Kyle Troup of Taylorsville, North Carolina, flashed a smile and a quick peace sign to the TV camera before stepping up to the first frame of a semifinal match at the 2022 Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour Finals. Dripping with swag in tiger-striped jersey and pants, white belt, and his signature Bob-Ross-esque beard and afro, Troup calmly approached the foul line and rolled a strike — the first of 12 consecutive in the 33rd televised perfect 300 game in PBA history.

All 12 looked the same, of course. Not just the 10 pins falling, but Troup’s form: right hand under the ball with middle and ring fingers in the holes, left hand in front; five-step approach with a long slide on the last; torso bent over roughly parallel with the floor at release; left (front) leg and hip flexing to stop his forward motion, then quickly extending to produce power; left hand coming off the ball while the right whips across to throw it down the lane with spin so that it approaches the right gutter before coming back to the middle and striking the first pin; follow-through and holding the classic bowler’s pose for a second before watching 10 pins scatter, leaving a black hole at the end of the lane.

The pros make it look easy, but a lot goes into that repeatable motion, especially when tens of thousands of dollars are on the line in a given tournament. Bowlers aren’t typically thought of as high-level athletes, and up until recently most of them weren’t. But times have changed, and nowadays top PBA performers like Troup dedicate just as much time and energy into training as other professional athletes.

“The thing that has changed in the PBA in the last few years or so is that a lot of guys are working out and going to the gym after bowling,” says the 32-year-old Troup (pronounced “Troop”) who now lives in Louisville, Kentucky. “You never would have seen that before. Typically, we would finish up bowling and 30 people would be in the bar hanging out, having drinks, eating pizza and hot wings, and then going to bed. [The increase in training] has changed what people think of the sport, especially when you see these guys on TV looking more fit, with their sleeves tight around the biceps and all that. It’s been a great change for the sport of bowling.”

A Family of Bowlers

Kyle Troup joined the PBA at age 16. The son of professional bowler Guppy Troup, Kyle was something of a prodigy, having grown up a “bowling alley rat” (his words) and first playing at age 2 or 3. Guppy was known as much for his showmanship as his play, often sporting colorful pants, sunglasses, and gold jewelry in televised competitions and celebrating strikes with a hip thrust move he coined the “Gup Thrust.” “People tuned in to see what kind of pants I’d be wearing,” Guppy once said. “They didn’t care how I bowled.”

Kyle continued the Troup legacy upon turning pro in 2007, at least where the pants were concerned. “I just wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to be a pro bowler,” he says. “He was the crowd guy. He always had fun anytime he was there. I learned a lot from him.”

The father-son comparisons mostly end there. Guppy was a traditional one-handed bowler, whereas Kyle uses a two-handed delivery with the off hand staying on the ball until the very end, which offers better control, increases “rev rate” (greater spin), and allows the bowler to keep his thumb out of the ball to reduce injury risk.

Kyle has also managed to outperform his dad. As of late 2023, he has 10 career PBA tournament wins to Guppy’s eight. His best year was 2021, when he won his first (and so far only) major at the PBA Players Championship and set the PBA’s single-season earnings record at $496,900. Career win #10 at the 2023 PBA Tour Finals made him eligible for the PBA Hall of Fame if he can make it to 20 years, which is only four years away.

“It was a dream come true just to win my first PBA title on television back in 2015 [at the PBA Wolf Open],” he says. “And then after winning a major in 2021, I’ve accomplished all the goals I’ve set out to accomplish so far.”

Becoming a Gym Rat

Aside from winning his first tournament, 2015 was the year that convinced Troup he needed to take better care of his body. Late in the season, he suffered a sciatic nerve injury that kept him bedridden for long stretches. “I had never done any stretching to that point,” says Troup. “I was really skinny and had very little strength; I couldn’t even do one pull-up. And then not being able to get out of bed at 24 years old kind of showed me that, hey, we got to start taking this fitness thing a little more seriously.”

After getting past the sciatic issue, Troup joined a gym, found a knowledgeable personal trainer to show him the ropes, and was instantly hooked. “I fell in love with it,” he says. “I got really into the gym and lifting heavy.”

The training paid dividends. Over the next four seasons, Troup won five tournaments, including the 2020 PBA Tour Finals. The only problem is that he got a little too into it, experiencing a hand injury in late 2020 that he attributes to going overboard on pull-ups, doing 40 of them at the beginning of every workout. He tweaked his training in response, placing more emphasis on flexibility, mobility, and cardio leading into his record-breaking 2021 season.

“Flexibility is one of the most important things for a bowler,” Troup says. “If you’ve got tight muscles somewhere, especially with the amount of torque and pressure that’s used in the bowling motion, it can really affect you. I still do some weight-lifting, but my main focus is normally the back and core area.”

Troup is currently a lean 190 pounds at 6 feet tall, coming off a solid 2023 season where he finished #12 in the PBA rankings out of hundreds of players. His training is at a sweet spot with a consistent weekly workout plan spread out over five days: full-body stretching and core work, including lower back, at the beginning of every session; legs on Monday; upper body “push” (chest, triceps) on Tuesday; upper body “pull” (back, biceps) on Wednesday; a long cardio session on Thursday; and shoulders and arms on Friday.

“I try not to beef up too much in the upper body because if you get too strong or you change your size, that can change your mechanics,” he says. “Bowling is a fitness sport, but you don’t have to have big, jacked muscles.”

Dan Solomon, president of the Mr. Olympia and Muscle & Fitness adds, “It’s incredibly gratifying to see elite athletes in all sports embrace the fitness lifestyle. Kyle’s commitment to strength and fitness is inspiring bowlers at all levels. Overall strength is a key component to maximizing your potential in anything you do. Even in bowling.”

The Physical Demands of Bowling

Like golf, darts, and billiards, bowling is a sport you can dominate without training for it and while drinking beer and eating nachos — provided the stakes are low and you’re playing against other novices who are also drinking beer and eating nachos. When you’re doing it to earn a living, not so much.

Performed occasionally, or even once a week, the bowling motion doesn’t wreak much havoc on the body. At the professional level, however, the volume and lifestyle take its toll.

What you see on TV is only a fraction of pro bowlers’ weekly reps; you’re watching one 10-frame game on Saturday or Sunday at the end of a tournament that started on Monday. By the time the cameras turn on, the bowlers have already played dozens of games in qualifying rounds.

“Bowling three games on a league night isn’t going to be too grueling on the body, but try bowling 12 games a day for four days straight and let me know how you feel if you’re not taking care of yourself,” says Troup. “It’s a lot more physically strenuous than people think.”

How strenuous? Consider the power that’s generated on each roll to get a 15-pound ball (standard weight in the PBA) to glide down the lane with both velocity and precision. Also consider the force required to bring the body to a complete stop before crossing the foul line, which would disqualify the roll.

“The ball’s coming down as you’re coming to a sliding stop, and you can feel the impact through your back and legs at the line,” says Troup in breaking down the physics of the bowling motion. “There’s a lot of pressure put on the body at the release point.”

As for the lifestyle, this isn’t the PGA or NFL. Chartered flights don’t exist in the PBA. You finish a tournament, and then drive your car several hours to the next event. Sitting for long stretches is terrible for the body, especially the lower back. Eating meals at gas stations and fast food chains off interstate exits is even worse. “I put about 40,000 miles a year on my car,” Troup says. “If you’re not taking care of yourself, those drives can beat up on you.”

When Troup arrives in a new town for an event, his first stop is to a grocery store or market to stock up on healthy foods for the week. He now stays in Airbnbs instead of hotels because the former have kitchens where he can cook his own meals, oftentimes using the air fryer he travels with. Even though he splits the cost with his travel roommate and fellow PBA star Jesper Svensson, it’s an added expense. But it’s worth it. Troup also enjoys the benefits of Trifecta Meal Delivery.

“Eating is the toughest thing on the PBA tour, especially if you’re in a hotel,” Troup says. “The air fryer is one of the best things ever. I keep us eating pretty clean — it’s all salmon, steak, chicken, rice, veggies, maybe some noodles every now and then. Jesper’s pretty spoiled coming over from Sweden.”

A League of Athletes

Troup is far from the only fit guy on tour. The upper echelon of the PBA rankings is littered with in-shape bowlers — Keven Williams, A.J. Johnson, Chris Via, Jason Belmonte, to name a few. This wasn’t the case even 10 years ago, let alone during Guppy’s heyday of the 1980s and ‘90s, aside from outliers like PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke who’s still active on tour and in great shape at age 59. Now, players routinely finish a round of bowling and mix up recovery drinks of BCAAs and/or protein in their shaker cups instead of ordering beers.

“You’ve got probably 10 shaker cups sitting around the alley on a day of bowling,” Troup says. “I never saw a shaker cup on tour in 2015. Everybody was drinking soda. But it’s really changed. A lot of guys do Airbnbs now with larger groups of four or five guys, and they’re cooking and doing all that. It’s really cool to see.”

Really cool, but also that much more competitive. At age 32, Troup still has several more peak years ahead of him, but the field is getting deeper with talented young players coming up in the PBA. His future goals in the sport are mixed between expanding his charitable events, like the Christmas fundraiser he hosted on December 2, and continuing to compete at the highest level.

“Giving back is always a big priority of mine,” says Troup, “but my goal as an athlete for next year is to win another major. I’d also like to have another Player of the Year award. I don’t see my career being over anytime soon.