Having a high vertical jump is one thing but getting up in the air with a ball is something entirely different that many people struggle with. When I was 21 yrs old I did my first dunk with 2 hands off an alley oop someone threw me off the backboard. I thought I was the man at the time but it was PURE luck! I know it was luck because it took me almost 2 more yrs to get my next dunk simply because I couldn't jump with the ball and never could quite get my timing right on alley oop or lob.
Jumping with a ball is a specific skill - plenty of guys have good vertical jumps, but fewer can jump effectively in game situations. Many athletes will have a good 6 inch + difference between the height they jump with the ball vs without, but the easier you can palm a ball the easier it is to jump with a ball in your hands and the less that difference will be. This article will help improve your ability to palm a ball and also give you some good tidbits on improving overall grip strength.
How Big Are Your Hands?
First, recognize that palming a ball will be very challenging for some people. Hand size DOES play an important role. Spread your hand against a table or wall and measure the widest part from the tip of your pinky to the tip of your thumb. If your hand is less than 8 1/4 inches from the tip of thumb to tip of pinky palming a mens leather basketball consistently might be beyond your reach right now. That doesn't mean the information in this article won't be applicable to you, but you might have to be content with palming a rubber mens bball. Fortunately, most reading this are probably still growing so there's a good chance your hand size will increase as well. Hand size can often increase well into adulthood.
Next, realize that there are different types of grip strength. These are crush grip, supportive grip, and pinch grip.
The Crush Grip is the grip between your fingers and your palm—the one you use for shaking hands and "crushing" stuff.
The Support Grip is the ability to maintain a hold on something for a while - think pull ups or farmers walks.
The Pinch Grip is the grip between your fingers and your thumb. THIS is the type of grip strength you need for palming a basketball.
It's important to note there is not all that much carryover between the crush grip and pinch grip. the crush grip requires more flexor strength in your 4 bigger fingers in the full contracted state, but the pinch grip requires a lot of strength in the open handed (straight finger) state, particularly in your pinky. Because the pinky flexors tend to be naturally weak they respond quite well to training.
Here is a short workout for developing an awesome pinch grip, the type of grip you use when you palm a ball:
The Palming Progression
Probably the simplest way to work up to palming a ball is to add some specific work palming different size basketballs. Here's a progression I've used myself that worked very well. You do need to be capable of palming a rubber womens bball for at least a few seconds to use this progression, but all you need to do is start off with a rubber womens ball and progress to a leather mens ball. Here's what the progression looks like:
rubber womens basketball x 20 seconds
leather womens basketball x 20 seconds
rubber mens basketball x 20 seconds
leather mens basketball x 20 seconds
As soon as you can palm a rubber womens basketball for 2 sets of 20 seconds per hand move up to the leather women basketball, and as soon as you can palm the leather womens basketball move up to the mens rubber. As soon as you can palm that one move up to the mens leather. Do that progression a few days per week until you can consistently palm a mens leather basketball for 20 seconds. when you can do THAT, you should be ready to jump consistently WITH the ball in your hand.
You can also add on some auxillary pinch gripping work:
Plate Pinch Gripping
Do plate pinch gripping with all your fingers like this:
The smooth part of the plates should be facing out. Start with a couple of 5 lb plates, if that's too easy go up to a couple of 10 lb plates, if that's too easy go up to a 10 on the thumb side and a 25 on the other side. If that's too easy go up to a couple of 25s.
ALSO do plate pinch gripping using just your thumb and pinky, simply pinch a plate (or plates) between your thumb and pinky and hold for 20 seconds.
Most will find the pinch gripping involving just the pinky is VERY weak. some will have to start off with just a single 1 or 2 lb plate initially. That's ok. You'll find you progress quickly.
So, basically you're going to do a couple of sets per hand per side with all your fingers and a couple of sets with just your thumb and pinky, so the workout will look like this:
Plate pinch gripping all fingers: 2 x 20 seconds
Plate pinch gripping thumb and pinky: 2 x 20 seconds
Do this 2 or 3 days per week.
Some additional tips:
Here are some additional tips on all around grip strength and palming a ball:
Probably the athletes with the best all around grip strength are climbers. I remember the first time I went rock climbing my hands and fingers were sore for about a week, and I was an avid lifter who already did plenty of forearm and grip work. It wouldn't surprise me if some climbers are capable of puncturing a bball with their finger strngth.
Anyhow, the "go to" tool for climbers is a simple hangboard:
A hangboard is essentially a large artificial climbing hold with many different grips that isolate different hand positions. They are usually installed above doorjams to allow for a full range of pull-up motion.
If you have access to an electric drill, you can install one in your own home in about five minutes. A hangboard can cost you anywhere from $20-75.
1. Use lifting chalk when possible. It'll help keep your hands dry and allow you to avoid the slippery effects of sweat.
2. Avoid using straps on exercises like pullups and deadlifts. Do some barbell holds for supportive grip and some crush grippers for crush grip.
Good luck with it!