No one would call shot put a game. It’s a sport in which you get three chances to throw a 16-pound ball as hard as you can, aiming for a target that’s roughly the size of a baseball outfield. In bowling, which no one would call a sport, you have to throw a 16-pound ball as hard as you can 60 times or more, and you have to be pinpoint accurate. Starting to see the point? Someone is: A chain of gyms in Pennsylvania called Sweat Fitness recently added bowling lanes to one location and dubbed it Sweat Fitness & Frames. Energy Fitness, in Torrington, Conn., shares its gym space with a bowling alley. But it’s still an uphill battle.
“Bowlers have to fight against the negative perception that they are nonathletes. Although bowling is not as physically rigorous as other sports, training your body will have a positive effect on your game,” says Rob Price, a certified personal trainer and author of The Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Bowling.
Pop culture doesn’t help the negative stereotype. The Big Lebowski featured a bowling team made up of a pothead, an obese guy and a pencil neck — not exactly great PR for the sport. But while Hollywood may portray bowlers as beer-quaffing slobs, in reality, professional bowlers are more like endurance athletes. That’s because bowling demands repeated fine movement and finesse, more than strength and power.
“Bowling at the professional level requires muscle control and muscular endurance, the ability to repeat the same movement over and over again without fatiguing,” Price says. “There is a limit to the benefits of brute strength for bowling. The ball can only travel so fast and generate so much pin action.”
Here are a few ways to let your Lebowski hang out, minus all the white Russians.
Work Your Core: “The most surprising thing about bowling and fitness is the benefit of having a strong core,” Price says. “Having a strong core leads to better balance, crisper movements, more control, and increased speed and power.”
Don’t Neglect Your Legs: Bowling is deceptively taxing on the lower body, and when the legs go, your entire form falls apart. Unilateral compound exercises, such as walking lunges and one-legged squats (also known as pistols), can approximate the stress your legs experience while bowling.
Keep Reps High: “Training for muscular endurance is best accomplished using low weight loads and high repetitions,” Price says. “Twenty or more reps with less than 60 percent of your one-rep max is ideal.”
Take Care of Your Weapon: The arm on your throwing side takes the most abuse and is in danger of weakening the quickest. Price recommends that bowlers perform wrist-strengthening exercises like forward and reverse wrist curls in order to maintain the necessary rigidity through several frames.
Protect Your Weak Spots: Rotator-cuff exercises are a good idea for all athletes, but they’re crucial for bowlers. With a very light set of dumbbells, lie face down on an exercise ball and perform “Y-T-Xs”: Stretch your arms out so they are parallel to the floor and in the shape of a Y (yes, like the “YMCA” dance). Hold that for several seconds and then slowly move your arms out to the sides to make a T, with your palms facing the floor. Finally, move your hands toward your waist so your arms form the bottom of an X, with the pinkies up and the palms facing in.