To Lift or Not to Lift

…that is the question!

What’s the Story?

Depending on when you started bowling, you may have been taught – formally or not – how to throw a bowling ball. There has always been, and remains, a teaching element to accuracy, which can be focused on to varying degrees. Then hopefully, we were all taught how to throw the bowling ball straight the right way. By that, I mean to actually roll the ball. Some people will “fling” it down the lane or have there hand come over the top. Many of these may have been symptoms of having a ball which is too heavy. The correct way to throw a bowling ball properly is by rolling it. This is the act of having your hand underneath and behind the ball. Just imagine the middle and ring finger being at 6 oclock and rolling straight forward out of the ball, like throwing a softball underhanded without side rotation. If you started somewhere here, hopefully this has made your life easier as you transitioned into throwing a hook. If you’ve developed a lot of muscle memory of spinning the ball like a top when you released it, then the transition is a bit different. My guess is this is the leading cause in the difference between bowlers natural tendency to have low or high tilt. A topic for another column…

What about Lift?

I don’t want to spend the whole time recounting history here but let’s just step back for a little bit. I want to do this because I will compare two basic schools of thought and how the game has changed.
If you go back to the 1980s when Urethane coverstocks were developed, the game had a big change. As it continued to evolve with the advent of reactive resin and complex weight blocks, there were further refinements. Eventually, the combination of reactive balls, weight blocks, and the additional variable of lane patterns (as opposed to just oiling the lanes to protect them) led to what I would consider a revolution in the game. It wasn’t overnight, but if you compare what we were taught in the 80s and what we teach today related to hooking a bowling ball, they are quite different.

From the 80s and 90s, we were taught how to get a ball to hook in a specific way. The game had made a significant step forward, technologically speaking. The equipment was generating more friction than polyester and rubber balls ever did. I don’t think lane conditions had caught up to the ball technology. Before the advent of the urethane technology, the equipment wasn’t generating lots of friction and lanes were primarily oiled to protect the surface. Eventually synthetic lane surfaces came into play which in theory would offer increased surface longevity over wood surfaces.

At that time, when you transitioned from rolling the ball straight to a “hook” release, you were taught to incorporate “lift” and a small wrist turn to generate hook. You could even hold the ball like a suitcase and release it as well, but the key ingredient to generate increased rotational friction was “lifting”. I recall this being described to me by my early coach as the process of getting your thumb out of the ball before the other fingers, thereby allowing the fingers to impart additional force as you “lift” through the ball with your fingers.

Whether it was right or wrong, here was my interpretation at the time. I wasn’t as educated about the sport as I am now, but here’s what I thought. I should released the ball with some axis rotation and “lift” my fingers through the ball. Axis rotation means that the ball is “rotating” towards the side, but moving forward via momentum. So I give the ball “side rotation” and once enough friction was encountered, the ball would roll in the direction of the rotation. It seemed easy to boil this whole thing down to 2 phases. A skid phase and a roll phase.

Now we know there are 3 phases, not 2. We have Skid, hook, and roll. The hook phase is the transition between the beginning and end states. For me, what the lift concept did was eradicate the importance or frankly even the existence of the hook phase. Again, this may have only been my perception based on what I was being taught. However, missing out on the critical hook phase is a big mistake.

Why did I think that way?

Well, when I was taught to lift, I immediately attributed the overall curve of the ball was dependent on my pulling up on the ball and having side rotation. After all, If I lifted with no side rotation, wouldn’t the ball go dead straight? Then of course, watching Mark Roth and later Amletto Monacelli seemed to confirm my thought that I need to “hit up” on the ball so much to get it to hook the way they did. It just all made sense to me…back then.

What about the modern game?

No Lift

OK, I’ll skip now to what I consider a revolutionary era. Lift is an enemy of the modern game! We figured out a lot of things and along the while lane conditioning and equipment technology has moved ahead. There are still several fundamentals that have not changed. You still want your thumb to come out of the ball first. The amount of side rotation will influence how much overall hook your ball will have.

However, we have to come to the realization that with today’s modern equipment, if a ball is drilled where your PAP is not right on the center of the Preferred Spin Axis of the ball, it will naturally migrate. Huh?!?
In other words, with almost any kind of normal drilling, if you roll the ball forward, it will move by itself. That’s a confluence of the core wanting to naturally rotate itself to a steady state and friction beginning at some point in the condition, where it is side to side, front to back, or both. Think of a weight block as the shape of a bowling pin. If you tried to move it at a 45 degree angle, it will move itself to it’s closest spin axis, meaning it will roll on it’s side or roll end over end. This will happen by the law of physics. That’s why it will move right to left or left to right (for a lefty).

The lesson of the day is “Projection and turn”.

If we replace Lift with Projection, this is where we need to be. Of course, this is easier said than done. In the modern game, I believe this is the revolution, literally and figuratively. Less is more. Lifting is basically wasted energy. We need to expend energy in the projection, not in the lift. This is a concept I personally find difficult to put into practice. After over 20 years of “lifting”, I now have to ignore the muscle memory and enforce something new. I have to figure out how to move all of that energy into another part of the delivery.

Hey, I’m not a small guy. I’m 5’10″ and weigh 190 lbs. Yet, there are kids half my size generating a higher rev rate than I do. The answer to why lies in where we use (or waste) our energy. People learning the game today don’t watch bowlers who lift nor are they formally taught to lift. Yesterday, we watched Mark Roth and Walter Ray Williams Jr. week in and week out. They lifted (and practically jumped out of their shoes) to generate power. Today, we watch Mike Fagan and Tommy Jones who look effortless in generating twice the revolutions yesterday’s greats did.

The modern release is the difference. Today, all the energy expended happens as the ball passes the ankle. It’s also a tight and compact type of energy expenditure. What I’m trying to distinguish the difference between Walter Ray’s energy use after the ball passes his ankle and Mike Fagan’s. We used to be taught a more rigid hand position. Today, we teach a fluid wrist motion to generate revolutions.

The easiest way to demonstrate this is by video.

Watch the amount of wrist motion in this Walter Ray Williams slow motion release.

There is not very much motion there. It is fairly rigid and he lifts up and out of the ball.

By complete contrast, watch the amount of wrist motion in this Mike Fagan slow motion release.

Frankly I am amazed watching Fagan’s release. In full speed, you would see how relaxed the overall swing is. Yet in the slow motion you can see the motion in the wrist. I think there is no better way to envision the “projection and turn” than watching this particular video of Fagan.

How do I do this?

Well, I won’t promise you can do what Mike Fagan does. Hey, I haven’t yet taught myself to do that! Don’t look for 600 rpms. We still have to bowl within ourselves. There are effective ways to make ourselves better.
Coaches have mentioned this many times but I will recommend the football drill. If you have experience throwing a football correctly, you will know that there is a load and release wrist motion. Bowling is very similar. If you practice throwing a football underhanded with a spiral, you will feel the projection and release. You can play catch with a friend or throw it at a couch or something. Feel the loading of the wrist and then the forward arm motion and unloading and twist of the wrist. Remember you don’t need to turn your wrist over completely to accomplish this. In the end it will be something like a 1/4 turn. This is an effective way to practice the feel of this release without having to throw a 15 pound ball over and over.

Final Note

I am not at all criticizing some of the best bowlers in the world. There are just some teaching points that we can learn from various examples. Some of you may be perfectly happy with 20 or more years of successful bowling in your own right. I am personally someone who constantly looks for ways to improve my game. I may never get to 600 rpms, but I will continue to look at improving my efficiency of motion. If you’re just learning, then this is also an opportunity to see what examples you can learn from. Please don’t hurt yourself trying to emulate these examples. Incorporate only what you are physically capable of doing. Take your time and practice. You may find yourself more capable over time as you practice some of the methods. Video and a coach are a very good way to actually see and evaluate what you’re doing. We sometimes think we’re doing something correctly, but when watching back, we realize we are not.

Good Luck!

4 comments on “To Lift or Not to Lift

  1. Hi Coach T!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I dream that one day, I can do >500 rpm :)

    From the video, I can see that Mike Fagan flex his wrist from inside out, creating a very powerful rev.

    But I also saw on YouTube another video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70V3oPLqHlA

    That bowler does not seem to flex his wrist that much, but he has his hand under the ball up to the point of release. Other than that, I wonder if you can highlight the similarities between Mike Fagan’s release and the 550 rpm bowler?

    • Coach T on said:

      Hello. Mike Fagan is a bit of a freak of nature. The key thing that is demonstrated by Mike Fagan’s video and the video you referenced is finger position. To get the most leverage and revolutions, your fingers need to be underneath and inside of the ball, meaning the fingers in the lower quadrant of the ball closest to your body at the bottom of the swing. Then if you can envision underhanding a football to create a spiral, that’s what you need to create those revs. It’s obvious, like in basketball, the bigger your hands are (longer your span), the more physically capable you will be to impart such control. We don’t all have super-sized hands…
      I doubt I will ever get anywhere close to 500 myself, but there are plenty of pros throwing closer to 400 and very successful. It no doubt adds power, but I believe accuracy trumps all. If you are lucky enough to have the “freebie” of power, then so be it. The rest of us need to work on accuracy.

      • Ha ha! Well said. I recall watching Discovery Time Warp featuring Mike Fagan. They studied his release in slow motion. They asked him how he do it (release the ball), and he just replied something like, “I just do it without thinking about it”.

        That’s really amazing. For me, I did try turning my hand inside out, but really, most of the time, it just ruin my timing and release. Either I turn my hand too early or too late. Can’t seem to get it to work. Hopefully, I’ll get it one day and can just release like what you described “without thinking about it”.

        • Coach T on said:

          It’s definitely not a 5 minute learn. Some people did it from the get-go naturally. Others learned differently. Most people don’t set their wrist in a strong position at the bottom of the swing. This is either not being used to it or not being strong enough. As you’ve experienced, most who try to learn it turn the hand too early.
          If you really want to do it, you would need to be committed to change your game. This means dedicated practice sessions on the release. You should expect that your timing and release will be off while you’re trying to do it. It’s going to feel different. You can take some time in the summer and just take some practice sessions not for score but really for practice. Check this video out of Joe Slowinski demonstrating a release drill.
          Good Luck!

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