Bowling Approaches

You could be fooled into thinking that there’s a single evergreen approach to bowling. 

You could be thinking you either have it locked down or you don’t, and that there’s a perfect sweet spot that will get you optimal results nine times out of ten, attainable with the right foot placement, posture, stance, and grip. 

The reality is that while there are certainly wrong ways of planning your attack, there’s no sole method that will guarantee you the same outcome every time. 

One of the most vital components of your game is something rookies and casual players will seldom take into account: the approach. Your approach specifically refers to the steps you make before reaching the foul line along with your backward swing before throwing.

There are a few ways to do this, involving fewer or more steps and longer or shallower swinging motions.

The most common of these are either made up of four or five steps, aptly referred to as the 4-step and 5-step approaches.

Bowlers of all skill levels have success with either approach. The key thing to consider is the unique benefits of each strategy and how they can either advantage or inhibit your performance.

The 4-Step Approach

The 4-step approach is, as you would expect, a sequence of movements composed of four steps leading up to the shot. 

The first thing to ensure when using this approach is that your first step is taken with the same foot as your bowling hand, i.e. if you’re right-handed, you’ll put your right foot forward first and if you’re left-handed, you’ll begin your approach with your left foot.

This way, you’ll finish your steps with the opposite foot forward to that of your bowling hand. If you start with your right, you’ll finish with your left and vice versa.

Correct Stance

To begin the approach, stand with your feet approximately one board apart. This will help you keep a steady balance ahead of your descent towards the alley. 

You’ll also want whichever foot you’re putting forward first positioned around one or two inches ahead of your rear foot.

Ensure you’re putting just over half of your body weight onto the foot you won’t be putting forward first. Doing this gives you a better chance at beginning your approach as smoothly as possible and shifting into your following steps at a good pace.

Getting Started

The steps that follow should be more or less your usual walking pace. Many new bowlers often feel inclined to pick up a bit of a jog in their attack and increase bowling ball speed, but this isn’t beneficial if you want to get the best chance at making the transition to the lane as smooth as possible.

Make sure you keep to a steady pace to avoid too much bounce which can impact the accuracy of your bowl. Your speed has to be consistent with as little variant in speed as you can manage. 

That said, finding a pace that’s comfortable and that works for you will be the product of trial and error but what feels most comfortable will be ultimately what generates the results you’re striving for.

Also, keep your head as still as possible. This can be difficult when in motion but if you’re keeping your pace at a constant, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble. 


During these steps, you should build up ample momentum to move into the slide step. Hopefully, the steady and continuous pace you’d been working at will allow you to gently slide into this final position ready to send the ball.

It’s important to slide into this final step with as much fluidity as possible. 

Otherwise, you’ll be liable to jolt or pick up too much friction from the floor. This can throw you way off target or worse, cause you a nasty injury.

These steps are all named according to the role they play in the process: the pushaway, downswing, backswing, and slide.

Now, we’ve talked a lot about footing, but your upper body will be doing around 50% of the work here. Let’s take look at each step with a little more detail to see exactly how:

1. The Pushaway

The pushaway is an iconic and instantly recognizable motion—often imitated, less often properly replicated.

Begin with your arms stretched forward with the ball pointing toward the lane. Your feet should be positioned in the opposite order to how you intend to finish. 

Make your first step.

2. The Downswing

As you bring your foot forward for your second step, bring the ball down towards your leg. This motion is known as the downswing.

3. The Backswing

Taking your third step, the ball should be going upwards as it swings behind your back with your arm extended.

4. Slide & Release

As you slide your foot into your final step, let your arm swing back forward as you release the ball just before the foul line. By the time your front foot makes ground contact, the ball should already be swinging past your leg.

Where does the 5th step come in?

As earlier noted, some bowlers like to introduce a fifth step into their approach. 

This will be way back at the start of the sequence. It acts as a trigger into the motion and is usually performed at a nominally slower pace to ease bowlers in.

While by no means essential, some players prefer the inclusion of this extra step as it allows them to begin their swing as they are in motion rather than before. Moving the ball and stepping at the same time rather than staggering movements can be easier for some players, thus the incorporation of the extra step.

Final Thoughts

Deciding which approach works for you will take a little bit of time, experimentation, and lots of trial and error. However, it ultimately depends on when feels the most comfortable for you to begin your swing and whether or not you prefer to be in motion when doing so.