In my time playing at my local bowls club I have lost track of the number of times I am asked about shot weight. This ranges from “how do I control my weight?”, “why am I always short?” and often with beginners I am asked simply “how do you choose what weight to use?”.
I thought today I’d go through what I believe to be the best guide on shot weight. We will go over:
- What is weight control? And what makes for good, and bad weight control
- The main theories on how to control weight
- Ideas on aspects of technique which can be improved, and how these relate to bowls theory
- Exercises and drills to improve your weight control
What is weight control?
Before we get close to getting our weight right on a green we must first understand what is weight control, and what we can do to get great at it.
As I understand it, weight control is “the ability to consistently get within an acceptable distance in front of behind the jack”.
There are a few things to point out from this definition. Firstly, the use of “consistently” doesn’t mean “every time”. There will be an accepted margin of error, however, 50% is a good place to start.
Secondly I added the term “acceptable distance” because a good weight doesn’t have to be jack high. I would consider an acceptable distance to be 1 mat length in front of the jack, to 2 mat lengths behind the jack. This measure is used on the “land the mat” exercise below.
Finally I only mention “in front and behind the jack” in my definition. Whilst good line helps good weight (see more on this below) it is not important when measuring good weight.
Weight control can also cover the ability to adjust weight accordingly. By learning the theories and applying them correctly you can learn to adjust your length appropriately when required.
How to decide what weight to use
Before you get into the nitty gritty of how to deliver with a consistent weight, you must first work out how you decide what weight to put on. This is a step so many beginners struggle with, or miss out completely!
When asking many experienced bowlers how they choose what weight to use they will often just say they “feel” the weight. Which is true in a way, through years of playing and practice they get an instinctive idea on what they need to do. But this isn’t helpful for new bowlers!
The best way to control weight is to let your internal computer (i.e. your brain) to work it out. For this you need reference points on previous shots, and a consistent delivery to help it out.
Another way to train your brain is to consider your “rhythm speed”. When you play a correctly weighted shot, stop and try to remember how that felt. Imagine yourself making that same movement again.
You will find you will have a couple of natural “rhythm speeds”, once you get an understanding of these you can use them as increments on what you will need to bowl. See the drills and exercises for more information on how to find yours.
How to control weight theories (Pendulum swing and delivery stance)
Now we have an understanding of what weight control is, and how we measure it, how do we actually control the damn thing?
One of the issues bowlers have is conflicting advice on how to best control their shot weight. The issue being each bowler giving advice believes their way is the way, when in fact there are multiple ways. The theories can be assigned to one of two camps of thought. Control the weight through the swing of the arm, or through changing your step.
Let’s take a look at each in more detail.
Pendulum swing - Vary arm speed
Otherwise known as the Ezra Wyth method, the bowler controls all changes in weight through their arm speed, with their arm acting like a pendulum. All other aspects of the delivery are the same. This includes the height of the start point, the size of step, and follow through.
A fundamental aspect of weight control is consistently. Removing as many variables as possible helps your internal computer calculate the required weight. This is the ideal method to help.
The main issue comes with the strength required to reach on heavy greens. Finding a stance, and a step length which works for all conditions can be tricky, and some kind of strength training may be required to help give you that extra range.
Delivery stance - Vary Step
The other option is you adjust your action to change weight. For example, if a bowler is consistently short, they can stand taller in their stance, or bring the back swing higher, or in extreme cases bending the elbow and flexing the fingers can help get extra length.
This is ideal for playing different green conditions, especially in the UK where the difference between a heavy wet green and a fast dry one can be huge.
This does require a certain degree of athleticism to control the extra ranges of motion, so may not be viable for the older bowler. This also removes a lot of the consistently of motion which helps with the foundation of weight control.
How to improve consistency
Regardless of which school of thought you choose there are plenty of ways you can help create consistency in your routine and delivery method to help control your weight.
Straightening your arm - by keeping your arm unbent it allows your body to move it as one piece. This prevents inconsistencies around extra effort being added through the bicep.
Consistent finish - it is very easy to add extra weight to a shot by extending your follow through higher than normal. Extra weight can also be added accidentally by flexing your fingers.
Consistent position on the mat - by keeping this the same you are training your brain to learn what weight is required. Constantly changing position for each shot means your brain can’t join the dots from previous shots.
Repeatability is the key to weight control. Regardless of which technique you choose, make sure you can repeat the action again and again. Remember, simple delivery techniques are easiest to repeat (note we didn’t say easy!)
Weight control theories are great at helping bowlers find, and maintain a specific length. Unfortunately jack lengths don’t stay the same! Jacks can be rolled different lengths on new ends, or jacks can be moved mid-end. Often we also find we are either just short, or just too long, and finding that elusive yard-on or yard-off can really make the difference.
Adjusting your length in lawn bowls will depend on which of the theories you will subscribe to. As outlined above, the pendulum swing should help you more at adjusting your length. Often when we try to adjust length purposely (i.e. we are thinking about it) we often over compensate - and we’ve all been there.
Following the exercises in this guide should help you learn to adjust your length. These exercises are great at learning the “feel” of a yard-on or a yard-off.
What stops good weight control
Now we have an idea on what helps weight control, we must also look at what hinders it.
Two main issues will hold back your control. Inconsistent stance, and an inconsistent line.
The inconsistent stance can cause issues due to extra “body action” going through the bowl. That is to say, if you stand taller you will put more energy into the shot, making it go further. Keep your stance the same, and just like the adjustments mentioned in the section above - you will see an improvement in your weight control.
It is also important to note the impact an inconsistent line can have on your ability to judge shot length. A bowl with a wide line will need to travel further to get to the same length as a correctly lined shot. Keep this in mind if you bowl a short, wide bowl. It could just be your line was off, and you may not need to overcompensate on the weight.
See my Ultimate Guide to Line Control for tips on how to improve.
We’ve gone through a lot of theory and ideas. Now let’s look at how we can take action. There are many was to look at your technique to see what refinements can be made.
We suggest contacting your club coach, going through what you’re looking to achieve, and ask them to watch your delivery. They should be able to tell you if you are doing anything differently.
If you’re unable to get a coach, ask a friend to film you during a practice session. On any mobile is fine, no need for an expensive camera. Ask them to film you from a couple of different angles - including from the side, and straight on. You can then watch it back to see what you may be doing wrong.
Finally, get out there an experiment with the two approaches. Find what works for you!
Weight control drills and exercises
Here are the main drills we recommend for improving you weight control. We have seen many bowlers make quick improvements by using these drills, and I’m sure that you will to.
As with all of our drills, we outline three things: Outcome goal - what do we want to get from the drill The method - how to perform the drill Success measure - how do we record improvements over time?
Outcome goal: Find where your “natural” lengths are
The method: You will only need two mats (one at each end) and four bowls
Whilst still maintaining a correct line, focus on each shot an easy weight. Spend time feeling what that is. You should find all your shots gather on a general length. This is your natural length.
Repeat, but focus on a “long” length and again for a “short” length. Each time focus on a consistent arm/step speed.
The aim here is to get an understanding on how it feels to reach your natural lengths.
Success measure: How close your groupings are for your different natural lengths
Land the Mat
Outcome goal: To land as many shots as possible in the target area
The method: You will need 6 mats and 4 bowls for this exercise.
Place five mats as a target area at one end of the rink. This should be 3 mat lengths long (a weight target) and 2 mat lengths wide (a line target).
Use the 6th mat as a delivery mat and deliver your bowls aiming to get as many bowls in the target area as possible. Ensure you do two forehand and two backhand shots each end.
For a more detailed look at this drill please see the video below. This shows exactly how the mats should be laid out, as well as showing a few bowlers attempting it (with varying degrees of success!)
Repeat for multiple ends. Try moving your delivery mat and/or the target mats to replicate different lengths. Aim to practice on a good mix of lengths over the course of the session.
Success measure: See how many bowls you get in the target area. Check your results after each session to see if there are any specific weak areas - such as short lengths on the forehand for example. This is then something you can investigate further
The importance of weight control is huge. A shot of good length with poor line is worth way more than a shot of poor weight. “Weight is worth 90%”.
Whilst finding consistency with your weight control looks complex, the solutions are all about simplicity and repeatability.
Experiment with the different techniques outlined, and find a solution that works for you. Finally, practice makes perfect! So get out there and work on those drills!