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How Fast Do Bowling Balls Go? Exploring the Physics Behind It

  • Reading time:13 mins read

When you step up to the bowling lane and release that heavy ball down the polished wood, have you ever wondered just how fast it’s traveling?

Bowling balls may look like hefty, slow-moving objects, but these spheres of solid resin and weight can reach surprisingly high speeds when wielded by skilled players.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of bowling ball speeds, exploring the physics and factors that influence these velocities. Whether you’re a casual bowler or a seasoned pro, understanding the speed capabilities of these balls can give you a whole new appreciation for the sport.

What is the Average Speed of a Bowling Ball?

Bowling ball speeds can vary quite a bit depending on the skill level of the player and the specific conditions of the lane. However, we can establish some general benchmarks to get a sense of the typical speeds achieved.

For recreational bowlers, the average bowling ball speed tends to fall in the range of 12 to 18 miles per hour (mph). These bowlers are often focused more on accuracy and consistency rather than pure power, so they don’t tend to generate as much ball speed.

On the other hand, professional and highly skilled bowlers can often achieve ball speeds of 20 to 25 mph, with some exception reaching up to 30 mph. These elite players have mastered the techniques to generate maximum power and momentum through their approach and release.

To put these speeds into perspective, consider that a typical Major League Baseball fastball travels around 90-95 mph. So while bowling balls aren’t quite reaching those dizzying velocities, they’re still moving at a brisk clip, especially when released with precision and force.

The factors that influence bowling ball speed include:

  • Ball weight (typically 6-16 pounds)
  • Player strength and technique
  • Approach and release mechanics
  • Bowling lane conditions (friction, oil pattern, etc.)

Heavier balls generally have the potential for higher speeds, but bowlers need the physical strength to properly handle and control them. Additionally, a smooth, well-timed approach and release are crucial for maximizing ball velocity.

Lane conditions can also play a role, as balls tend to travel faster on drier, more friction-heavy lanes compared to heavily oiled surfaces. Professional tournaments often feature a variety of lane patterns that require players to adjust their game accordingly.

To give you a better sense of just how fast bowling balls can go, let’s compare their speeds to some other familiar objects and activities:

  • A 16-pound bowling ball traveling at 20 mph has about the same kinetic energy as a 120-pound person running at 5 mph.
  • The average speed of a golf ball is around 150 mph, making it over 5 times faster than a professional bowling ball.
  • A typical car traveling on the highway at 65 mph is moving over 2.5 times faster than a 25 mph bowling ball.

As you can see, while bowling balls may not reach the breakneck velocities of some other sports equipment, they are still packing a considerable amount of speed and momentum behind them. This physical force is a critical element of the game, impacting everything from pin carry to scoring potential.

The Physics of Bowling Ball Speed

To fully understand the impressive speeds that bowling balls can reach, we need to dive into the underlying physics at play. By examining the scientific principles governing their motion, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the engineering and skill involved in the sport.

Newton’s Laws of Motion

At the foundation of bowling ball speed are the three fundamental laws of motion established by Sir Isaac Newton:

  1. Law of Inertia: An object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This explains why a bowling ball sitting on the approach requires a strong initial force (the player’s push and swing) to get it moving from a standstill.
  2. Law of Acceleration: The acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the net force acting upon it and inversely proportional to its mass. This means that a heavier bowling ball will require more force to achieve the same acceleration as a lighter ball. Skilled bowlers learn to generate the optimal amount of force for their ball weight.
  3. Law of Action and Reaction: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When a bowler releases the ball, the force they apply is met with an equal reactive force from the ball, propelling it forward down the lane.

These principles of motion, when combined with factors like friction and gravity, help explain the physics behind bowling ball speeds.

Friction and Gravity

As the bowling ball rolls down the lane, two key forces come into play: friction and gravity.

Friction is the resistance force that slows the ball’s motion as it interacts with the lane surface. The amount of friction depends on the lane conditions, with drier, more abrasive surfaces creating higher friction and slower ball speeds.

Conversely, heavily oiled lanes reduce friction, allowing the ball to maintain more of its initial velocity. This is why professional tournaments often feature challenging lane patterns that require players to adjust their gameplay accordingly.

Gravity also plays a crucial role in bowling ball speed. As the ball is released and leaves the player’s hand, gravity begins to pull it downward. This acceleration due to gravity (9.8 m/s^2) can actually increase the ball’s overall velocity, especially during the initial portion of its trajectory.

However, gravity’s effect is counterbalanced by the aforementioned friction forces, which work to slow the ball’s motion over the length of the lane. Skilled bowlers learn to optimize their release angle and timing to harness the benefits of gravity while minimizing the impact of friction.

Spin, Rotation, and Momentum

Another important factor in bowling ball speed is the concept of spin and rotation. When a bowler imparts spin on the ball during their release, it creates additional momentum that can boost the ball’s overall velocity.

As the ball rotates, it generates angular momentum, which is the product of its rotational speed and its moment of inertia (a measure of its resistance to rotational acceleration). The more angular momentum the ball has, the more energy it can maintain during its trip down the lane.

Skilled bowlers learn to release the ball with the optimal combination of linear velocity (straight-line speed) and angular velocity (spin). This allows them to maximize the ball’s total momentum, which is the key to achieving high speeds and powerful pin carry.

It’s important to note that excessive spin can also have negative effects, such as causing the ball to “hook” or curve too dramatically on the lane. Achieving the perfect balance of speed and spin is an art that takes years of practice and refinement.

Techniques to Increase Bowling Ball Speed

Now that we’ve explored the underlying physics of bowling ball speed, let’s dive into some practical techniques and strategies that bowlers can use to increase their ball velocities.

Proper Footwork and Release Mechanics

One of the most critical factors in generating ball speed is the bowler’s approach and release technique. Proper footwork and body mechanics are essential for efficiently transferring power from the body into the ball.

Here are some key tips for improving your ball speed through technique:

  • Approach and Timing: Develop a consistent, well-timed approach that allows you to smoothly transition into your release. Avoid rushing or rushing your steps.
  • Arm Swing: Utilize a full, pendulum-like arm swing to build momentum, keeping your arm relaxed and the ball close to your body.
  • Release Point: Focus on releasing the ball at the optimal point in your swing, with your hand and wrist in the proper position.
  • Follow-Through: Maintain a strong, balanced follow-through after release to maximize power transfer.

Mastering these fundamental mechanics takes time and practice, but the payoff can be dramatic in terms of increased ball speed and overall bowling performance.

Choosing the Right Ball Weight

The weight of the bowling ball you choose can also have a significant impact on your potential speed. Heavier balls (typically 16 pounds) generally have the capability to achieve higher velocities, but they also require more physical strength and control to properly handle.

Lighter balls (often 12-14 pounds) may not reach the same top-end speeds, but they can be easier for some bowlers to wield with precision and consistency. The key is to find the optimal ball weight that matches your physical capabilities and skill level.

Many coaches recommend that bowlers start with a ball weight that equates to around 10% of their body weight. This provides a good balance of power and control. As you build strength and technique, you can gradually increase the ball weight to unlock higher speeds.

It’s also worth noting that ball weight can affect other aspects of your game, such as hook potential and pin carry. Lighter balls may be more responsive to hand position and rotation, while heavier balls can sometimes provide more stability and momentum through the pins.

Ultimately, the “best” ball weight is the one that allows you to maintain control, accuracy, and consistency while still maximizing your speed potential.

Conditioning and Training

Improving your physical strength and conditioning can also be a valuable asset in boosting bowling ball speed. Bowlers who engage in targeted training often see noticeable gains in their velocity and power.

Some effective training exercises and techniques include:

  • Resistance Training: Focus on building upper body, core, and leg strength through exercises like bench press, deadlifts, and squats.
  • Explosive Power Training: Incorporate plyometric exercises like medicine ball throws and box jumps to develop fast-twitch muscle fibers.
  • Flexibility and Mobility: Maintain good range of motion and limb mobility through stretching and mobility drills.
  • Endurance Training: Improve your cardiovascular fitness through activities like running, cycling, or swimming to sustain bowling performance.

In addition to the physical training, bowlers can also benefit from technique-focused practice. Drills that emphasize a smooth, efficient approach and release can help ingrain the proper mechanics for maximum ball speed.

Consulting with a qualified bowling coach or trainer can be invaluable in designing a comprehensive training program tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Adjusting Approach and Timing

Another strategy for increasing bowling ball speed involves fine-tuning your approach and release timing. Even small adjustments to your technique can have a significant impact on your ball velocity.

For example, taking a slightly longer approach and delaying your release can allow you to build more momentum before the ball leaves your hand. Conversely, a shorter approach with a quicker release may be better suited for generating maximum power and speed.

Experimentation and feedback are key here. Pay attention to how changes in your approach and timing affect the ball’s speed and trajectory. Work with a coach or experienced bowlers to identify the optimal setup for your individual style and physical capabilities.

It’s also worth noting that approach and timing adjustments can have implications beyond just ball speed. They can also influence other aspects of your game, such as hook potential, accuracy, and overall consistency. Finding the right balance is crucial for maximizing your performance.


Bowling balls may appear unassuming, but these dense, spherical objects are capable of reaching surprisingly high speeds when wielded by skilled players.

From the recreational bowler to the professional, understanding the physics and techniques behind bowling ball velocity can provide valuable insights and opportunities for improvement.

By exploring the average speeds achieved, the underlying scientific principles at work, and the practical strategies for increasing ball speed, we’ve gained a newfound appreciation for the physical and technical demands of this captivating sport.

Whether your goal is to improve your personal best, compete at a higher level, or simply enjoy the thrill of watching a ball rocket down the lane, mastering the speed of your bowling ball can be a game-changing pursuit.

So the next time you step up to the line, take a moment to consider the forces at play, the mechanics involved, and the potential power lying within that unassuming sphere. With the right approach and dedication, you just might unlock a new level of bowling performance and enjoyment.