How to Hold a Bowling Ball

Holding one of the house balls at your local bowling center may not seem like the kind of thing you’d need to put too much thought into, but there is actually a lot to consider — even when you’re just using a conventional grip.

It’s similar to golf — if you need to hit the ball to the end of the 15th hole, you won’t use a putter. You have to consider external factors like wind and rain, along with factoring in distance and aim. 

Casual bowlers may not realize that with bowling, you need to consider the type of throw you’re doing, your fingertip grip, and thumb releases. 

If you intend to get a strike, you’ll want to aim your dominant hand, or bowling hand, at an angle towards the center pin. But if you’re going for a spare, there are numerous approaches you can take. 

Let’s break down the different things that must be considered when endeavoring to hold a bowling ball properly to achieve more control and a comfortable grip. 

Finger Depth

The three types of holes drilled in bowling balls — standard, conventional, and fingertip — all affect how one holds their bowling ball. There are varying levels of finger depth that are attainable, from a fingertip grip all the way to a grip where the holes permit the second knuckle joint of your fingers to be completely inserted.

More experienced bowlers tend to have a more shallow hold, some even using a semi-fingertip grip where not even the first knuckle is in the ball. This bowling grip allows advanced bowlers to maintain the most control possible and easily maneuver and hook the ball. 

Drill depths determine how far each finger can rest in the hole, with some comfortably accommodating up to the second knuckle but others stopping at just the fingertips. The depth of the first and second knuckle is something that most bowlers adjust depending on the purpose of each throw. 

Grip

Regarding grip, the ball shouldn’t be held too loosely or too tightly by the fingers, as this can affect the throw. Using your opposite hand, or free hand, to help steady the ball before throwing can help you achieve this balanced grip. 

Too loose of a grip will mean you release the ball too soon, which causes the majority of bowling balls to roll slower and uncontrollably — often not hitting all the pins. 

Gripping the ball too tightly with the middle and ring fingers causes the ball to be released too high. This will make it hit the lane a lot harder and possibly even damage it. 

Both grip styles make it very hard to control the ball and generate hook. 

There are three holes in each ball, and you want your thumb to be fully inserted in the thumb hole (sometimes called both the “top hole” and “bottom hole”, depending on the bowler), and your middle and ring finger to be placed in the other two adjacent holes. This gives you a secure grip, whereas the little finger and the index finger are both too weak and could be injured if placed in the finger holes. 

Additionally, using your two middle fingers helps you to have a more balanced hand on the ball, assisting your aim and helping you throw a straight ball.

The most conventional grip position is to have the two remaining fingers spread out straight, with the fingertips pressing against the ball. Having the fingers extended straight helps aim the throw — almost as if it’s the fingers leading the ball down the lane. 

If you are prone to squeezing the ball before release, there are many tips and tricks on how to stop yourself from squeezing the bowling ball. Remember, squeezing or gripping the ball too tightly with your thumb, middle, and ring fingers won’t do you much good.

Different Bowling Throws

As mentioned above, there is a wide range of bowling throws and other grips. The one you choose to use will affect how you throw the ball, and there’s a technique for each method.

Normal Throw

This one is self-explanatory. You want to hit a pin in a straight line, whether it’s the final one standing or you have the full line-up of 10 in front of you. 

Simply grab a new ball out of the ball return unit, hold it with the common grip outlined in the instructions stated above, and throw it. Good luck!

Power Stroker

A power stroker consists of a smooth release at a high speed. Pete Weber has used this technique since the very beginning, and it’s one of the main reasons he’s stayed at the top of the game for all this time.

Stroker

Stroker is a smooth, accurate throw, essentially like a sniper. 

This is the one to master if you want precision. It’s especially useful if you’re gunning for a spare or only have one pin left on the outside near the gutter.

Cranker

This is the term used to describe a throw that curves. 

A cranker is a good one to get used to if you want strikes — throwing the bowling ball correctly results in it hitting the front and central pin on its side, which then pushes it outwards and sends it ricocheting into the pins around it at a high speed.

Spinner

This is by far the hardest throw to master and is used very rarely. PBA Hall of Famer Tom Baker is arguably the best at it, and even he doesn’t use it frequently.

Speed Control

If you want to control your speed, you need to have a good grip to give yourself the right amount of power in the throwing arc. 

A study concluded by the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) concluded that the optimal speed for best results is 17mph at the point of contact between the ball and the pins. 

Usually, one throws the ball at around 20mph. The oil on the lane becomes thinner as the ball gets closer to the pins, so there is less friction which translates to less speed as it comes into contact with the pins.

Final Note

Clearly, there’s a lot more to holding a bowling ball than merely putting your fingertips in the appropriate holes of a house ball and using one of the conventional grips. Even at this most basic level, some prefer to not use all three holes, while others use a variation on the fingers, grip, thumb, or knuckle joint. 

It’s not as simple as just picking up the ball and launching it. 

However, if you are a beginner, a lot of these techniques will be impossible until a bit further down the line when you’ve started to get used to bowling and have put in many hours at the bowling alley. 

But if you are serious about getting some of these specialist throws in, there’s no harm in trying. 

We recommend putting the bumpers up and giving it a go. That way, you won’t lose the ball and waste your shot — this happens often, especially with the curling shots like spinner and cranker.