How to Palm a Basketball

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When you watch watch a professional basketball game (or even college or high school games), a lot of times you will see a player holding a basketball gripped with just one hand when trying to juke somebody, fake a pass, or slam a devastating dunk on the opponent’s net. This is called palming a basketball.

But a basketball is so big, how do they do that?

How to Palm a Basketball

If you’ve tried to palm a basketball before and not been able to, you may think “I wish my hand was big enough to palm the ball.” There are some limitations that you may have to deal with, but with practice and training, it is possible for a lot of people to be able to palm a basketball on the court.

Man playing basketball on outdoor court

Requirements to Palm a Basketball

There are three main factors that weigh into whether you can palm a basketball or not.

  • Hand Size – Is your hand large enough to palm a ball?
  • Type of Ball – A rubber basketball has more grip, but a leather ball is used in more advanced games.
  • Hand Strength – Even if you have extremely large hands, you need enough strength to be able to grip the ball with one hand.

Hand Size to Palm a Basketball

It is true that palming a basketball will be challenging for a lot of people, and unfortunately impossible for some. Hand size plays a very important role in trying to do this. 

The general minimum hand size where you can comfortably palm a ball is a 7.5” hand length and 8 1/4” hand span. 

  • To measure your hand length, get a ruler or measuring tape and measure from the base of your palm to the tip of your middle finger.
  • The measure your hand span, use the same type of measuring device, spread your palm and fingers out and measure the distance between the thumb and pinky.

People with smaller hands may be able to palm a basketball, but the level of strength and technique would have to be much higher than normal.

Different Ball Types and How They Affect Palming a Basketball

Different types of basketballs will have different levels of grip. A new, clean, rubber basketball will usually have the highest amount of grip, and a genuine leather basketball (like they use in the NBA) will more slick and smoother.

When starting to figure out how to palm a basketball, it’s a good idea to start with a small rubber ball. Even though you might think it would be better to start out on a full-sized leather ball as the pros use, your training has to start the beginner level.

Hand Stretches to Help Palm a Basketball

Stretching your hands and fingers will both increase the surface area that you are trying to palm the ball with, and also help strengthen the muscles and ligaments needed for the palming action.

Basic Finger Stretch

Place your hand palm down on a flat surface like a desk or table. Stretch out your fingers as far as they can go from thumb to pinky. Hold for 30 seconds then release. Repeat 10 times.

Finger Lift

On the same flat surface with your palm down, gently lift your thumb then lower it. Repeat with the rest of the fingers by themselves. Follow up by lifting all fingers and thumbs at once, then lowering. Repeat 10 times.

Finger Bend

Extend one arm in front of you with the palm side down. With your other hand, bend back individual fingers one at a time. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds.

After stretching the fingers individually, stretch them in the same manner with all fingers at the same time. Hold for 30 seconds.

Exercises to Help Palm a Basketball

Unless you have incredibly huge hands, a lot of what goes into palming a ball will come from the grip strength of your hands. There are three different kinds of grip strength.

  • The Support Grip – Used for holding onto things like a piece of luggage, or hanging from a bar.
  • The Crush Grip – This is the grip between your fingers and your palm. This grip is used for shaking hands, crumpling up paper, and just crushing things.
  • The Pinch Grip – The grip between your thumb and fingers. This is the main grip to be concerned with for palming a basketball.

In order to strengthen the pinch grip or any grip, start with small weights and work your way up. As with any exercise, proceed with caution, don’t start too big too fast, and don’t overextend yourself – I use fingers every day.

Plate Pinches

Place two small weight plates together with the smooth sides facing out. Hold them next to your body for about 15 seconds at a time. Once you can do this on a regular basis with no pain, increase the weight size.

For larger weights, start with only using one for each hand. Lean the weight plates against your legs with the smooth side facing out. Pick them up and hold them for the same period of time.

Other options to extend the plate pinch exercise:

  • Start walking after picking the plates up – the change of balance when walking will work your fingers more.
  • Instead of using all of your fingers, use only the thumb and pinky.

Plate Curls

Grab a weight plate, hold it, palm side up, with your fingers on the bottom and thumb on the top. Proceed to do bicep curls this way.

To extend this exercise, hold the plate straight out from your body with the thumb on the bottom and fingers on top. Lower and raise the plate in front or to the side of you up to shoulder height.

Man wearing a jersey playing basketball

Fingertip Pushups

Lying face down on the floor, put your arms and hands in a push-up position, but with your fingers holding you up instead of your entire hand. It may be easier to start with modified push-ups, using the knees as your base instead of your toes.

To modify even further, start out with doing pushups against a wall. Stand up facing the wall, then lean against the wall with your hands/fingers. Bend your elbows slowly until your chin is almost touching the wall, then return to the starting position.

Thumb Extension

Place your hand, palm down, on a table or other flat surface. Wrap a rubber band around your hand and thumb just below the finger joints. Extend your thumb out from the rest of the hand as far as you are able. Hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.

Practicing How to Palm a Basketball

Even with all the stretching and exercise advice, you will still need how the ball is supposed to feel in your hand when palming a basketball. It is recommended that you start with a smaller ball and move your way up.

Start with a smaller rubber basketball in a women’s size, or if your hands are very small, youth size. Feel your hand on the ball. The palm should be completely pressed up against the ball surface with the fingers stretched out as far as possible and squeezing from the sides. 

Practice palming the ball with your arm straight in front of you at first. With your thumb facing down and fingers on top, the gravity pushing against your thumb will help keep the ball from slipping out of your fingers.

Once you can perform the straight-out exercise for 30 seconds at a time, start palming the ball with your arm straight down. Now that gravity isn’t being restricted it will be a little harder. Try this for about 20 seconds at a time.

Finally, add some movement to your practice. Dribble the basketball for a bit and then stop it by palming. Practice juking people by pretending to pass but palming the ball and bringing it back to you. Work on dunking on shorter rims if you can find them, then move up to the full-sized baskets.

When you can do all of these exercises with a smaller rubber ball, it is time to increase the difficulty. If you have the option, a leather ball of the same size as the one you originally practiced with is a good step. Otherwise, move up to a full-sized rubber ball. 


Practice the above exercises, and when you feel ready, pick up a leather ball and give it a shot. The slick surface of a leather ball will feel strange since you’re used to the grippiness of rubber, but with enough practice and the above requirements, you will be able to palm a basketball like a pro.

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.