Two-Handed Delivery: Analyzing a New Technique

Thomas D. McKeon Jr., D.C.

There are a lot of opinions and analyses of the newest technique to hit bowling, the two-handed delivery.  From a serious bowler’s standpoint we need to look at two key components: effectiveness and longevity.


The effectiveness seems to be proven; Osku Palermaa and Jason Belmonte have both shown that this technique can be an effective means of crushing the pocket with high force, high revolutions, and incredible pin carry.  This leaves only one question, can these guys keep up this technique with regards to wear and tear on the body.


After analyzing video of these up and coming bowlers it is clear that the two-handed delievery (THD) puts a different series of forces on the body as compared to the single-handed delivery (SHD).  To simplify this process lets compare these two techniques one joint at a time.


Starting with the shoulder, we see that the THD utilizes less muscle mass from the player’s dominant arm, because both arms are used.  We also see less global movement in the dominant arm on the back swing because the secondary arm limits our range of motion, not allowing excessive forces to be put through just one shoulder.  These factors seem to point to the THD as a less stressful technique with regard to the arm and shoulder.


As far as the hands are concerned, THD has advantages as well.  Anyone who has ever been greeted by a SHD bowler will tell you that their bowling hand is not the softest and most supple hand they have ever touched.  Most avid bowlers have calluses, sore knuckles, and a tendency towards arthritis in the hands from excessive force going through only three fingers.  A THD bowler spreads the weight of the ball out over two whole hands, therefore utilizing a larger surface area and putting far less force on those three over-worked fingers in the SHD bowler.


As far as the legs and knees go, both forms of delivery have side-effects.  Since both techniques are one sided, just like golf, and require abnormal movement patterns.  A SHD bowler typically “crabs” to the foul line, crossing their dominant foot in front of the other one while rotating the body to one side.  This poses a unique series of stress to be put through the ankles, knees, and hips that most bowlers adapt to and never consciously think about.  But this is not considered a normal gait, and it does place added stress on the slide legs lateral hip, knee, and inner ankle.


A THD bowler utilizes a skip-skip-slide motion which is not normal either.  For anyone trying the THD method for the first time, you will probably be sore the next day if your body is not used to this motion.  This does not necessarily mean that it is bad.  Take for example a sedentary person who starts a new weight-lifting routine and “feels his muscles” the next day.  He has not done anything bad, his body is merely adapting to the new stressed placed on upon it.   With this said, the THD does place more stress on the knees because of the impact from skipping, but Palermaa and Belmonte have one advantage to the SHD bowler.  Both of them keep their slide foot parallel with their body, not with the lanes.  This seems unorthodox, but it puts less of a grinding force through the knee.  Most SHD bowlers twist their bodies into their dominant side to get their hips out of the balls path.  This means that your foot stays parallel to the lanes while your body has to rotate roughly 45 degrees from the hips up through the shoulders.  This rotation commonly happens in the knee, which is not supposed to rotate and will therefore lead to knee problems, just ask Walter Ray Williams or Jason Couch.  The prominent THD bowlers slide with their heel out, and allow their foot to stay parallel to their body, not the lanes, this should mean less wear on the knees, although their hips and lower trunk have to absorb the added impact of the skipping.


With regard to the spine, these two techniques are quite different.  The SHD bowler typically leans into his dominant side throughout the ball delivery.  This is not ideal for the spine, but it does help limit the amount of flexion and rotation utilized from the lower back.  The THD bowlers are forced to flex forward farther and rotate more due to the usage of both shoulders.  In order to utilize both arms and the associated increase in ball speed and rev rate, these bowlers are placing more torque through the spine, especially the lower (lumbar) spine. 


Ask any chiropractor and they will tell you that the three worst movements to combine are flexion, rotation, and compression.  This puts the most amount of force on our intervertebral discs, and will eventually lead to disc injuries including herniations.  Our discs have two parts, the inner part, called the nucleus pulposus, is just like a little bag of Jello.  This gives our spine the ability to move and absorb shock.  The outer portion, called the annulus fibrosus, is similar to 30 layers of burlap bag stacked on top of each other.  If we put too much repetitive force on the spine, these layers of burlap can start to rip, and allow our Jello to squirt out, that is called a herniated disc.


One observation of a THD bowler will show you that they flex farther forward and rotate more with their trunk, therefore putting more stress on these discs.  In the short run, injuries may be few and far between, but in a long career of bowling, this added force along with thousands of repetitions will most likely lead to more back problems.


As with any sport we need to ensure proper technique and adequate conditioning to maintain good health through a long-career.  With new techniques will come new muscle groups being used, and therefore new aches and pains.  Fortunately the body is incredible at adapting, and it will learn to strengthen the necessary muscles and allow for greater endurance and strength.  As for all athletes it is important to cross-train.  Especially in one-sided sports like bowling, golf, and tennis, athletes need to maintain a healthy balance of musculature to ensure longevity in their careers and proper body alignment.  Sport specific stretches and exercises are necessary as well.  THD bowlers are going to require greater flexibility in their trunks, while SHD bowlers require greater shoulder and hip flexibility.  These need to be maintained with sport specific exercises and stretches.


When compared to other sports, we see tennis players with one-handed and two-handed backhands.  Both techniques have their advantages and disadvantages.  In golf we have always seen a stationary swing, but Adam Sandler’s character Happy Gilmore depicted a golfer with a dynamic hockey swing.  This was not unlike the movements that Palermaa and Belmonte used today.  More than likely THD bowling is here to stay. 


Any new bowler should be encouraged to try both techniques and see which one seems more natural to them.  Listen to your body and if it says bowl with two hands, then try bowling with two hands.  For the seasoned SHD bowler, stick with what you are comfortable with.  You will more than likely try out this new technique and if you do, start slowly and gently.  It requires a whole new set of muscles and movements which will seem awkward and unnatural, but may be beneficial to your game in the long run. 


The two-handed delivery has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is not better or worse then SHD bowling, it is just different.  For some people one movement will seem more natural than others.  Use this to your advantage, and do what feels right.



 Thomas D. McKeon Jr., D.C.  is the official chiropractor of the Kegel Training Center.


Two-Handed Delivery:  Analyzing a New Technique

Posted on May 26, 2008 .