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POUND FOR POUND: Preferences In Bowling Ball Weight Are Shifting…Again

By Bryan O’Keefe

Because it is not an exact science, ball weight has long been an interesting topic of discussion in bowling. And as bowling balls have changed over the years, so has the perception of weight preferences. Before the proliferation of reactive balls, most bowlers simply used the heaviest ball they could throw. The heavier the ball the more hitting power and driving power, and the more pin action. The lighter the ball, the more concern bowlers had about deflection.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that in the ’80s and ’90s, bowling ball companies were said to be producing three 16-pound balls for every one 15-pound ball. That all changed in the past decade with technical advances in bowling ball construction. Balls today are so powerful that the need to maximize ball weight for carry isn’t as critical. The combination of ball speed, ball weight and your ability to get the ball into its roll before it hits the pins is what maximizes your carry percentage.

The general shift down to 15-pound balls over the past 10 years had almost reversed the production levels of 15 and 16-pound balls. And it makes sense. Using a ball that’s one pound lighter eases a significant amount of strain on a bowler’s body over the course of a 30-week league session, a tournament or, in the case of the pro bowlers, a tour season. The slight drop in weight also allows the bowler to throw the ball harder, and that extra speed coupled with the advanced driving capabilities of today’s balls more than outweighs the benefits of throwing a heavier ball at a slower speed.

Recently there has been some movement with elite bowlers moving back to 16-pound balls. There are several reasons this could be happening. For some bowlers a heavier ball will actually smooth out their swing. The added weight helps them keep the swing flatter on the downswing and at the release point. Some bowlers who go down in weight discover their swing gets a little steeper, or perhaps affects their timing. Going back to a heavier ball will slow things down. Additionally, bowlers will go down in weight as a way of protecting hand or wrist problems. Today, however, pro shops know so much more about properly fitting the ball to your hand that nagging wrist and hand injuries are fewer and farther between.

What does all this mean for you? Generally speaking, these are simply factors to consider when going up or down in ball weight. Every bowler is different, but weight determination is based mostly on strength and pain.

Of course, there are several ways to determine whether you should consider a change. Clearly, whatever weight you are currently using is what you’re most comfortable with and accustomed to. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is the ideal weight for you.

A coach or teammate watching you throw should easily be able to determine if the bowler is dictating where the ball is going, or if the ball is dictating where the bowler is going. If the bowler is dictating where the ball is going, the ball may be too light. Conversely, if the ball is too heavy, it will dictate where the bowler’s body is going. If you’re not really strong enough to maintain a smooth, even swing you will tend to push the ball away. Your posture will also be out of whack, and your body will look like it is chasing the ball.

Ideally, you want to have a good mix between the ball swinging you and you swinging the ball. You don’t want the ball taking your body into a different direction, but you don’t want to be manhandling the ball either. Either extreme will make it more difficult to hit your target with any consistency. The ball should swing naturally.

— Bryan O’Keefe is Team USA Assistant Coach and Facility Manager at the International Training and Research Center.

Permission granted by USBC/Luby Publishing