Many of the professional bowlers on both the PWBA Tour and PBA Tour have begun to take their health and fitness goals seriously, for various reasons. The sport has evolved over the years, and so have the tournament formats. Some events have much longer qualifying blocks, such as the PWBA Tour events, which have extended qualifying to 16 games in one day.

In order to compete in elite-level events, many bowlers have noticed that it is beneficial to have energy and stamina at the end of the day, along with the ability to recover quickly for the next day. This has led to a trend of elite bowlers pushing the envelope with their training off the lanes and in the gym. If you follow certain bowlers on the various social media sites, you will notice more footage of them taking part in different workout regimens to prepare for each season. For others, though, the idea of training off the lanes is still new and sparks curiosity, both on where to start and on what the potential benefits are.

For this month’s article, I decided to interview a few professionals who have recently focused on new training regimens and making changes to their fitness levels. We discussed their motivations, the specific changes they’ve made, and what benefits and changes they’ve noticed in their bowling games as a result. Special thanks to PBA and PWBA pros AJ Johnson, Anggie Ramirez, and Jason Sterner for sharing their stories!

What was your motivation to make changes to your health and fitness?

AJ Johnson

I wanted to make changes with my health and fitness mainly for myself, and creating a better version of myself personally and for bowling overall. We travel quite a bit and spend many hours in a bowling center, so keeping my body healthy and creating a workout routine would help with not only short-term improvements, but also longevity in our sport.

I also want to help change the image of our sport and show that bowlers are athletes who have to stay in shape to perform the way we do for as many hours/games as we do!

Anggie Ramirez

After my second year on the PWBA Tour, which wasn’t a very successful season, I came back home and made the decision to to fully change my routine and how I prepare for the tour. It was the best decision ever! Now I work a full-time job and spend more time in the gym and practicing than I used to. I wish I had started training and practicing like this sooner.

Jason Sterner

Contrary to popular belief, I actually started focusing on getting healthier prior to meeting Heather. Jon Van Hees was the one who started the conversations with me, because he had gone through a similar journey. He didn’t have much weight to lose, but he wanted to get into a better physical condition and treat bowling more like a sport. That inspired me to also want to do the same and improve the image of our sport.

I also was having recurring lower back pain from a golf injury in 2014. I knew if I wanted to continue to bowl the next 10 years, I had to make some changes. I could barely get through blocks of bowling without some aches and pains, and the recovery the next days would be slow. I started by running, doing lots of cardio, and trying to make better choices about what I was eating. For example, I cut out fried foods and a lot of sweets, although I still had my sweet tea. I was basically trying to eat smaller meals, cut down on calories, and increase my physical activity to lose some weight.

What changes have you made? What does your regimen look like?

AJ Johnson

The changes that I made were more to my commitment and conscious effort to stick to the goals I had and now have to further them. I’ve made a bigger commitment to sticking to a consistent routine of working out and also eating a lot better.

When I am home and in between tournaments is when I focus more on lifting and building lean muscle. When I travel during events, I focus on running and body weight workouts to help with stamina for the week. My workouts have been focused more on creating stamina and leaning out, but also building muscle in the proper areas for our sport (legs, core, and back).

My eating habits are more for cutting weight and leaning out to be healthier overall. There have only been a few things that I have cut out, but I focus more on eating the right portions of the right food. I also have gotten into the right supplements to take during and after workouts and even tournaments to help with recovery and kick-starting my muscles and metabolism.

Anggie Ramirez

I have been prioritizing what it is I want to change. I wanted to change my strength and stamina because all the games in the weekend were really taking a toll on me, plus I was getting mild injuries often. So, I knew I needed to become stronger and fit for the formats.

Right now, I go at least four days a week to the gym. The workouts can vary between one and two hours. I started working with a personal trainer to help push me and keep me accountable at first. Now that I have discipline with working out, I do my own thing with what he has taught me.

Jason Sterner

As mentioned previously, when I first began trying to be healthier, I focused on eating better and running. Now, the changes include adding in strength training because I have learned much of my lower back injuries in the past were due to my lack of strength. Part of my hesitation with the strength training initially was hurting myself. I wanted something that would benefit my bowling abilities, without necessarily becoming a bodybuilder.

I originally thought running and stretching were the easiest and safest things to do, but they didn’t resolve the lower back issues. I would still have tightness and stiffness in my lower back throughout blocks. It wasn’t until I met Heather that I learned how to properly lift weights in the gym and do appropriate stretches. Now I lift weights four times per week (even on weeks I bowl events) and occasionally mix in some cardio (but not always running).

I drink way more water than ever before and I stopped eating many sweets—even the sweet teas, because someone told me I was headed towards diabetes. I choose healthier places on the road, instead of eating all the fried fast food. I am much more aware of what I am fueling my body with and I can definitely feel the changes. I am a lot less sluggish and groggy, like I was when I was eating junk food. I wake up feeling lighter and having more energy.

What changes have you noticed with your bowling game?

AJ Johnson

Since I have made a more consistent effort with working out and eating better, I have seen subtle but impactful changes with my bowling. Throughout the day, I feel a lot lighter and more energized. Through bowling I never feel like I get tired, and when I’m done I don’t get as sore.

During bowling, I definitely feel like I have more control over what I’m doing with my body and the ball. The biggest improvement I saw was my balance throughout my approach. Even on shots that I feel are off, I keep balanced so that I can be more accurate.

Anggie Ramirez

I have seen a total 180. I feel stronger and more confident, which is reflective of my daily lifestyle and in bowling. Before, when I took a week off from bowling, it took me a couple practices to get a feel back. Now if I have to take some time off due to my job, when I get back to practicing my feel comes back quicker. It seems my muscle memory has improved, so that has been a huge benefit. My balance is better, and working on my footwork has become easier to do. I also do not feel as tired when I bowl a lot of games. I also have less aches and pains after bowling than before.

Jason Sterner

I feel much stronger, and I experience no more pain during blocks of bowling. When I wake up in the morning, I feel ready and energized to bowl. I actually eat more during bowling—protein bars and healthy snacks—to keep my energy up. That was harder to do before because I’d be hungry and eager to just get done with blocks because I was achy, tired, and in pain. It has definitely helped my balance and timing. My shotmaking in general has improved. The best way to describe it is I just feel lighter on my feet.

Closing thoughts

To outsiders of our sport who may not understand the kind of athleticism that it really involves, the idea of bowlers training in the gym may seem silly. Bowling isn’t a sport that elevates the heart rate very high, and it doesn’t involve contact, running, sprinting, or jumping. However, throwing a bowling ball repeatedly for hours at a time can still create significant amounts of strain on the body.

Working out to improve strength, endurance, and overall health can make throwing a bowling ball feel less tiring. You may also notice that your body adjusts quicker to making physical changes as you improve proprioception and the mind-body connection. Improving your health and fitness may not always lead to a direct reward of higher scores and wins. But, many elite players today feel that by improving their health and fitness, they have an ability to compete at a high level for longer periods of time—and possibly even for more years—than their competitors. It goes beyond just working out, though, and a great impact can also be felt by improving your nutritional intake and by being more conscious of your fueling choices.

There are many factors contributing to overall health that can be addressed to improve your physical condition and bowling skills. My recommendation is to figure out which factor is your biggest liability and start there with gradual changes.

Heather Sterner

About Heather Sterner

Heather is an NSCA-certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, an ACE-certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Functional Strength Coach, and a Licensed Massage Therapist. She has a Master's in Kinesiology (Exercise Science). Heather is a former collegiate bowler for Robert Morris University and assistant coach for the University of Central Missouri. She currently works with athletes of all sports and has recently launched BowlFIT, a website with training programs for bowlers. Heather is also the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for SUNY Brockport.