Tiered Taping: A Process to Reduce Grip Pressure and Improve Swing & Release


Tiered Taping: A Process to Reduce Grip Pressure and Improve Swing & Release

Joe Slowinski, USBC Gold Coach

this article would have been the November 2013 Slowinski at-large article for Bowling This Month.  I wrote 85 articles for Bowling This Month and was disappointed that the one technical shining star of the bowling world ended publication in October 2013.

Historically, the anatomical nature of the human thumb has presented an enigma for pro shop operators, coaches and players alike.  With orthodox drilling methods, in order to create thumb shape front-to-back, it is impossible to obtain a fit which presents the bending of the thumb at the bottom of the hole while fitting the hole well at the top. Specifically, the thumb hole will fit at the top or fit at the bottom but not both.  A thumb hole which fits the base of the thumb can’t fit well on the tip because the shape of the thumb will leave extra space on the bottom of the hole.   Thus, bowlers must bend the thumb at the knuckle to grip and swing the ball as it enters into the swing, throughout the swing as well as into the release.  This will delay the exit of the thumb due to the excessive grip pressure of the bent thumb. On the other hand, taping a hole with full pieces of tape, which creates a good fit at the tip of the thumb, would create a hole which is too tight at the top of the hole also delaying the release as the tape acts like a breaking mechanism. 

With this reality in mind, I continue to find solutions to improve fit and reduce grip pressure.  In this month’s Slowinski at-large, I discuss a taping procedure which can help you improve your swing and release.  The tiered taping procedure will eliminate the bending of the thumb and reduce thumb bending grip tension.  

What Is Tiered Taping?

Tiered taping is the strategic layering of tape with three types of tape thickness: full length, ½ and ¼ length pieces.  The major objective of tiered taping is to eliminate the bending of the thumb on the bottom of the hole since this knuckling creates excessive grip pressure and delays the thumb exit.  Specifically, tiered taping is based on the premise that the tip end of the thumb as well as the middle section of the thumb would both require more tape thickness compared with the base (near the palm).

Tiered taping will be defined by tape thickness values at three thumb zones: tip, middle and base. To illustrate, a 5-3-2 tiered taping would include 5 pieces at the tip, 3 pieces t in the middle and 2 pieces at the base.

The tiered taping process requires several efforts to customize for each individual’s thumb shape and create a customized tiered taping that works for each unique person.  I strongly recommend that you experiment with a number of variations until it works best for you. 

Origin of Many Release and Swing Problems
Many release, swing and timing problems can be traced back to excessive grip pressure facilitated by thumb bending induced tension.  Specifically, the anatomical nature of the thumb, leads to a problem to grasp and swing the bowling ball without bending the thumb.   In fact, this is so common, in many cases, you will see bowlers with burn marks at the tip of their thumb.  Here are some common problems associated with excessive grip tension.

Problem Area # 1 – Swing Start Movement and Timing
With the hole too large on the bottom, leading to a bent thumb, the first problem area will be the swing start fluidity and overall movement.  Since the bowler will bend the thumb, increasing grip pressure, the player will squeeze more firmly as the ball moves downward and encounters gravitational forces.  Instantly, this leads to a breaking effect as the ball transitions from a support position and moves downward with no support.  This will lead to several detrimental effects including: slower feet, reduced forward spine tilt, late timing and swing movement shapes that reduce energy transfer from bowler to bowling ball.

Problem Area # 2 – Release
With excessive thumb tension, the thumb will be delayed in exiting the ball reducing the separation between the thumb and fingers.  Moreover, the thumb will remain in the ball longer reducing the rev rate since the arc line length that the fingers can travel will be shortened.  This reduces the oversall potential ball motion.  Often, this will also lead to the player rotating over the top of the ball.

Potential Injuries Associated with  Induced Grip Pressure 

Worse than detrimental physical game effects are repetitive stress injuries associated with excessive tension in the grasp..  Over time, this unnecessary pressure creates strain on the wrist and elbow.  With repetitive stress, the added tension of the thumb can lead to injuries of the wrist or elbow. Some common potential injuries associate with excessive thumb pressure include:

De Quervain's tendinitis  -  Two of three major thumb tendons run through a channel on the thumb side of the wrist.  When tendons on the side of the thumb become inflamed, the lining of the tendons can become swollen causing the tendon movement to be inhibited.   This can cause pain on the thumb side of the wrist as well as potential weakness of the wrist.  Using an anti-inflammatory medication and a support splint or brace is recommended when experiencing discomfort.

Golfer’s Elbow (medial epicondylitis) - Flexors of the fingers insert at the medial epicondyle, at the inside of the elbow.  So, with repetitive motions which includes excessive grasping and gripping, the tendon can become inflamed.  It is also aggravated by the resistant forces of wrist flexion (cupping).  Squeezing a tennis ball, wrist curls and reverse wrist curls are recommended to help with this injury.

Tennis Elbow (lateral epicondylitis) – A similar overuse injury to medial epicondylitis is tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is the inflammation of the area on the opposite side of golfer’s elbow, on the outside of the elbow.  Symptoms include pain on the outside of the elbow and a weak grip.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – The median nerve provides feeling for the thumb, index, ring and middle finger.  When this nerve becomes compressed, due to repetitive grasping and flexing of the wrist, the carpal tunnel space shrinks due to inflammation of the nerve.  When swelling increases it is possible that numbness or pain can move from the center of the ring finger all the way to the thumb.  In addition to pain, this can also weaken one’s grip.

Step-by-Step Tired Taping Construction Procedure
To improve one’s grip, I strongly recommend testing the tiered taping process.  Here are the step-by-step directions on how to construct a tiered taping.  Read the instructions as well as review the photos for each step to ensure you construct one properly.

Step # 1 – Look at the Thumb & Estimate the Thickness of Each Level
Turn your thumb to the side and look at it for one minute or so.  Study the thickness difference between the base, middle and tip of the thumb.  How much variation do you notice?   Is there three layers? Two layers? Estimate how much difference you will have at each level.  Ideally, there should be one full tape at the top in order to change.  Changing the top tape every three (3) games is recommended to minimize unnecessary grip pressure resulting from oil and residue.

Step # 2 – Calculate Needed Tapes
Calculate how many ½ and ¼ pieces you will need.  Remember that the goal is one full base piece and one full piece which would be put on top.  For example, a 6-3-2 will require 4 X ½ and 1 X ¼ pieces.  The ½ pieces would go on the bottom of the tape and the ¼ pieces will go just above the ½ pieces.



Step # 3 – Prepare the Tape for Construction
With a full piece of tape, cut the rounded top off of a full piece of tape.  Prepare the ½ pieces by cutting this tape into two equal pieces.  To make a ¼ piece, cut the ½ pieces into ½.  With each of these, you can use 2 X ½ piece, 1 X ½ and 2 X ¼ or 4 X ¼ pieces. 

Step # 4
With your calculation and initial experimentation, construct a tiered tape with the ½ pieces and ¼ pieces.  Begin with a full length normal 3/4” white tape.  Tape the ½ pieces to the bottom of a full piece of tape (non-rounded end).  Then add the ¼ pieces just above the ½ pieces to make the middle thickness.  Ideally, place one full piece on top of this.  The rounded end will be on top of the top, nearest to the palm.

If you are unsure, begin by making a 6-3-2 tiered tape by constructing 4 X ½ and 1 X ¼ with 2 X full piece tapes.

Step # 5 – Place the Tired Tape in the Thumb Hole
The constructed tiered taping should be placed at approximately 1 o’clock (RH) or 11 o’clock where the top of the hole (closest to the grip center) is 12 o’clock.  To test the exact location of where your tape should go, place your fingers in the hole and then put the thumb nail into the hole and note the opposite side intersection. This should be ninety (90) degrees relative to your oval angle cut.


A thumb straight was sold in the past and is still available.  Yet, the thickness of the long portion of the device and the overall bulkiness makes it much more difficult to use as compared with the tiered taping method.  This tool also does not allow true customization.

Tiered taping presents a relative easy method to vastly improve one’s grip and reduce unnecessary thumb tension.  With a reduction of a bent thumb knuckle, a player will instantly realize improvements in the swing start, swing and release.  Tiered taping will take a few efforts to customize perfectly for you and your unique thumb shape.  But, the experimentation will lead to a significantly more enjoyable experience on the lanes.  I have created a Change Your Damn Tape Facebook group.  I encourage you to join as well and post your tiered tape construction and successes utilizing this tension reduction method.


Members of the group have been experimenting with tiered taping and developed unique solutions for them as individuals.  Then, they share their experience.  We have seen many successes with this process with members stating that their accuracy is improved and their swing/release is effortless.  You too could enjoy these benefits by trying tiered taping.