4 Parts of the Bowling Lane: All You Need to Know

A bowling bowl rolling through a bowling lane that has dark dark walls and dark gutters contrasted by the hardwood floors.

Bowling may seem like a simple game. But like any sport, it takes a lot of training and understanding of the different factors to be good at it. To learn more about this sport, then a proper understanding of its components is critical to your success.

One of these is the bowling lane. You should ask yourself, what are the four parts of a bowling lane and how you can use them to your advantage. We will go through the different parts of the bowling lane, and you will find suggestions on how to utilize every part so that you can gain an advantage over your competitor.

Whether you’re preparing for a friendly match with your workmates in the bowling center or if you’re eyeing to be part of a bowling league to increase your rating, starting with the fundamentals will take you further than you would imagine. Knowing and understanding the four parts of the bowling lane will be advantageous against less knowledgeable competitors. If you want to be successful, take the time to learn and understand each section.

Professional bowling lanes are usually 60 feet in length and 42 inches wide. The sixty feet length is divided into three sections which we will discuss further in the article as each one will come into play when choosing the right bowling ball and how you can place your strategy more effectively.

Knowing the four parts of the bowling lane is also crucial to place your shots strategically and get the best results for every throw.


A man positioned at the approach of the bowling alley, about to throw a red bowling ball.

This is the first fifteen feet of the lane before the foul line. This is where the bowler can step to gain momentum and throw the ball. Taking this distance before the line is an important factor in strategizing your shot. 

Some beginners take too many steps, thereby losing their stride and the right momentum making their shot awkward. This can lead to the loss of control and, eventually, a failed shot. However, mastering the approach and knowing how many steps you can take to optimize the launch can lead to better shots and a better chance of scoring better points.

Usually, bowlers will take five steps before reaching the foul line. As beginners, this is a good starting point. After trying this out, find out what approach works best for you.

The approach has lines and markers that make it easy for you to find the best spot to launch the ball. Many players underestimate the distance, so they tend to release the ball on the approach surface rather than after the foul line. This results in a weak throw, and the ball lacks power at the back end. On the other hand, throwing the ball far off in the lane will also be a problem. Try to find a good distance to allow the ball to move well. 

A certified coach will be a great help when looking to improve your footwork. They can spot where you’re struggling and then recommend the training to improve it.

Foul Line

A woman positioned behind the foul line, throwing a bowling ball.

As the name tells, this is a line that indicates the area where a player is allowed to go. This 1 and 3/8 inch wide line divides the actual bowling lane approach. It stretches across the lane from the gutter to gutter. 

A bowler will get a foul when any part of their body goes over the line and touches any part of the lane after delivery. When a foul is called, the delivery still counts, but any pins knocked down on the delivery will not be credited. This is why beginners need to discipline themselves to not go over the line.

For professional games, if anything in your pocket falls onto the lane, this will not count as foul, but you need to ask permission from the authorities to pick them up.


A well-oiled stretch of wooden bowling lane.

The bowling lane stretches by sixty feet. In itself, it may seem like just a long stretch of planks where the ball rolls. But it has sections that make bowling a much more exciting sport and adds to the complexity the higher the ranking and stakes are. 

Bowling lanes are regularly conditioned with special oils pre-approved by a governing body. The oil reduces the friction and wear on the wooden boards. It also plays a part in improving the overall gameplay.

There are several patterns of the application of oil on the lane. Generally, it is applied from the beginning of the foul line and continues until the last several feet before the pin deck. However, applying it from side to side is mandatory.

A bowling lane has different parts as well. Where the bowler places the ball in the lane is crucial to the control and reaches the end of the lane. 

The first 20 feet of the lane is called the head or the front-end. This is where most of the oil is applied. The next 20 feet is called the mid-lane, where there is still oil, but it is significantly less than what was applied in the head. Finally, the last 20 feet of the lane is called the back-end. There is no oil applied in this section. 

Before introducing oil in bowling lanes, older bowling lanes relied on the species of wood to provide the dynamics of a lane. They used hard maple for the front-end, pines for the mid-lane, and soft pine wood for the back end.

The lane will also have marks and signs that can help bowlers aim and gauge their shots. Small strips of wood can be used as a reference to improve your shot or to mark where you threw a good shot. These markers are called boards. Seven arrows are spread across the lane. You will easily recognize them by the V-shape they create, and they are usually 15 feet away from the foul line.

There are also gutters located on both sides of the lane. These catch the ball if it veers too much to either side.

Pin Deck

A bowling ball about to hit the pins in formation at the pin deck.

This is the last two feet of the lane. It is where the ten pins are put in a triangle formation. Some may refer to the pin deck as a pin rack. But they are not to be used to refer to one thing. The deck is the area where the pins are placed, and the actual set of pins is what is referred to as the rack,

Pins are numbers from one to ten. The foremost pin is also referred to as the headpin. They are numbered so that it will be easy to identify them when pins are left after your first turn.

Bowling Lane Materials

A view of a bowling lane made of lacquered wooden planks.

Bowling lanes have evolved from simple wood planks to coated natural or synthetic materials, which adds to the game’s exciting nature. There was little to no standardization of the length and width of the lane in its infantile stage. But after the founding of the American Bowling Congress, it was required to make bowling lanes from conditioned wood. This helped in adding durability and reaction to the lanes. 

The lanes back then were coated with shellac and then replaced by lacquer later on. Some decades after this, urethane was used in place of lacquer since it was more durable, and then synthetic lanes were introduced and used starting in the 1990s. Bowling alleys preferred these because of their durability due to the harder materials, and they were practically maintenance-free.

Checking Oil Patterns

A conceptual diagram showing a Typical House Shot (THS) oil pattern on a bowling lane from Wikimedia Commons.

It helps a lot if you familiarize yourself with oil patterns on bowling lanes even when starting. While there are wide varieties to how each lane from different alleys is oiled, understanding how these patterns affect your ball is important.

Oil patterns directly affect how your ball reacts to the lane. It is one of the most important factors to consider in a game, but it did not start with that in mind. Oil was first put on lanes to protect the wood from abrasion caused by balls and maintenance.

Nowadays, a lane machine will draw a pattern on the lane with the thickest consistency closest to the foul line and then tapers until the first part of the back-end. This is why a bowling ball has more hook at the end. Less oil means more friction and contact.

As mentioned before, not all oil patterns are the same. Higher-level competition has more complex oil patterns, which is why you may be one of the top players in your class but moving up, you may need to relearn how to reread oil patterns. This is another reason why bowling is an exciting sport all around.

Some Tips and Strategies to Improve Your Lane Mastery

A low view of a bowling alley with pins in triangle formation.

Different lanes need different strategies because they vary in the way they are oiled. But these are general tips to help beginners have a good idea of starting their turn and making the most out of every opportunity.

  • Adjusting is one of the most common skills you need to learn. When you miss a turn, see what more you can do to improve the following shot. You can either adjust your position on the approach or how you throw the bowling ball.
  • Fine-tune the ball path by targeting the area where your ball lands. The closeness of the landing can directly affect the hook of your ball.
  • Stay relaxed because stiff muscles will release weak throws.
  • Practice as much as you can to build up your confidence and muscles.


What oil do bowling lanes use?

Most lanes use mineral oil to condition the lanes. Various formulas include additives and lubricants that help reduce the friction between the ball and the lane.

What are the shots in bowling called?

There are four standard bowling shots: straight, hook, curve, and backup ball.

Which is better between wood and synthetic bowling lane?

This depends on the condition of the lane. A well-preserved and maintained wood lane will perform as well as modern synthetic lanes.

What’s the best ball for any bowling lane?

The right bowling ball choice will vary depending on the type of oil applied on the bowling lane. But as a rule of thumb, a lane coated with thick oil will need a ball with a coarser surface to gain more friction and control.


Knowing the answer to what are the four parts of a bowling lane is just the beginning. Bowling alleys have more complexity in them than meets the eye. Anyone new to bowling will fare better as they progress when they understand how they can use each part to their advantage.

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