How Tall Do You Have to be to Dunk a Basketball?

by Chris Johnson | Last Updated:  August 21, 2020
Vert Shock Jump Manual
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Watching someone make an incredible slam dunk is one of those exhilarating sports moments that has the crowd roaring in applause. Few feet are met with such universal applause and awe then an exhilarating basketball game that features a slam dunk.

Thus, leading to the question of how tall do you have to be to dunk a basketball?

The average basketball player stands at about six feet tall, with a vertical extension of their arms, putting them over 8 feet. As a basketball hoop is usually positioned 10 feet above the ground, the average player only needs to jump 30 inches vertically to perform a slam dunk. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be 6 feet tall to perform a slam dunk.

Even the announcers can’t hold back their excitement in witnessing it. The slam dunk has the highest success percentage, and is a known crowd pleaser, making it one of the most commonly seen maneuvers showcased in compilations on the internet, and extracted from the game for a highlights reel.

The only thing more exhilarating than seeing a successful slam dunk is to perform one yourself. The sport takes a lot of practice on its own, and the slam dunk is hard enough to pull off reliably, but it is not hard to find yourself wondering how you could achieve a successful maneuver.

Being able to perform one when under 6 feet, however, does mean that you have to be able to jump vertically to an incredible degree.

One of the shortest basketball players, 5’3 Muggsy Bogues, was never seen performing a slam dunk in front of fans in a game. However, there are teammates and other witnesses to attest that he had successfully performed slam dunks in practice.

In 1986, Spud Webb, another among the shortest players in professional basketball, successfully won a slam dunk contest at only 5’7. He beat his 6’8 teammate, Dominique Wilkins, in the contest, proving that you don’t have to be 6 feet tall to dunk.

However, it is about height just as much as it is about the vertical jump as well. The shorter the player, the higher the vertical jump has to be able to dunk, so in theory, a 5’3 person would just need to learn to jump 42 vertical inches to be able to dunk consistently.

Learning to jump this consistently takes training and practice, but it is a big help to shorter players hoping to be able to learn to slam dunk.

Though height is not something you can control, your vertical jump height is as long as you’re willing to put in the work to improve your vertical jump.

Do You Have to be 6 Foot to Slam Dunk?

Though the average basketball player is 6 feet tall, and some are even 7 feet, this does not mean you have to be. Their height can definitely give them an advantage, as they don’t need to jump nearly as high to perform a slam dunk as someone under 6 feet would have to.

However, this does not mean that someone under 6 foot can’t perform the maneuver successfully. As stated, it has been done before by Muggsy and Spud, both basketball players under 6 feet tall.

When you are under 6 feet tall, however, jump training becomes more important. There are certain exercises and training routines, like this free guide from Vert Shock, that you need to ensure you complete and do on a regular basis if you want to be able to jump high enough to get above the net to the height needed to slam dunk.

Additionally, it isn’t just about height when playing basketball and performing a successful dunk. Another essential consideration to understanding your success in completing the maneuver is knowing your wingspan.

Basketball players generally have quite long arms, and this added length allows them to be able to reach higher while they play. Your wingspan is a big part of your standing reach, and the higher that is, the more likely you are to be able to dunk successfully.

Though you may have noticed that the average NBA player is taller than the average population, that isn’t the only truth. The average male wingspan is 2.1 inches longer than their height, but in the NBA, that difference becomes 4.5 inches longer than their barefoot height.

This difference will become a lot more clearer now that you’re aware of it, but it also means that you should, at the very least, be aware of the length of your arms as well. All of this, the longer the arms, the height and the vertical jump ability, is essential to the slam dunk.

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How Do You Improve Your Vertical Leap for Basketball?

As discussed, one of the best ways to close that gap between your height and the slam dunk is through improving your vertical jump ability.

There are a few exercises and training routines you can use to improve this vertical jump height so that you can perform a slam dunk even if you’re shorter than 6 feet tall.

These exercises include but are not limited to, depth jumps, drop jumps, squats and even practicing jump rope. Essentially, what you want to do through your training is to focus on the muscles responsible for your jump and landing, strengthening them to make that 42 inch vertical leap consistently.

Some of these exercises broken down into easy to follow steps look like this:

Toe Raises

  1. Start in a position with feet at a solder width distance apart,
  2. Rise onto the balls of your feet and toes,
  3. Hold for a couple of seconds
  4. Lower back into the starting position

Depth Jumps

For this one, you will need a box or raised surface to step from safely.

  1. Step forward off the box onto the ball of your foot only,
  2. Immediately after landing, jump straight up into the air,
  3. Get back on the box, switch legs and repeat

Squat Jumps

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart,
  2. Lower yourself into a squat with your back straight,
  3. Ensure your knees are above your toes,
  4. Squat down,
  5. Immediately leap straight upward,

The goal of all of these workouts is to be reversing the downward Force of gravity and to train your body to be able to make the leap. Essentially, you’re strengthening your muscles to be able to get you higher than you can now, despite the constant downward pull of gravity.

What Science is at Play Behind the Vertical Leap?

Essentially, there is a formula to help you understand what goes into training for a higher vertical leap. The equation in question is: Power = Force x Velocity. It breaks down into:

By improving the Force and the velocity at play while jumping, you can increase the power. The more power a jump has, the higher that jump will be as a result.

However, these are altered based on each athlete, as the Force and velocity needed to increase the power of the jump are in direct proportion to the athlete’s body weight.

Essentially, even if two athletes were able to lift exactly the same amount of weight, the lighter of the two would be able to jump higher than the heavier. As such, the heavier individual would need to be able to lift more than the other athlete to be able to meet their vertical jump height.

Final Thoughts on How Tall Do You Have to be to Dunk a Basketball

Basically anyone of any size could theoretically dunk if they spend time building up their power and explosiveness. There have been very short players in the NBA who have shown that it shouldn’t be viewed as a limitation.

It is definitely much simpler the taller you are as you gain height through your height but also through your wingspan, this can lead to less effort being spent to dunk but not that it becomes “easier”.

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