how to slam dunk a basketball

Being able to slam dunk a basketball is awesome. It is a truly great feeling. Part of the reason it feels so good is because of the fact that not many people can actually do it. If you can rise up and throw it down, then you have achieved something special, something that a lot of people have tried, but relatively very few have succeeded.

It is therefore no surprise that many people who visit a site like this that is dedicated to vertical jump training do so because they want to learn how to dunk a basketball. Many people think it is just a matter of increasing their ability to jump high. To a certain extent they are right. However it is also important to realise that dunking is a fine motor skill, and as such there are some specifics that people should be aware of. 

Slam Dunking: What's Involved

At a high level being able to slam dunk is simply a combination of jump height, co-ordination, and timing. If we examine these three areas a bit more closely we will have a good understanding of what is required to dunk a basketball.

jump height

Being able to jump high is clearly the most important variable in dunking a basketball. It is stating the obvious that if you can't jump high enough in the first place you won't be able to dunk. 

LeBron James dunkingLeBron has as the jump height part sorted

There are plenty of articles on this site about the many ways you can train to jump higher so I won't dwell on this too much, however the quickest and most effective way to increase your vertical jump is to work on your weaknesses.

This means if you are weak the quickest way for you to improveis to get stronger. If you are slow you need to get quicker. If you are uncoordinated you need to improve your movement efficiency. If you are too fat you would do well to drop a few pounds. 

If you are unsure of what your weaknesses are or how best to train them then I highly recommend you sign up to our custom jump training. It was designed specifically to maximize vertical jump gains by creating training programs that target your individual areas of weakness.

Co-Ordination and Timing

I am going to discuss these two categories together as they go tend to go hand in hand. At the start of this article I mentioned that being able to slam dunk is a fine motor skill. This basically means that there is a high degree of coordination required to be able to do it.

From a practical standpoint this means that in order for you to get good at it you need to spend plenty of time actually practicing that skill. It amazes me the number of people who want to slam dunk who don't actually do any jumping that resembles dunking practice.

Everyone is looking for the secret training technique, or the latest training aid in the hope that they will be able to gain those extra inches in no time (and with no effort). The fact is the most obvious and most beneficial exercise for being able to slam dunk a basketball is actually going out and trying to slam dunk a basketball.

The more you practice that movement the better you will become at it. Yesterday I was watching a young guy who is training to dunk show me his jumping technique. His technique was ok, but the thing that stood out the most to me was that he was so inconsistent in his jumps. One jump he would look smooth and get some decent height, and the next one he was over striding, taking off too far out, and getting several inches lower.

The reason for this is that he had not spent enough time practicing that movement for it to have become second nature. Like all fine motor skills this takes time to develop. I know marketers don't like telling people this but the fact is you don't become a great dunker in a few weeks. You need to consistently work at this for a few months at least before you see significant gains. And even then you need to keep working at it to really master the movement.

dee brown dunkDo you think it took Dee Brown just a few short weeks to learn to do this? Get Real.

The key point is not to get frustrated after two weeks if you aren't suddenly dunking like mad. Just remember that your frustrations are caused not by your own failings but are the result of the false expectations created by the many hype fuelled marketers telling people lies about what is really achievable in short time frames.

Ask yourself this, do you think all of the great slam dunkers you see on YouTube became the phenom's that they are because they spent 2-3 weeks practicing? No way. These guys devote their lives to practicing dunking (which also goes a long way to explaining why they are not in the NBA despite their obvious athletic ability).

Single Leg versus Double Leg Jumpers

Whether or not you prefer to jump off one leg or two doesn't really matter that much, you will still need to do plenty of practice. Single leg jumpers however tend to me more reactive while double leg jumpers with their higher ground contact times tend to rely more on their strength to develop their jump height.

Single leg jumpers also tend to take off further away from the basket and let their momentum carry them forward as well as up. Double leg jumpers often take off a little closer in and tend to go more straight up. This is due to the way the double leg jumper essentially gathers themselves briefly before going up.

There are a lot of factors in determining whether or not someone is a single leg or a double leg jumper. I discuss some of the important ones in the single leg jump training article. However from a practical point of view, the process is not much different regardless of how you prefer to jump, it is just the specificity of the exercises you choose that changes.

That said, there are some things that you should focus on for each style of jump. For a single leg jumper they should be focusing on trying to gather as much speed as they can in their run up. They will need to have a decent level of eccentric strength to prevent their knee collapsing at take off, but this will come with time and repetition.

Having good speed in the run-up, and the eccentric strength to safely convert that speed into vertical jump height, is the difference between a great single leg jumper and an average one. Watch any video of a great single leg dunker and they basically run flat out before they take off.

Compare that to a two foot jumper, and while they are still coming in with some speed, it isn't anywhere near the same flat sprint that a great single leg jumper uses.

putting it all together

The key components required to slam dunk a basketball are as discussed jump height, and coordination. Jump height is determined by how much strength you have, your ability to apply that strength quickly, your ability to absorb force, and how well you move.

Once you can elevate high enough, then you need to develop the skills to time your run up to catch the ball at or around the rim (if you are using a lob), or to run up dribbling or holding a ball (no lob). The difficulty of timing a lob or holding a ball makes dunking much harder than just jumping.

So what do you do? The first thing to do is to make sure you are actually practicing to dunk. At first you will find this difficult but keep at it and gradually you will get closer and closer to putting one down. The first one is always the hardest because you need to get over the mental hurdle of self doubt. Once you get your first and you know you can do it, the floodgates will open.

Before you get to that point of actually dunking you will probably find that your gains from just practicing have slowed down. When this happens then it is time to introduce some structured programming. As mentioned the program that will provide the quickest gains for you is one that targets YOUR areas of weakness. By working out what is holding you back and turning that weakness into a strength you will get much faster results.

practical tips

One of the best things you can do when trying to learn how to slam dunk a basketball is to break it down into more managaeble goals. After all, when you first look up at that 10 foot ring - being able to dunk can seem a really long way off. There are two methods I recomend you use.

Method one involves the obvious of breaking the process down into smaller more achievable steps. Start by aiming to touch the net. Once you can do that try and touch the ring. When you can touch the ring you try and get your wrist abovethe ring. This is the minimum height you will need to jump in order to successfully slam dunk. Once you can get your wrist abovethe ring it is time to start adding in a ball. Again, break it down to smaller steps. Start with a tennis ball, then work up to a size 3 ball, then a volleyball, and eventually you will get to a basketball.

The second method is only applicable if you have access to an adjustable ring such as the one pictured. Here the obvious progression comes from starting on a lower ring. The downside to most portable rings is that the minimum height adjustment is 6 inches. This can often be too much of a jump in one hit for a lot of people. Another drawback is that these types of rings also require you approach from the side or you will crash into the base, and you also need a reasonably flat surface to run in safely. Most fixed 10 foot rings such as those at parks or stadiums on the other hand tend to be on flat surfaces to begin with.

basketball ringAn adjustable hoop is a great tool for learning to slam dunk

The last tip I like to use is to video tape yourself. If you can do this you will quickly spot flaws in your technique that will be holding you back. If you compare your own video to that of a seasoned dunker who has performed the movement many times it will become obvious where you can approve. The most common mistakes are lack of approach speed, over striding in the last two steps, and taking off too far out or too close in. Most of these issues will resolve themselves with practice but it certainly helps spee dup the process if you can spot them early.


I hope I have not discouraged you too much by telling you the truth about how hard it is to make the gains necessary to dunk. It is very hard to do. But it is also achievable. If your goal is to slam dunk, start with the obvious and easiest step -  start practicing trying to actually slam dunk. Once you have milked all the gains that you can from that, then start thinking about extra programming.

However, even if you are following a structured training program, it is important to keep working on the motion of trying to dunk. By never losing sight of your goal you will make it so much easier to achieve.

And finally don't beat yourself up if you are not dunking in 12 weeks like all those dodgy programs advertise. Be realistic with yourself. Unless you are already really close to dunking, it will likely take longer. You just have to keep working hard, keep practicing, and doing the right things to recover.

If you are dedicated and persistent, then there is no reason you can't experience that amazing feeling of achievement that comes with throwing down your first slam dunk. As anyone who has ever done it will tell you “the hard work is totally worth it".


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