Well, it’s been around 6 months since I completed the Vert Shock training program which finally had me land my first dunk. At the end of my review I stated that my palming ability was holding me back, as the ball hand a tendency to slip out of my hand as I reached for the rim. Since then I’ve changed that, and it’s not something that holds me back anymore, so I thought I’d share my experiences.
When you’re learning how to dunk a Basketball, there are two major obstacles in your way. The first is obviously getting high enough up in the air, so that your hands can reach above the rim. The second necessary ability is to palm the Basketball (unless, of course, you are only interested in performing two handed dunks). While improving your vertical is something that can be dramatically improved through a jump training program, things are a little harder to change when it comes to palming the ball.
Hand Size Matters
It should be obvious that hand size plays a big role in your ability to palm the ball. You can have fantastic power and technique but the closer together your fingertips are, only a smaller amount of the total pressure will apply a force inwards on the basketball. Imagine your hand is one inch long – it doesn’t matter how much grip or power you exert, the ball won’t stick.
So what is the ‘bare minimum’ hand size? Well, there isn’t a single number that can determine whether you are capable of being good at palming a basketball. Not least because it’s not just about hand length (measured from the wrist to the top of the middle finger), but also hand span (the distance between your thumb and pinky when you spread your hand out) and palm width. You could have a relatively small hand length, but have really wide hands, for example.
However, to give you an idea of a kind of minimum requirement, I’ll throw in some figures which I know people can palm comfortably with – after overcoming their initial difficulty. Obviously the average NBA player will pull bigger stats.
Hand Length: 7.5″ (this is slightly over the average male hand length of 7.4″)
Hand Span: 8″
With these measurements palming a ball will be a little struggle at first, but if you train your technique and grip strength you’ll be able to palm the ball fairly comfortably. People with smaller hands might be able to palm the Basketball, but technique would need to be even better.
Technique Matters Too
There is definitely more to it than pure hand size. In fact, your palming skill is extremely important and certainly can change a lot more than you might expect.
If you’re like a lot of most basketball players, you don’t just pick up the basketball player from day one and have the ability to palm it securely. There are exceptions – I’d imagine if you’re blessed with the hands of Michael Jordan it wouldn’t be a challenge – but I know a lot of guys who walk around the house with a Basketball or practice palming the ball from a bounce on their way to the gym. More of them are consciously practicing their grip than they’d like to admit.
So how can we improve our grip? One thing you might immediately think of is using hand grippers. They’re essentially small grips which you repeatedly squeeze to strengthen your grip. These are a good exercise, but for palming a Basketball? Not so much. Basically the flexor muscles you use to ‘crush’ the grip strengthener aren’t as important when it comes to actually maintaining a grip on a Basketball with your fingers fully extended.
Instead, we need to focus on having pressure at our fingertips when our hand is fully stretched, so that the ball is secured between our fingers and thumb. The best way to do this? Progressively improve at palming a ball.
If you’re like most people who initially struggle to palm the Basketball, you should get comfortable palming a slightly smaller ball. This could be a women’s basketball or a soccer ball. You don’t want to make it too easy by training with anything too small. There’s no strict routine you should follow, but what I like to do is try and palm the ball for 20 seconds. This can be quite difficult at the beginning, where you feel after a few seconds your hand is going to give in. But the struggle is part of your development, so try and repeat this.
Maintaining a hold of the ball for an extended period of time is the best way to develop the strength in your fingers, and you should feel a burn going from your fingertips to your forearm.
Once you find it easy with the smaller balls, move to the next level by practicing with an official sized men’s basketball. Chances are you’ll find it a struggle, and you might only be able to keep a grip on it for a few seconds before it slips out of your hand (I could only hold it for 3 seconds when I started). This certainly was the case when I started, but each day I would write down the number of seconds I could palm it before dropping the ball, to track improvement.
Once I was able to maintain a grip on the basketball for 15 or so seconds my palming ability had improved significantly. Not only was I able to keep it secured for a longer amount of time, but I could lift the ball up and move it around without it falling out of my hand.
Keep a Basketball nearby
Nowadays, I like to make sure a Basketball is always lying around so I can quickly grab it and test and strengthen my grip. Your body will develop a muscle memory, so palming isn’t something that you just lose after a short break, but realize that it’s something that can be trained very conveniently outside the court, and there’s really no reason not to.