Everything you need to pick the right bowling shoes
When bowling, you want to make sure you have comfortable, high quality shoes for the game. Here is our guide on what to look for when making your selection.
Bowlers manipulate ball speed, rotation, direction, and a beautiful transition from potential to kinetic energy. At least, that's how it's supposed to work.
Whether you are just beginning or are an expert bowler, the transfer of energy to the bowling ball depends on your ability to generate that potential energy. Arm strength is only part of the equation, the forward motion of your feet and legs is also transferred to the ball.
To transfer the maximum energy to the ball, you need correct bowling shoes to maximize the energy generated by your legs and feet. Read ahead to learn about choosing the best bowling shoes, or jump straight to our awesome ratings!
Why Am I Wearing These Shoes?
So what's with the so ugly, yet so stylish bowling shoes? Why does every bowling center require you wear them?
Believe it or not, it's to protect your face from the floor. The approach is the very hard wooden lane leading up to the foul line. It is slippery (although not as slippery as the lanes past the foul line), unforgiving (flat, level with no bounce or give) and carefully maintained to maximize your energy transfer from forward motion to the ball.
You need to glide up to the line so that your delivery is smooth, fluid and very fast. Your ball needs the momentum to knock down those pins. The rubber heels of these shoes stop your glide when you release the ball.
This controlled stop is important. You gain zero points if you go over the foul line.
Shoes that stick too much, or worse, debris from outside that sticks too much can cause accidents and falls, the likes of which the Keystone Kops might enjoy. Debris such as dirt, sand or rocks can wear the finish of the approach in unexpected ways.
That's why you remove bowling shoes (or cover them) before leaving the lane. So long as everyone keeps the lanes clean, there's no problem.
Get Your Own Shoes
You can't begin footwork improvement without discussing shoes. The correct shoe can improve your accuracy almost immediately.
The first thing to know about bowling shoes, especially with so many inexpensive choices is that you can purchase your own! Rental shoes are fine for a casual (like no more than a few times a year) bowler, but if you are looking at improving your game, you want your own pair.
Select your size carefully. Bowling shoes come from different countries, with different manufacturing and sizing standards. While it is tempting to order online, you may want to visit a bowling pro shop for some try-ons first.
Guys who want a solid bowling show for semi-regular trips to the lane
Bowlers with wide feet
Bowling shoes for women who bowl occassionally
Bowling shoes for women who value style and good bowling
Men who don't like Dexter or Brunswick?
Women who like pink toe caps?
Men's and Women's
Very occasional bowlers who want that awesome "rental" look without the gross-factor of rental shoes
Guys who want shoes that look like denim
Anyone who values monochromatic gear above all else
Okay shoe, get the Vapor instead if you like Brunswick
Our top choice from the well known Brunswick brand
These are for serious bowlers, so if you plan on going pro or just dominating your league, these are for you.
Professional level bowling shoe. Replaceable outsole allows you to customize the feel on the lane
Same as the above, but for wide feet
Correct Body Mechanics
The noble sport of bowling (yes, noble -- King Henry VII banned commoners from indulging) involves combining an effective arm swing and step to hurl a heavy ball down a wooden alley to knock down some pins.
Bowling pros teaching the basics start with simple drills to coordinate arm swing and gait. Adding the ball and timing the release is a lifetime of practice and improvement.
Modern bowling knowledge calls for the next to last step be the shortest and the slide step is the longest. This "power step" requires the right kind of bowling shoes to be most efficient. It is very important to slide the appropriate length to take your game to the highest possible level.
Old-school bowlers may take some exception to this technique. Older bowlers may operate with the theory to start with small steps, lengthening as they stride towards the slide. This called for a slightly different style shoe.
The House Rental Shoe
The beginner shoe option you are most familiar with is the House (rental) Shoe. No, not the actual shoes you find at your local bowling center (though they might sell you a pair.) House Shoes look just like the rental bowling shoes you rent at the lanes, including the leather or synthetic slide soles and rubber stopping heels on both shoes.
They are usually slippery and lack traction. Regrettably, they also lack support, as they are not meant for more than a casual bowler.
Athletic-style Bowling Shoes
A common style for both beginning and intermediate bowlers is the Athletic Shoe. Styled like a running shoe, it has a little more support and traction than a rental shoe, as well as a better fit. The best shoes lace from toe cap to top for best fit.
Athletic-style bowling shoes may have collars, padded linings or have cushioned insoles. Bowling shoes with these features provide much-needed comfort. The extra padding supports and minimizes the movement of the feet in the shoes. This will help to maintain balance while sliding on the lanes.
Consider Comfort and Performance
Consider the width of your shoe. Bowling shoes come in specific widths so you can customize your comfort. An improper fit throws off your balance and has a negative impact on your game. An improper fit can also contribute to injury.
There are two very important elements to a quality bowling shoe: adjustable slide length and traction for your power step. Depending on the manufacturer and price point, athletic-style bowling shoes come with both shoes having a slide sole and brake heel.
These shoes are best for bowlers who tend to bowl at only one lane and no more than once a week. Athletic-style shoes generally have synthetic or fabric uppers and synthetic soles. These bowling shoes generally cost more than House (rental) Shoe styles.
Performance Bowling Shoes
Advanced to expert bowlers want a Performance Shoe. These shoes are fully customizable to lane conditions, bowler performance and slide length.
Heels and soles are changeable. The shoe pairs are one "brake shoe and one slide shoe when sold. These shoes have a broader base and firmer fit around the ankle. They provide more stopping support at the foul line. T
Why a Brake Shoe and a Sliding Shoe?
Your dominant foot is your "brake shoe", the opposite is your sliding foot. The brake shoe provides traction to stabilize your body as you make energy conversion to the ball. Without being able to deliver the push into your slide, you generate less power with your legs than you could or lose energy because your foot slides backwards during your the power step.
The brake shoe stops the foot's forward motion for "liftoff" and has rubber on it to assist the bowler in a strong and stable energy delivery into the slide. This type of shoe is the recommended style for bowlers that want to improve their game and for bowlers who bowl more than once a week.
The sliding shoe comes with several removable leather sliding soles for the opposite side (left or right depending on your dominant hand) of the pair. It allows bowlers to slide during the last step of their approach. This sole is generally made of leather or a synthetic-type leather. A consistent slide of the proper length is fundamental to a good bowling shot.
Do You Need a Performance Bowling Shoe?
Performance shoes are normally quite soft and require no stretching or breaking in. This kind of shoe bends quite easily and demonstrates a weak or flexible sole. The Velcro bottom of the slide shoe allows the bowler to change both the sole and heel as conditions dictate.
If you are an advanced bowler who is looking for a shoe that will allow you to have a certain slide, these are the ideal bowling shoes for you. These shoes are normally all leather which makes them strong and durable.
They are long-wearing, by design. They are suitable for wear on a regular basis, several times per week.
Bowlers who compete in a number of different lanes and centers with differing approaches will find interchangeable heels and soles are essential for good performance. For example, the feel and speed of a synthetic approach can be very different from that of a wood approach and can affect the slide drastically.
Bowling Injuries and the High-Top Shoe
Typical injuries are caused by going into the slide incorrectly and twisting. Too much torque placed on the leg and ankle leads to overextension. This is especially true if the angle of the slide foot is to the right or left while you are trying to aim the ball straight.
This can cause strains and sprains in the ankle. Repetitive injury can cause painful stress fractures. Compression wraps and socks can provide additional ankle support for bowlers.
Inventors in Iowa recently revealed a new type of high-top bowling shoe to address ankle weakness.
Foot Injuries and Custom Orthotics
The unique stresses that bowling places on the feet are not ignored. Morton's neuroma is a thickening of tissues around the nerve that leads to the toes. Morton's neuroma usually develops between the third and fourth toes in response to irritation or from trauma.
Walking on tiptoes is another common mistake for bowlers. Usually adjusting the traction of the shoe is enough to correct it. If not fixed, this extra strain in the ligaments in the toes can cause pain.
Conservative treatments include fitting shoes correctly and using custom orthotics to reduce the pressure on the nerve and to reduce the toe-walking.
As most bowlers are improving their game, their gait and swing can become uncoordinated. When bowlers have steps ahead of their arm swing they are generally slightly off balance. Their body position is sideways by the end of the approach. This can cause strain in the arch and leads to an inflammation of the tendon in your arch.
Bowling pros recommend custom orthotics for frequent bowlers who need correct arch support, cushioning and balance. The orthotics can move to different shoes and are adjusted to each individual bowler's stride and slide.
Care of Your Bowling Shoes
Whether $15 or $300, your shoes are a vital part of your equipment kit. Proper care will make it last longer.
General tips for care:
- Always loosen your shoelaces when you remove your shoes.
- Alternate shoes if you bowl every day
- Wear clean, absorbent socks
- Store your shoes in a cool dry place, the trunk of your car is terrible
- Use shoe trees if storing your shoes a long time
- Wipe the exterior of your shoes with a cloth before storing to remove dirt and lane oil
- Lane oil will destroy synthetic shoes and soles over time, wipe it off after use
- Don't crush your shoes
- NEVER wear your bowling shoes outside or to the bathroom
- Always wear a protective shoe covers when leaving the players area
- Clean your shoes gently with a bristle brush if dirty
- Don't get your shoes wet
- Use shoe conditioner sparingly if your soles get damp
Treat your bowling shoes like any good quality sports shoe and they will last you years.
A special note about the sole of your sliding shoe:
This sole gets flattened after a lot of sliding and the friction will increase, impairing your game, or worse, causing you to stick on your approach. Regularly use a bristle brush to gently lift the nap and return the sole to proper texture.
Get the Right Shoes Today!
Having the perfect pair of shoes will not ensure a perfect 300 bowling score. However, it will maximize your ability to practice and improve your game. Consider how often you will bowl, how much you want to spend, fit and comfort before shopping.
Choosing the right size and style for you probably requires a visit to the pro shop for analysis of your gait, stance, and swing to select the correct shoe. You may want to consider a Performance shoe if you are entering a competition or practicing more than once a week.
Proper care of your shoes will ensure that your investment will serve you many years. Good luck and happy bowling!
Questions and comments about the best bowling shoes? Ask the experts!