muscles tend to forget what they were accustomed to doing. Bowling is about lower-body strength, not arm strength. Virtually all of your power in bowling comes from your legs. You get your leverage and stability from your legs, so getting them back into some semblance of bowling shape is important. Strengthening your legs also will enhance your stamina. Again, we’re not talking about hours in the gym doing leg presses. Something as simple as walking around the block four or five times after dinner will go a long way to increasing your leg strength and endurance. Work your way back into things slowly.

STRETCHING
What you don’t want to do is risk injury. That means don’t be tempted to walk onto the lanes opening night and hurl that 16-pound ball at warp speed on your first throw. Stretch your bowling muscles for 10 minutes a day in the weeks leading up to the start of leagues. Do shoulder stretches and wrist flexors, along with a few lunges and squats. Get your body motivated again.

Also, do a few dynamic stretches like jumping jacks and torso twists just prior to bowling. After you are finished bowling, do a few static stretches, like shoulder stretches and hand flexors, and you’ll be less likely to strain a muscle or tendon. Stretching will also cut down on the tightness and soreness you might feel after your first few practices and league blocks.

EQUIPMENT
A lot of factors impact how well your equipment fits and performs from year to year. Have you gained or lost weight? If you’re a youth bowler, have you grown since last season?

Our thumbs tend to swell in the summer and shrink in the colder months, so chances are your thumb size in September is not the same as it was when the season ended last December or March. You may need to have your thumb hole opened up a bit at the start of the season. In the winter months you may need to put some bowler’s tape in the thumb hole for a snugger fit.

BOWLING SHAPE: Ready to get back on the lanes?
Take it slow! Let’s face it, you haven’t picked up a bowling ball in eight weeks — or longer! You’ll need to pencil in a few practice sessions before the start of leagues. The minimum should be two practice sessions a week for two weeks before league starts up.

The first session should involve minimal exertion. Step onto the approach without the ball. Take your normal approach and slide. Do this several times to get the feel of the approach and the slide into the line.

Now, while you’re still standing back in the settee, pick up your bowling ball and swing it gently by your side. Use this exercise to get reacquainted with the motion, get a feel for the weight and to loosen your shoulder a little.

When you get back onto the lane don’t keep score. In fact, don’t even worry about knocking down pins. Your first shots should be nice and slow, simply rolling the ball off your hand. Make sure your swing is loose and you’ve got your feet underneath you.

Use this approach for the first session, only bowling one or two games. Don’t be surprised if you still feel a little sore and stiff a day or two later. Your bowling muscles have been on vacation too! You need to reacquaint them with your bowling motion. It’s going to take a few sessions for your wrist and hand to get back into shape. Again, stretching both before and after bowling will cut down on the pain and stiffness.

For the second session, try to get lined up on the house shot that you bowled the previous season. Fine-tune your game from there. How’s your timing? Technique? But be careful. Don’t overanalyze or try to change too much. Work on only one or two things. You’ve been away for a while, so just work on getting your rhythm back. Work on spares.

As the league season progresses, continue to practice and monitor your game. If you think you still need help, look up a certified USBC coach. Assessing your own game is difficult. Sometimes you think your technique is fine, but an outside view would determine otherwise. Similarly, sometimes you feel helpless but the answer is simple. That’s why it’s good to have someone else observe. The only way you learn is through feedback.

— Carolyn Dorin-Ballard is United States Bowling Congress Director of Coaching Certification & Development.

To read more articles from the August 2011 edition, flip through the provided electronic issue below!