Bowler's Reference
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How Many Steps

Selecting the appropriate number of steps during your approach helps to achieve a free-flowing, synchronized motion of your feet and ball swing cycle.  

The number of steps taken can vary from 1 to 12 (or more).  The bowler's height, arm length, strength, and rhythm  determines their comfort level.  Upon closer examination, that isn't all there is to it however.

Deciding on the number of steps puzzles many bowlers.  There are many concepts that do not serve you well, and we should reject notions that are ill conceived.  Contrary to the belief that the number of steps don't really matter, the number of steps taken in your approach affects:

  • Timing
  • Ball Speed
  • Muscle tension in the arm, shoulder and wrist

The number of steps taken in your approach should match what you are controlling in your shot.  Contrary to the "one way fits all", you should select the number of steps that best matches your ball reaction on the lane conditions you are experiencing.  Let's introduce areas of consideration when determining the appropriate number of steps that serve you best.

Most bowlers are introduced to bowling using a four-step approach, and incorporate this as their standard choice.

First of all it is necessary to determine how many steps you wish to take. Some bowlers use a three-step approach.  The ball is pushed away with the feet in place, but this technique, in my opinion, places too much of a “weight burden” on the arm. The four, five or more-step approach allows the bowler to develop a flowing motion, which seems to make the ball lighter as it is delivered over the foul line.

Most champions, but not all utilize varied number of steps as they match up to the lane conditions.  The first step(s) in the five plus step approach are commonly shorter steps which start the bowler off smoothly and assist in adjusting their ball speed.

The four-step approach is the most popular and the one that recommended for forming a good foundation.  The last four steps of any approach largely determines whether your approach will result in good timing or not.

When you have decided how many steps you are going to take, go to the foul line and do an about-face, so that you are facing toward the seats.  Your heals should be placed where you plan to end your slide.  This is normally 4-6 inches from the foul line.

Taking your natural stride, walk the number of steps you have decided to use. When you have completed your paces, add an- other half-step to compensate for the slide. After you have done this several times, note carefully the spot at which you have arrived. That is your starting position.

You may want to develop two or three similar techniques for versatility.  Make a mental note of these distinguishable dark or light board areas on the approach that can serve as a guide. After you have practiced from this position for a while, you will become so familiar with it that you will go to it automatically.

Adjusting to lane conditions

When lane conditions require additional speed, typical reactions include raising the height of the ball and forcing the ball from the backswing through the release.

USBC studies have found that raising the ball height in the stance increases the swing time of the ball.  You have limited choices in responding to this increase in time.

  • Slow your pace of your approach to match the increased swing time ... a slower pace may also slow your ball speed.
  • Increase the length of your stride to match the increased swing time ... you'll have to locate a new starting position as noted above.
  • Increase the number of steps to match the increased swing time ... both the higher ball speed resulting from the higher ball swing and the increased speed resulting from the longer approach effectively increase the overall ball speed.
  • You can muscle the ball to attain a higher ball speed.  This is the most common, and least successful option.  A muscled swing, as in most sports, results in muscle tension changes and release changes.  A muscled ball is not recommended.
The Final Four Steps

The final four steps of your approach form the foundation of your approach.

4 step delivery

Step 1

The first-step is the most commonly misunderstood.  A smooth and coordinated movement of the ball and feet need to match.  If they do not, and you'll feel it, you should abort your approach and begin again.

There are several first-step techniques taught, and many of them are correct to a degree.  Most techniques describe personal experience, and may not fit the bowler's arm length, push-away distance or speed, or muscle structure.  Instead, the first-step should result with the ball starting it's downward movement at the moment the ball-side foot first-step is planted on the approach.

So at the end of the 1st step, the ball will be out in front of your body, and beginning it's downward motion.  Your pushaway synchronizes your first step.

One Pushaway Style

Your pushaway should not result in an overextended arm having sharp corners in its motion.  The ball should be extended out and away from the body.  The ball should not be moved in an upward motion.  Once reaching a comfortable extension, the ball should begin a downward motion with a slightly bent elbow.


Hinged Pushaway

Consistent motion is basic to your success.  Repeating a consistent pushaway takes skill.  One method to achieve consistency it to use a hinged pushaway.

If you were to hold the weight of the ball for a long period of time, it would be natural to hold the ball close to the body with the elbows tucked at the body and that ball just beneath your chin.  This places the weight on the stronger muscle set of the body, primarily on the lower body.

Once in the stance, the ball is lowered to your beginning height in a hinged motion.  That is to say the elbows remain tucked against the body, and the lower arm rotates downward until it reaches the desired height.

As the first step foot is planted on the approach, the ball begins its descent into the swing.  This hinged pushaway results in a consistent motion.

Step 2
The ball should continue its swing downward in a rounded motion as you start taking your second step.  As the slide foot is planted at the end of the 2nd step, the ball should be at the side of your leg and enter into the backswing.

Step 3
The third step initiates the downswing, and is considered the Power Step. The power step is often used to urge, not pull, the ball down from the backswing.  Forcing the ball downward often leads to "nailing the ball into the approach" or bouncing.  Instead, the power step aids the motion by bending the knee as it drops downward, thus aiding the gravitational pull on the ball as it gains energy during the power step.

As the ball-side foot is planted on the approach at the end of the 3rd step, the ball should be at the top of the backswing, and entering the initial motion of the downswing.

Step 4
The fourth step is varied according to the bowler's style.  Normally, the fourth, and final step is a slide step.

The slide step allows the ball to enter into a flat spot or area where the ball can be smoothly projected out onto the lane.  The longer the flat area, the smoother, and more controllable the release.

High rev bowlers often "plant" their final step in order to gain full leverage and revolutions on the ball which results in a higher degree of hook on the ball.

As the slide ends, the  ball is being released just to the side or just beyond your ankle.

Seems simple, right?
Well, this is the traditional 4-step delivery. This ensures that you have solid fundamentals and can build on your foundation.

Additional steps?
Once your 4-step approach is firmly established, additional steps can enhance your ability to control ball speed or timing enhancements.


The steps we take determines our rhythm,

Our speed, our ultimate power


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