Run Blocking: Hands vs Shoulder Pads

The Tools in your Toolbox

Much like a skilled carpenter building a house, to be a great lineman you must have the proper tools to get the job done. Of course, just as important as having the right tools is knowing how and when to use them.

The objective for offensive lineman is to engage, move and/or control defenders on each and every play.

Each time you enter a block, you have to decide what “tools” you will use to achieve that, and, in almost every RUN BLOCK, you have to decide:

“Should I engage the target with my HANDS or with my PADS?

There are clear-cut situations and benefits to each approach and the world’s best offensive linemen certainly use both and understand “why” and “when” to do so.

Today, we will attempt to boil it down to a science and give some examples to help you make the better decision and win more blocks, more often!

So, when should you engage with your hands, and in what situations would you want to use your pads? To get to the answer, you have to look at the characteristics and benefits of each technique.

Benefits of Using Hands

Your arm length is roughly 40% of your body height. Using these long versatile tools is crucial in the all aspects of the game of football and especially in OL Play. Here’s why:


Using the extended hands to run block gives you extra reach to engage your opponent from a further distance than you would if you didn’t use your arms at all.

Total Leverage:

Getting your hands involved allows for you to bring more top-end leverage to a block- which just means that you can continue to lift someone when your hips and legs get extended toward the end of a play. Your arm length effectively extends your body as a lever, giving you a much wider and taller range of lift compared to not using your hands at all.

Balance and Control:

Using your hands to drive someone, when done properly, helps you not to lean as much of your weight forward onto your target and keeps your center of gravity closer to your own feet. The extension between you and your target should allow you to react to their attempts to get away from you, keeping you in a winning position. This is the reason the hands are used so often in pass protection.

“Legal Holding”:

Great linemen possess serious grip strength, which is for good reason: Grabbing and squeezing your defender while blocking him is pivotal in controlling him and taking him in directions that you want him to go. Just remember- keep your hands and elbows inside to avoid those holding calls!

Benefits of Using The Pads

The hands are great tools but there are certainly good reasons to sometimes leave them out of the equation. Here are the benefits of going “old school” and lowering your shoulder into contact:

Pure Violence:

Whether you are entering contact at extreme speeds or need to bulldoze a 330lb DT off of the ball for a 4th and 1 QB sneak, using your pads allows you to make the bone-crunching hits that would put your hands at risk of being crushed and possibly broken, if you tried to use them instead.


Getting under someone’s pads with your body allows you to be much more powerful over a short distance- which I would refer to as torque. You are both shortening the lever of your body and cutting out 3 “hinges” in the equation- your shoulders, elbows and wrists, which are all inferior power generators compared to your hips and legs. The transfer of power will be much more direct through his body; Your leg and hip strength will be felt by the defender much more suddenly and as a result he will get “Jolted” and set off balance quickly.


A huge factor in shoulder blocking: When you successfully hit someone with your right shoulder, they’ll have a hard time getting across your body to your left side immediately, and might be tempted to try and avoid you by going around you to your right side. On gap scheme plays and double teams where “winning” to one side is paramount, this is a big advantage.

The Bottom Line

Use your shoulder pads, instead of your hands, when one or both of these conditions apply:

  1. Violent contact is expected- high velocity impact or heavy/low defender at LOS.

  1. Positioning to one side of the defender is MUCH more important than the other.

Examples for Shoulder/Pad contact

  • Trap pulls
  • Kick out pulls (counter, power)
  • Playside of double team on zone or power
  • Short Yardage ie, QB sneak, FB dive
  • ”Down” Blocks on Power or Counter
  • Backside “Cutoff” blocks

Examples for Hand Strikes:

  • Play-side of “Reach” blocks
  • 1 on 1 on zone plays
  • Back side of double team
  • ”Down” or “Fill” blocks on outside or toss plays
  • Center “Fill” “Off” or “Back” blocks
  • Any time a defender is moving away from you in space (low violence)

The best players in the world transition seamlessly between using their hands and pads, and in most cases even use both at different phases of the same block. You will be at your best if you can master when and why to utilize these effective tools.



Be sure to stay tuned to future articles and videos in which we’ll cover the proper form and some drills to help you become more effective with these techniques!


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