It can be frustrating trying to learn how to dunk. You see all these guys who are way shorter than you effortlessly getting up and throwing it down while you struggle to reach the rim. It seems like it’s just not in the cards for you.
But don’t give up yet! There’s still hope.
Nate Robinson is 5’9 and still managed to win the slam dunk contest three times.
Although Nate Robinson had great genetics, there is no doubt that his work ethic and training played a huge part in his achievements.
If he can do it, I bet you can do it too. It may take some time and effort, but eventually, you’ll be able to dunk a basketball as you’ve always dreamt of.
How Can I Improve My Vertical Jump to Dunk?
To jump higher to dunk, you need to develop your lower body muscles while improving your explosiveness and thus increasing your power-to-weight ratio. Combining plyometric drills with strength and speed training will make you jump higher than ever!
How Hard Is It to Dunk?
Dunking is hard to achieve, and it’s even harder to do it consistently. According to research, only around 1 percent of the world’s population can dunk a basketball on a regulation hoop. That means that out of the 6 billion people worldwide, only about 60 million can perform this feat. So, while dunking may look effortless on TV, it’s pretty challenging to accomplish.
How Much Do You Have to Jump to Dunk?
To dunk a basketball consistently, you must grab the rim comfortably and reach above the rim.
Consequently, To dunk a 10 feet hoop, you need to be able to touch at least 5 or 6 inches above the hoop.
You might think the shorter you are, the higher you will need to jump. This isn’t always true and here’s why:
Besides height, your wingspan can be a factor. It can either raise or diminish your chances to dunk depending on what side of the pole you find yourself at.
If your hands are smaller than the average for your particular height, it will be harder to dunk. By contrast, you can consider yourself lucky if you have a larger wingspan than average.
So, before feeling disappointed that you aren’t tall enough and you will have to work extra to get there, remember to measure your vertical leap the right way.
The focus should be on your standing vertical.
Set Realistic Goals
To improve your vertical jump and eventually dunk a basketball, you need to understand that it will not be a quick process.
Expecting to improve your vertical jump significantly in a short time is unrealistic.
It can take a while to dunk a basketball consistently, even if you can grab the rim. You can probably dunk if you train properly for long enough, but it may take longer than you’d like.
Being able to dunk gives you a feeling like no other. It makes you understand how dominant and powerful basketball players like LeBron and Giannis are when they slam those dunks. Accept the fact that you will most likely struggle when you first start trying to dunk.
Just keep practicing and have faith in the process. Keep chasing your goals, and you won’t regret it!
Set Smart Goals
It would be better not to set aggressive deadlines for your vertical jump if you want to improve. Obviously, it’s great to be ambitious, but trying to do too much in a short period may result in overtraining.
Trying too hard will likely lead to you getting burnt out or giving up altogether.
Set a goal to work hard and smart on your vertical jump for a month, then reassess.
Analyze what worked and what didn’t, and move from there.
For the best results, set realistic goals and focus on one at a time. My recommendation would be to structure your workouts and adjust them strategically so you can quickly identify what drives results and what doesn’t.
Don’t add another 10 lbs of weight to your exercises just because you think this will lead to more gains.
Just because it’s harder doesn’t always mean it’s better.
Learn how To Jump the Right Way
Most people have an inefficient jump technique. This is the number one reason athletes don’t reach their full potential when it comes to jumping. I will walk you through each step of the jump so you can gain a better understanding of
The way you run into your jump needs to be on point. Pay attention to your acceleration.
It should be consistent and connected. The key here is to reach the maximum speed that still permits you to have control over the takeoff. Test and figure out how fast you can go before it affects your takeoff.
After figuring out your ideal run-up speed, here’s what you have to do next:
As you reach the end of your plant sequence, you must push through the penultimate stride and drive down with your block foot as you bring your torso upright and keep a neutral head and neck throughout the movement.
The second to last step before performing the jump is very important in order to achieve maximum jump height. After this step, your hips will automatically be lower, allowing you the ideal angle for the takeoff.
After planting the penultimate step, you want to ensure you are stable. The more you lean to the side, the worse your jump will be! Don’t tilt!
After your penultimate step, swing your arms back as far as possible and upward as fast as you can while jumping.
I gave my best to describe each step, but I can understand if you feel confused to some degree. I strongly recommend watching this video from Project Pure Athlete.
He breaks down every single simple step of the jump technique except the landing (I will touch upon this in a second).
How to Land Safely from A Jump?
The Landing technique is equally important. The last thing you want is your ankles or knees to snap when you make a landing.
You are in big trouble if you can jump high but can’t control your landing.
Imagine a Lamborghini with terrible brakes. Would you still feel safe driving that car?
Here are some tips you can use to land safely after a dunk attempt and avoid injuries:
The main muscles you will use are the calves, hamstring, and glutes. The point is to take some pressure off the knees and distribute it among those three muscles I mentioned.
Wheter you land on one foott or two feet, it would be best if you always landed on the balls of your feet.
After landing, your knees should be aligned to your toe.
Try to return to the ground on two feet as often as possible. Landing on one leg will cause it to absorb your whole body’s weight and put unnecessary pressure on the knee and joints.
Make sure you are using the right shoes. Nobody wants to slip and break their back, so be careful what you pick to wear when you try to dunk.
How to Determine if You Landed Safely?
A bad landing is usually loud, meaning you have poorly controlled your body after the jump. A safe landing shouldn’t, therefore, make too much noise. That’s one good way to gauge whether or not you’ve put yourself at risk.
Muscles Used for Jumping
The quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles are the most critical components for jumping. The quadriceps are the muscles responsible for knee extension. The glutes and hamstrings, also known as hip extensor muscles, extend the hip when you stand or jump up. The action you perform when you point your toes before leaping off the ground engages the calf muscles and is called plantar flexion. These muscles do the heavy lifting when it comes to jumping, but it’s essential to know they’re not the only muscles used to jump.
The smaller stabilizer muscles play a vital role as well. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to maintain good form and balance when you’re in the air. The core muscles are also essential for keeping your body stable as you take off and land.
Even though training your lower body would drive the most significant results, I would advise you to train every single muscle that has to do with jumping. After all, these may be the difference between grabbing the rim and dunking.
Develop a Strong Lower Body
The first step and overall the primary focus for someone serious about dunking are to get as strong as possible.
I’d recommend aiming to become capable of squatting between 1.5X-2X your body weight (ideally 2X). Therefore a 150 lbs (~70kg) person should be able to do a one rep max (1RM) squat with a 225lbs minimum.
If you want to consider yourself very strong, however, you should train to become capable of squatting as close to 2X your bodyweight as possible.
You need to start hitting the gym and work on your strength if you’re not near the degree of power I mentioned.
Here are some of the best exercises you can do to improve your lower body strength:
The Squat: This is an all-around great exercise that works just about every muscle in your lower area of your body, including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Deadlifts: Like the squat, the deadlift is a compound movement that targets multiple muscle groups in your lower body. The main focus of this exercise is on your hamstrings and glutes.
Lunges: Lunges are an excellent exercise for targeting your quads, glutes, and calves. You can do them with bodyweight only or add weight by holding dumbbells in each hand.
Calf Raises: Calf raises are isolation exercises that specifically target your calf muscles. You can do them with bodyweight only or add weight by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Jump Squats: Jump squats are a plyometric exercise that helps improve your lower body strength and your explosiveness. To do them, squat down and jump as high as you can.
Box Jumps: Box jumps are another plyometric exercise that will help improve your explosive power and leg muscles.
Depth Jump: Depth Jumps are an advanced plyometric exercise that involves standing on an elevated area such as a box. To perform this exercise you will need to step down and immediately jump up after hitting the ground. This drill is particularly great for training your body to make use of elastic energy.
These are just some of the exercises you can do to improve your lower area strength, but there are many more. To get as much as possible from these exercises, I’d advise you to aim for a rep range of 6-12.
Anything lower than six means you aren’t strong enough for the exercise, and anything above 12 means the exercise is probably too easy for you. All of the exercises listed above can be progressively overloaded! You can use dumbbells, a weight vest, or additional weight plates (for the deadlift and squat) to increase exercise difficulty.
Develop a Strong Upper Body
Having a strong lower body can only get you so far when it comes to dunking.
Sure, you may be able to get some average-looking one-handed dunks here and there. However, working your upper body is a must if you ever dream of throwing a windmill, 180, or a double clutch.
The more advanced dunks require an explosive and powerful upper body.
Chances are you are already satisfied with your results so far if you’ve managed to get your first dunk in. Learning how to do the harder dunks can be a challenging task. It’s a quest for the genuinely ambitious guys. After all, it still counts for 2 points no matter how you dunk it.
Nevertheless, it would help if you worked on your upper body strength regardless of whether you plan to do windmills. Your overall athletic ability will improve significantly.
When working out your upper body, include exercises that will improve your arm swing and ability to control the ball in the air.
Start with some basic exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, and dips. These exercises will help to improve your overall strength.
As you become stronger, move on to more specific exercises such as tricep extensions, bicep curls, and shoulder presses.
Remember the rep range rule I’ve talked about in the lower body section? It applies here as well.
Enhance Vertical Jump Training with Speed-Strenght Exercises
The ability to move at high speed with a maximum load is called speed-strength.
Speed-strength exercises are an excellent way to increase your muscle’s ability for jump training because they improve the central nervous system’s engagement when you remove a load.
Jump Squats on their own are a great way to train your legs and get stronger, but how about adding weight? Performing jump squats with weights will have far more significant benefits than regular vertical jumping. This principle is known as post-activation potentiation and has been proven by science to work!
Speed strength exercises are responsible for developing starting strength and explosive power, resulting in what scientists call “rate of force development (RFD).” For this reason, they are ideal for training your muscles to jump higher.
Some exercises that fall into the Speed-strength category are jump squats, Olympic lifts med ball tosses, or drop jumps.
Tips for Improving Your Chances to Dunk
Practice Palming the Ball
Your palm grip is not a factor to take out of consideration if you genuinely desire to dunk. The better your grip, the easier it will be to dunk.
There are many types of basketballs available on the market nowadays. Some basketballs are more grippy than others. The official NBA game ball is made of leather and therefore has a smoother surface compared to the Wilson Evolution indoor basketball, which is popular in college basketball.
The NBA ball is harder to palm while the college basketball is much easier to grip, making it easier for players to dunk. Choose a ball that suits your needs.
Practice Jumping Off the Lob
Having your hands free when you jump is essential as a two-foot jumper. Carrying a basketball whenever you try to jump will significantly affect your output. And by a lot, I mean around 20% of your jumping potential. This is a difficult thing to do, even for one-foot jumpers.
For this reason, tossing yourself a lob will allow you to catch the ball in midair and get maximum height from your vertical jump without any weight slowing down or stopping that arm swing.
It takes practice to get the timing right when you throw one up for grabs. With enough experience, however, you will ultimately learn to catch the ball at the right moment and throw it down the hoop.
Take the Process Step by Step
A good idea for building your way up to dunk a regular basketball would be to start with smaller-sized balls like a tennis ball, then a baseball, and so on until you are comfortable enough to do it with a basketball.
Try a Vertical Jump Program
A vertical jump program can be a great time and effort saver. It provides a structured approach to vertical jump training and helps reduce the risk of injury or overtraining. It can rescue you from a lot of time you would have otherwise spent trying to figure out your workout.
We’ve made a review on the current best vertical jump program available.
Warm up The Right Way
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, no matter if you are a pro athlete or an amateur. Warming up is crucial! You are not only going to avoid injuries this way, but you’re also giving yourself better chances of jumping higher and hopefully dunking. The kind of warm-up that I will talk about today, however, is not the usual static stretches that everyone does before going for a run.
Remember what I said earlier about post-activation potentiation? Well, a specific type of warm-up is proven to enhance your explosiveness and jumping ability temporarily.
This warm-up includes dynamic movements that prepare the body for jumps, such as Side to Side Lateral Movements, Knee Ups, Bends, and Rotations. Next, you’ll want to perform some sets of weighted jump exercises (weight vest, barbell, dumbbells, or any weight). This will increase excitability in your central nervous system and allow you to jump higher for a limited time.
Try warming up like this whenever you feel like you are getting very close to dunking; it might be enough to get you the first dunk.
Take Care of Your Body
Nail Your Diet & Sleep
Let me make this clear. No matter how hard you train, you won’t fulfill your maximum potential if you don’t eat clean and sleep enough.
Countless studies show a direct correlation between these two factors and explosive power. A lack of sleep will decrease your jumping ability and put you at greater risk of getting injured. Insufficient sleep means your body has no time to recover from all the work you’ve put in.
Aim for at least 8 hours of rest every night.
On the other hand, eating the right foods will help improve recovery times, reduce inflammation, and increase testosterone levels – things very beneficial for jumpers.
Some of the essential diet components for jumpers are:
Protein: A must for any athlete, as it aids in muscle repair and growth.
Omega-3 fatty acids: This help reduces inflammation throughout the body.
Complex carbohydrates: For sustained energy levels throughout the day.
Vitamins and minerals: To support all the biochemical processes going on in your body.
These are just a few things an athlete needs in his diet to succeed.
I’ve written a complete guide on the most important foods and their role in your vertical jump training.
You can download it here. It’s completely free!
Avoid Injury & Overtraining
Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
It’s not about how much you train but rather the quality of your training that counts.
If you’re constantly trying to increase the volume of your training (the number of hours you train per week), you’re more likely to overtrain and get injured.
It would be best if you were fresh when you train to see optimal vertical jump gains. Ideally, aim for no more than 10-12 hours of jump training a week. This includes playing basketball, volleyball or any type of explosive jump training.
When you overtrain jumping, your muscles and joints will be subjected to a lot of stress. Consequently, you’ll not only see a stagnation (or maybe decrease) in your vertical jump performance due to fatigue but also an increased risk of injuries.
Take a Week Off
Sometimes, the best way to come back stronger is to give your body some rest.
Overtraining is very common among athletes, especially those always trying to improve their performance.
The problem with overtraining is that it leads to mental and physical fatigue. This will affect your jumping ability and put you at greater risk of injury.
So, if you feel like you’re not making any progress or you’re just tired, take a week off. Let your body recover and come back refreshed and ready to work.
Always Think About Improving
The first and most important thing to keep in mind if you want to improve your vertical jump is that you always need to be thinking about ways to get better. Whether you’re on the court or in the gym, you should always have to improve your jump in the back of your mind.
One way to do this is to measure your progress constantly. Every time you work out, keep track of how high you’re jumping and how many times you can do it before getting tired. This will give you a good idea of how much progress you’re making and where you need to focus your efforts.
Improving your vertical jump to dunk is not easy, but it’s definitely possible.
There’s no magic solution or secret formula, but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you will see results. Don’t be afraid to fail, and trust that the process will pay off eventually.
Remember to focus on what matters the most when it comes to your training. And always be thinking about ways to improve your jump. If you do these things, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better jumper.
Follow the tips in this article and stay focused on your goals; you’ll be dunking in no time!
Thanks for reading! I hope you found this article helpful.