You could be fooled into thinking that there’s a single evergreen bowling approach.
You may think 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 solid approach to the foul line 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 bowling approach specifically refers to your starting position, the steps you take before reaching the foul line, and 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 bowling approaches used by successful bowlers are made up of either four or five steps, aptly referred to as the four step approach and five step approach.
Bowlers of all skill levels have success with both bowling approaches. The key things to consider are the unique benefits of each strategy and how they can either aid or inhibit your performance.
The 4-Step Approach
The four step approach is, as you would expect, a sequence of movements composed of four steps leading up to releasing the ball.
The first thing to ensure when using this approach is that your first step is taken with the proper foot. This would be the same foot as your bowling hand.
So, right-handers will put their right foot forward first and lefties should begin their approach with their left foot.
This way, your last step will be taken with the foot opposite of your bowling hand. If you start with your right, you’ll finish with your left foot and vice versa.
To begin the four step delivery, stand with your bowling shoes approximately one board apart. This stance position will help you keep a good balance before your descent towards the lane.
You’ll also want whichever foot you’re putting forward first to be positioned one or two inches ahead of your rear foot.
For example, a right-handed bowler will want to place their right leg a few inches in front of their left. Alternatively, a left-handed bowler should place their left leg a few inches in front of their right.
Ensure you’re putting just over half of your body weight onto your rear foot. Doing this will help you have a smoother approach and follow through into your next steps at a good pace.
The steps that follow should be more or less your usual walking pace. Many who are new to the game often feel inclined to pick up a bit of a jog in their bowling approach to increase bowling ball speed, but this isn’t beneficial if you want to get the best chance at making the transition to the bowling lane as smooth as possible.
Make sure you maintain a steady pace from the first step all the way through to the fourth step to avoid too much bounce, which can impact the accuracy of your forward swing and throw. Your speed should be consistent with as little variation as you can manage.
That being said, finding a pace that’s comfortable and that works for you will be the product of trial and error. What feels the most comfortable will ultimately be what generates the results you’re striving for.
Also, this technique works best when you try to keep your head as still as possible. This can be difficult when in motion, but if you’re keeping your pace at a constant you shouldn’t have too much trouble.
During these steps, you should build up ample momentum to move into the slide step. Keeping a steady and continuous pace will allow you to gently slide into a knee bend and release the bowling ball.
It’s important to move your slide foot into this final slide 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 as the ball swings forward.
The previous 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 a more detailed look at each step to see exactly how your posture affects the bowling approach.
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 ahead of you pointing toward the lane and visualize your intended walking path. This should be the highest point the bowling ball will reach.
Your feet should be positioned in the opposite order to how you intend to finish. Make your first step forward.
2. The Downswing
As you bring your foot forward for your second step, bring the ball down towards your leg. This fluid motion in combination with the second step is known as the downswing.
3. The Backswing
Taking your third step, the ball should be moving upwards in a swing motion behind your back with your bowling arm extended. The third step should be the height of your speed, but controlled enough to prepare you for the slide coming in the next step.
4. Slide & Release
After the third step you slide your foot into your fourth step, also known as the final step, and let your right arm (for righties) or left arm (for lefties) swing forward in a pendulum motion as you release the ball (here’s an article on how to do that) just before the foul line. By the time your one foot touches the ground, the bowling ball should already be swinging past your opposite foot.
Where Does the 5th Step Come in?
As earlier noted, some bowlers prefer to introduce a fifth step into their bowling approach.
This will be way back at the start of the sequence. It acts as a trigger step, or sliding step, 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 first step as it allows them to begin their swing once they are already in motion. Stepping as the ball continues to move, rather than staggering the movements, can be easier for some players.
Deciding whether the four step approach works for you will take time, experimentation, and lots of trial and error. If you find yourself struggling to approach the lane smoothly, try adding the extra first step, or trigger step.
It ultimately depends on what feels most comfortable for you, and whether or not you prefer to be in motion when starting your swing.