I Tried It: Bowling for Fitness at Sweat Fitness and Frames

A workout in a bowling alley. Yup. It's a thing.

Bowling for Fitness at Sweat Fitness and Frames

Trainer Dan Tolbert leads the Bowling for Fitness class at Sweat.

A few months back I wrote about the soon-to-open Sweat Fitness & Frames in East Falls. The 10th location of the local gym chain, this one promised something more than cardio machines and TRX bands: a 10-lane bowling alley that would be both open to the public (hence the soon-to-be-installed kegerators at every lane) and used by gym members. When I talked to Sweat co-owner Scott Caplan back in February, he said a bowling workout was even in the works, a class designed to use the bowling alley—and, particularly, the weighted balls—for some sort of fitness program. Of course I told him to keep me posted.

Two weeks ago, the long-awaited email came from Sweat’s PR rep:

Hey Emily!

The Bowling class at Sweat Fitness & Frames will be on Wednesdays from 5:30-6:30, do you still want to check it out?

My reply exactly two minutes later: “Yes!”

And so, readers, on Wednesday I went bowling. Bowling for Fitness.

Let me just say from the get-go that my expectations were at approximately zero going into this class. Not because I had an inkling that it would suck, but because I had absolutely no idea what to expect. How could a fitness class somehow incorporate bowling? How could this not be a total gimmick? Would my heart rate rise even a little? Would I burn more than 10 calories? Would I sweat—like, at all?

Not having any idea of what I was in for, the first dilemma presented itself before I’d even left my house: What the heck do I wear? After staring at my gym clothes for entirely too long, I settled on a T-shirt, yoga pants, sneakers and socks. Socks were an absolute must—what if they made me change into bowling shoes?

Luckily, I was allowed to wear my sneakers for the workout, and the rest of my outfit proved adequate, too. The first section of the class—a warmup, I suppose—involved selecting a weighted ball and doing the same kinds of moves you’d do with free weights or a kettle bell: squats, lunges, wood chops. There were a few somewhat convoluted moves, including the one pictured above. It’s hard to describe but I’ll try, anyway: We started either sitting or laying on our backs (I can’t remember which) with one of our arms straight up in the like the Statue of Liberty, holding the bowling ball. Then we came up on our side, tucked our legs behind us, came to a full standing position, stepped back into a lunge, and somehow ended up on the floor again. Repeat.

The instructor (and creator of the workout) Dan Tolbert had to demo the move a few times before our group could get it right. Even then, it still felt awkward, but we persevered.

The next phase of the class took us to the bowling lanes, where we were instructed to do circuit-type exercises that incorporated a turn knocking down the pins. We were each paired up with a partner. One person bowled, then had to do a set of exercises—five jumping jacks, say, or 10 squat-jumps. Then, the other person bowled and did the same. Each frame had a new exercise.

In theory, this is a good idea. In practice, it was a little too slow, and made for too much standing around. The pins take too long to reset (not too long in the scheme of bowling, mind you, but too long for what Tolbert was going for), so you finished your exercises before your partner even had a chance to set up for his turn with the pins. And so, you waited. And waited some more.

Perhaps a better idea would have been to make the person who wasn’t bowling perform an exercise until it was his or her turn. Or, have each lane be a station for a different workout. So you bowl at a lane, do the required exercise, then advance to the next one. If everyone goes at about the same pace, there might not be any bottlenecks. It would have made for a much more difficult workout—and a sweatier one, too.

The last portion of the class was dedicated to abs. Again, using the bowling ball, we did some weighted ab work—bicycles, leg extensions. That portion was about on par with what you’d find at a BodyPump class. A cool-down and stretching concluded the hour.

It wasn’t a terrible workout. I was definitely sweaty at the end, and had some fun along the way. Heck, I think I bowled the best game of my life (the competitive part of me was sort of mad we weren’t keeping score), so I was in a pretty good mood. But on a difficulty scale of one to 10—one being sitting on the couch and 10 being a marathon—I’d put this at a three. Three-and-a-half, maybe.

Bowling for Fitness is probably not the workout to seek out if you’re a regular gym-goer looking for a challenge. Stick with kickboxing or spinning. But if you’re trying to get back into the fitness game—or, better yet, want to get a sedentary friend moving again by tempting him with a round of bowling (just don’t mention the pushups)—this is the workout for you.

One good lesson it did reinforce is that even a little bit of movement counts for something. A lot of the moves—pushups, mountain-climbers, squats, toe touches, jumping jacks—were simple things I can do at home while I’m watching TV. It’s certainly not going to give me Dana Torres’s abs, but it can’t hurt, either.

Bowling for Fitness is offered Wednesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Sweat Fitness & Frames, 3300 Henry Avenue, East Falls.

>> Want to read about other classes we’ve tried at Philly gyms and studios? Check out all our posts in this series here.