Rotational velocity is how quickly the ball is rotating as it leaves the hand. The colloquial name for this is rev rate. Of all the requests I receive as a coach, the single most frequent one involves helping bowlers learn to increase their rev rate. To achieve a high rotational velocity, the fingers have to travel a long arc line on the bowling ball. This arc line is created by coming from under the bowling ball and moving around the bowling ball. The longer arc line, paired with how quickly the fingers travel on this arc line, determines how fast the rotational velocity will be.
It takes time to master such a release. I often equate an elite release to throwing a curve ball in major league baseball. To achieve optimum motion, the pitcher has to achieve a specific hand position and turn at the appropriate moment. A rotational motion that is too early or too late minimizes movement. Practice and patience is a must for those who want to take their game to the next level by improving their skill in generating a higher rev rate. In our experience here at the Kegel Training Center, it normally takes six to eight weeks for physical game changes to become ingrained.
In this month’s article, I dissect the most important components that contribute to the creation of an elite release. In addition, I provide readers with some practice tips to help develop the established swing, hand placement, and motion that lead to an improved release and a higher rotational velocity.
Components of an elite release
Before discussing strategies on how to develop an improved release, understanding the anatomy of an elite release is critical to establishing the appropriate mental model of how all of the variables coalesce into a great release. To begin, the release is best understood as a function of five major components: the follow through, swing line, wrist position, timing, and fit.
The follow through direction is essential for a great release to be realized. From the downswing through the completion of the follow through, the elbow remains inside the wrist of top bowlers, allowing the kinetic energy chain to end with the forearm moving through the ball, transferring maximum energy from the body to the ball. With a world-class follow through, the entire forearm moves through the ball as the hand rotates under and around the ball, through the forearm.
This is achievable only as a function of both the swing line and hand positions, into the release, and through the follow through. How the individual follows through will determine how long the fingers will remain under the ball. Think about the hand staying on the same line as the elbow and on a line toward the focal point. Since the elbow is inside, when the hand follows the elbow, this allows maximum energy transfer into the bowling ball. This almost appears to be a backup ball follow through for many top players (with the exception of the hand rotating counter-clockwise).
To best comprehend these factors, let’s begin at the top of the swing. To ensure that the elbow can get inside of the wrist, there has to be adequate space for the downswing. Accordingly, the head should be to the outside, creating tilt, and leading to space for the swing. Moreover, this contributes to the elbow moving to the hip, facilitating the fingers to be in a stronger position. Without adequate space, the swing will likely move around the body, falling outside of the intended elite swing slot which is under the head and close to the body. This downswing is finalized as being close to the foot at release.
As the ball descends in the downswing, the hand will cup and the elbow will bend, leading to the hand scooping under the bowling ball. This scooping motion places the fingers under the ball, creating the longest potential arc line to travel during the release motion. This concept is seen in the downswing sequence of Chris Barnes. This is also where the index finger moves forward and under the bowling ball as seen at the beginning of the Sean Rash release sequence.
Into the release, the fingers should be on the inside of the ball. In the downswing, envision the index finger being directly forward toward the pins. This will place the ring and middle finger in approximately the 7 o’clock and 8 o’clock position (RH) or 5 o’clock and 4 o’clock (LH). The release sequence illustrates the index finger placement and arc line traveled with the fingers.
The release into the follow through is a combination of turning while extending downward into the lane. For the top players in the world, the arm fully extends as the ball is released in front of the foot onto the lane. The hand travels low and long, causing a long flat spot. This motion allows for the fingers to stay under the ball longer. There is no lifting. Too many bowlers lift up as they are releasing the ball, causing energy to be expended upward rather than out and down.
Increasing rotational velocity requires a great fit. Due to a poor grip, a player will squeeze excessively, leading to an inability to turn the hand quickly and have the thumb exit early enough for the fingers to continue rotating to complete the release. There needs to be differentiation between when the thumb and fingers exit.
As I discussed in my article last month, a tiered oval provides a thumbhole which fits the thumb more naturally, reducing grip pressure in the thumb since the hole fits the thumb more precisely as well as prevents bending the thumb excessively in the bottom of the hole.
One strategy to reduce grip pressure is to put the thumb in the ball first. This leads to a relaxed grip and the ability to move the hand more quickly through the release. Moreover, thumb tape can cause release problems due to inconsistent care and maintenance. Change your front tape frequently. Tape collects residue such as oil and dirt. This leads to a slickening of the tape surface which reduces the texture. That leads to squeezing during the swing into release. Be sure that front tape is taped where the bottom (toward palm) of the thumb sits.
Achieving an elite release
With the practice techniques discussed below, bowlers have increased their rev rate over time, leading to a significant improvement in strike power as well as scoring and performance. In addition, these practice strategies have helped full-rollers change to 3/4 rollers in a short period of time.
Suggested practice process
Here is a two-day practice process example:
- 10x Foul line drill
- 10x Swing and slide drill
- 10x Back up drill
- 10x Bent elbow drill
- 10x Regular full approach shots
Repeat, time permitting
10 cycles of the following sequence:
- 1x Foul line drill, followed by
- 1x Swing and slide drill, followed by
- 1x Back up drill, followed by
- 1x Bent elbow drill, followed by
- 1x Regular full approach shots
Ball motion is a direct function of energy transfer from the body to the bowling ball. As discussed, there are five major components: the follow through, swing line, wrist position, timing, and fit. Each piece plays a major role in how effectively you will be able to create a higher rotational velocity, leading to more strikes and higher scores.
Practice technique #1: Foul line drill with appropriate hand position
The foul line drill is the best practice for establishing the feelings associated with hand placement. It will help you develop a feeling of turning your hand while extending. In short, you will create the beginning position of the arc line as well as feel what a strong hand position actually is into the release. You can see me execute the foul line drill in the videos below:
Notice the finger position in the set up. Watch the finger movement under and around the ball. To achieve this, get the index finger forward and be sure the index finger goes underneath the ball before starting the ball forward. Extend as you are turning and keep the follow through low in the drill.
The front view illustrates the follow through is long and low while keeping the hand following the elbow. Specifically, this is illustrative of keeping the elbow inside the wrist.
Practice technique #2: Swing and slide with appropriate hand position
The benefit of the swing and slide drill is to complete a full swing to establish movement into the release. Move between the foul line drill and swing and slide drill to develop the feeling of getting the hand into a strong position, as well as moving from this strong position to the follow through.
Practice technique #3: Back up drill to establish the fingers to the inside on the downswing
One of the best drills to develop the habit of getting the fingers to the inside of the ball is to throw backup shots on a regular basis. This simulates the movement of the index finger moving forward as well as the elbow moving to the hip and inside the wrist.
Practice technique #4: Full approach – elbow bend in the downswing
As the ball begins to descend, try to get your hand under the ball. You can scoop your hand under the ball as well as attempting to bend your elbow in the downswing.
Practice technique #5: Turn the hand from under to around with low and long
Most bowlers have experimented with an American football to learn to turn the hand under and around. A football can be a great tool to practice the hand movement but the execution quality is important.
- Set the hand under the football with the index finger centered and directly under the ball. This sets the fingers to the side with the palm more open, replicating a strong hand position into the release.
- Push forward and back.
- Extend out and down as you rotate your hand. Follow through downward as you throw. If you are tossing it around with another person, throw toward the shin. Or, have the person assume a baseball catcher position and throw to the hands. When executed properly, the ball will spiral cleanly.
You can also practice rotating a tennis ball to get the feel of moving the hand under and around the ball. Imagine attempting to get a ball to bounce to the left when it hits the floor (RH) or to the right (LH).