menu close twitter facebook snapchat instagram youtube article basketball gallery graph left-arrow right-arrow search star trophy video net clipboard shield-check shield-star stopwatch filter reset Share




Shop Now USA Basketball

How To Dunk A Basketball

  • Date:
    Jun 14, 2011

To many, it is the carrot that dangles 10 feet off the ground, begging to be grabbed.

Dunking a basketball carries mystique among average-sized men. It's an inspiration for intense workout programs. It's the dream that just won't die.

But how exactly do you dunk a basketball?

Height and athleticism are the main factors, and all other wild cards bow down to the influence of these two. A 5-foot-6 guy probably doesn't have much of a shot with a 10-foot rim unless he's Spud Webb. At the same time, an average-sized guy--say, 5-11--won't have a chance without at least a little athletic ability.

Dunking isn't for everybody, but many men at least have a chance at pulling it off. Even so, it depends on a lot of variables for those on the fringe. Many guys have excess weight that keep them grounded. Some days your legs just aren't up to it. Other days, you don't have the right shoes on, or a certain basketball is hard to grip, or a past injury is hampering you. Little things like that can keep you from basketball glory when you're oh-so-close to throwing down.

If you're 5-5 and lacking great hops, nothing you read is going to pull a miracle. Sorry, Charlie. Don't sweat it, though--as many short shooters boast, "When dunks are worth three points, I'll start doing it."

Similarly, if you're the next Wilt Chamberlain and you can literally kiss the rim, you're too advanced for this course. Enjoy your Zeus-like ability.

If you're close but not quite over the hump, with decent height and decent hops, never forget: there is plenty of hope for you.

Let's get Dick Vitale screaming.

Building Your Strength

Being in great shape is the best way to start your quest toward a rim-rocking jam, and there are specific exercises you can keep in mind while improving your fitness.

LaRue Cook, a personal trainer and owner of LEC Fitness, recommends building your basic level of strength first. This can be done through common leg exercises like squats, lunges, hamstring curls and leg press.

Once that's established, Cook said that increasing your vertical is accomplished through boosting your power.

"Power can be defined as a combination of speed and strength," Cook said. "Dynamic exercises that combine speed and strength such as skips--low and high--and squat jumps and bounding are all ways to improve your leg power once a base of strength has been established."

The Jump

Generally, a player can get his highest when jumping off one foot and reaching up with one hand. For a right-hander, the most common way is approaching from the left and jumping off the left foot with the ball in the right hand. However, some people find jumping off two feet more comfortable, so experiment and find what's best for you.

Going up for a two-handed slam, while awesome, is a more advanced dunk and shouldn't be the goal just yet. To slip your hand over the rim and throw down a ball means to eliminate anything that might keep you from your vertical maximum. So your other hand should stay at your side to balance your body.

If you're not sure what your potential is, go up without a ball first. Get the hang of jumping this way, of (hopefully) touching the rim. Many of the newer rims are breakaway, and will snap down if you grab onto it. If you want to have a chance at dunking, you should be able to snap the rim down like this with some consistency.

Careful, though: If you grab the rim but can't get a grip, the momentum of your body could cause a violent spill. Be smart.


From there, work your way up. Jeff Haefner of Breakthrough Basketball suggests starting with smaller balls like a golf ball or tennis ball to practice timing and elevation. It's a little harder than just grabbing the rim, and a good step toward throwing down a big ball.

"You'll find it's much harder to dunk with a full-sized ball," Haefner said. "Your timing and vertical leap is the key."

Keep that in mind, and progress slowly. A mini basketball is a little more challenging than a tennis ball, but it's easy to palm and that helps. See if you can get high enough to get your hand over the rim--almost up to your wrist--so you can stuff the mini ball. If you can't throw it down with a little authority, a bigger basketball won't be any easier.

From there, you can try a four-square ball or a volleyball. Both are a pretty good size but soft enough to be able to grip.

Remember that fatigue is a factor, and you probably have only so many jumps in a session before your legs wear out. Once you're not 100 percent, you don't stand a chance at dunking for the first time. Don't get frustrated if your 15th attempt of the day isn't as good as your third or fourth try. That's normal.

With a Ball

If you're on the verge of dunking, being able to palm a normal basketball will help immensely. If your hands aren't big enough, you can go up holding the ball over your hand like a waiter holding a plate of food. Take care of it--the rock often gets away from players mid-jump, making the attempt worthless.

Work at it, and focus. You'll probably get painfully close dozens of times before you break through and finally get a clean one. You're first "dunk" might be a little ugly and won't be with force. It doesn't mean it doesn't count.

The slam dunk is a beautiful play that only a small portion of the population can do, which adds to the allure of it. If you're right on the dunk's doorstep, don't give up. Work hard at it and keep your confidence high. When it finally does go down, it will be worth it in the end.

That's a promise.

Related Tags:

Related Videos

Learn how to work on your dribbling on the move!

Work on your dribbling skills with friends and teammates, taking turns using each other as human cones!

Learn some foundational skills on how to utilize a crossover dribble on the move.

USA Basketball's Jay Demings (Youth and Sport Development Director) and Don Showalter (10-time gold medal winning junior national team coach) discuss the four stages of progressive player development.

Related Content

USA Basketball will host the 2023 U.S. Open Basketball Championships in two phases, designated by age group, this summer.

  • Date:
    Feb 27, 2023

USA Basketball will host youth basketball clinics at Otero Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Wednesday, March 8. The on-court clinics will focus on fundamental skills in a fun environment for players of all levels and abilities.

Eight teams eaned titles at the 2022 U.S. Open Basketball Championships.

An action-packed Saturday at the 2022 U.S. Open Basketball Championships produced semifinal bids across the competition as teams fought to keep championship hopes in sight.

Action photos of Day 4 at the 2022 U.S. Open Basketball Championships on July 16, 2022.

Coach Licensing & Organization Accreditation Login

Forgot Password?