football shoulder pads
buying guide
  • Universal coverage rules to look for
  • Shoulder pad rules for specific playing positions
  • Measuring yourself for shoulder pads
  • How to put on your shoulder pads
  • How to clean your shoulder pads
  • FAQ from parents about football shoulder pads

Pulling in an interception, blitzing the quarterback or hauling in a long pass on offense are all exciting, adrenaline-boosting plays that any football team or fan loves seeing on the field. Without the proper protection, though, those daring plays could put you or your star player at risk for injury.

We created this guide to help you figure out which shoulder pads you should buy to stay properly supported during every practice and game. With shoulder pads and other protective football gear from Academy Sports + Outdoors, you (or your athlete) will be well on the way to making tackles, catching passes and getting into the end zone with the right support and durable protection.

Use this buying guide to figure out which features and fit are right for your position or your athlete's level of play.

PRO TIP: Every team and league may have different rules. Find out if your school or local league has specific regulations on the shoulder pads you can wear before buying new gear.

The Importance of Padding

Shoulder pads are an essential piece of playing equipment. While they may seem bulky, this protective gear keeps your shoulders, chest and upper-back safe during tackles and hard collisions. Pads work to absorb and distribute the shock of impact to keep you protected during every play. Without them, you can do some serious damage to your body.

When buying new shoulder pads, it's important to look for a style that offers these key features:

  • - The proper amount of weight. Depending on your position, you'll need either a lighter or heavier construction to give you the right level of support and protection out on the field.
  • - Rigidity. If your shoulder pads aren't entirely rigid, they can't give you the right amount of protection. Make sure they can't bend or move if you're tackled to ensure you're not susceptible to injury.
  • - Contact dispersion. When you make contact with another player, your shoulder pads should disperse that force throughout the gear. That way, you aren't injured by the strength of impact.
  • - Great range of motion. Although your shoulder pads should stay rigid, they should still let you move your arms and twist your torso without much effort. When you're trying on different styles, test out your range of motion to make sure you'll be able to play properly.
  • - Proper ventilation. You want to stay cool, dry and comfortable while you work up a sweat. New shoulder pads should have innovative features to let hot air escape and cool air to flow through, offering great breathability.
  • - Overall comfort and upper torso protection. Although it may be obvious, this feature is commonly overlooked. You can't perform at your best if you don't feel completely comfortable. Look for shoulder pads that you feel fully supported and comfortable in, while still offering enough protection to keep you confident during every play.

Universal Coverage Rules to Look For

While the actual type of shoulder pads you choose will depend on the position you play, there are basic coverage rules you need to look for while you shop. Find a pair that follow these universal rules for basic protection and support on the field:

Your pads should completely cover these areas on your body:

  • - Clavicles, also known as collarbones
  • - Shoulder joints
  • - Deltoids (all the way to the outer edge)
  • - Scapulae, also known as shoulder blades

Your pads should also include the following three features:

  • - A comfortable neck opening that doesn't restrict movement.
  • - Adequate space on each side of the neck roll when you raise your hands.
  • - A secure fit that won't slip once tightened.

Shoulder Pad Rules for Specific Playing Positions

While playing football in a youth league, shoulder pads are handed out by size of the athlete and not specific to position. Once your athlete enters middle school, shoulder pads are distributed or purchased by the positions you are set to play. Since different playing positions perform specialized tasks out on the field, each position can require a different type and amount of padding. For instance, most defensive players and offensive linemen need heavier padding for extra protection, while quarterbacks and running positions may prefer lighter, less bulky padding for more mobility.

If you know which position you'll be playing this season, check out below the style and shoulders pad features you need to enjoy the best support on the field.


  • - Lightweight pads
  • - A low-profile design that keeps pads from riding up and obstructing your view
  • - High-impact foam to protect you from hits
  • - Greater flexibility to be able to throw the ball without your arm being impeded

Running Backs, Wide Receivers & Defensive Backs

  • - Extra lightweight pads to absorb hits and keep you running
  • - A low-profile design to keep the pads from riding up and obstructing your view
  • - Untied hitting flaps for a greater range of motion
  • - Flexibility


  • - Heavy, tough pads to protect you against constant hits
  • - Good range of motion and mobility
  • - No excess shoulder flaps that opposing linemen can grab onto
  • - Plated front instead of laces for less adjustment between plays

Multi-Purpose Players

  • - High-impact padding
  • - Plated front pads for a secure and locked-in fit


  • - Most kickers and punters use quarterback pads for their lightweight design and wide range of mobility


Measuring yourself for brand new shoulder pads is easier than you might think. Simply grab a measuring tape and a friend, and then follow these steps:

1- Stand up straight with your arms at your sides.
2- Have a friend place the measuring tape across your back and measure the distance between one AC joint (the joint on the top of your shoulder) to the other. Round up by half-an-inch to determine your shoulder width. Write this number down.
3- Have a friend wrap the measuring tape across your chest, under the armpits and around to determine your chest's circumference. Write this number down.

Keep in mind that youth shoulder pads are also classified by weight. Actual sizes may vary depending on the brand, so it's best to stop by your local Academy to try on a few before you buy.

For a general idea of what size you need, compare the numbers you wrote to the charts below.

Youth Pad Sizes

Size Weight Chest Shoulders
Extra-Small 50-70 lb 26-28 in 12-13 in
Small 60-80 lb 26-28 in 12-13 in
Medium 70-100 lb 30-32 in 14-15 in
Large 90-120 lb 32-34 in 15-16 in
Extra-Large 110-140 lb 34-36 in 16-17 in

Adult Pad Sizes

Size Chest Shoulders
Small 34-36 in 16-17 in
Medium 38-40 in 17-18 in
Large 42-44 in 18-19 in
Extra-Large 46-48 in 19-20 in
Extra-Extra-Large 48-50 in 20-21 in
Extra-Extra-Extra-Large 50-52 in 21-22 in
PRO TIP: If you're buying shoulder pads for your youth athlete, never buy a size up to let them grow into it. This can make him susceptible to injury on the field. Instead, find the size that fits him right now so he stays completely supported, comfortable and protected while he makes his favorite plays.

How to Put On Your Shoulder Pads

After you find the size you believe you need, it's important to check that the pads you chose fit correctly. If possible, try on a few pairs in store to determine whether the pads you want offer the coverage and range of mobility you need:

1- Bring pads down over your head, ensuring they are carefully aligned.
2- Secure and tighten all straps and laces.
3- Feel it out. Once everything is secure, the padding or collar shouldn't pinch your neck, and everything should rest comfortably on your shoulders.
4- Check the coverage in front and back. Your sternum, upper shoulders and scapula should be completely covered, even when you lift your arms above your head.
5- Move around. Pretend you're on the field and practice a few plays with your new pads on. Check that the comfort, fit and coverage work while you're in action.

Once you've found the right fit for you, it's time to show off on the field. Whether you're defending your team or sprinting toward the end zone, you'll be comfortable, protected and confident with durable shoulder pads from Academy Sports + Outdoors.

How to Clean Your Shoulder Pads

As with any piece of football gear, your shoulder pads are likely to get dirty and grimy over a period of time. To keep them in the best shape, it's crucial that you clean and disinfect them after every couple of games. In order to properly care for your shoulder pads, follow these quick and easy instructions:

  • - Gather cloths, soap and warm water
  • - Separate plastic shells from fabric
  • - Wipe down the shell with cloths dipped in a soap and water mixture
  • - For large stains, apply a pre-treat stain remover and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Then, wipe off with a clean cloth
  • - Spray disinfectant all over your shoulder pads to ensure that bacteria can't build up
  • - Let your shoulder pads dry completely before putting it all back together
pro tip: After the season ends, we recommend taking your shoulder pads to be professionally cleaned. Here, they can be reconditioned and completely sanitized with an anti-bacterial solution to prolong their performance and durability.

Stop by Academy to grab all the affordable football gear you need to make sharp cuts, strong tackles and scores. Check out our Football Cleats and Accessories Buying Guide and Football Helmets and Sizing Guide to figure out the proper fit and features for all your new essential gear, or browse our entire football shop online to find great accessories and tools to help you or your kid train and perform.

FAQ from Parents About Football Shoulder Pads

1- How often do I need to clean the shoulder pads?

We recommend cleaning the shoulder pads at least once a week during football season. That way, you cut down on sweat, dirt and an accumulation of bacteria as much as you can. Then, at the end of the season, take your shoulder pads to a professional cleaner to keep them in optimal shape.

2- How long will new shoulder pads last?

If your athlete is young enough, they may outgrow their new shoulder pads before they even need to be replaced. Otherwise, football shoulder pads can last for several seasons. To maintain them as best you can, follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer.

3- Do shoulder pads need a separate travel bag?

People commonly carry their shoulder pads. To do this, you can even slip your helmet into the pads and carry the whole set by grabbing on to the facemask. However, if you prefer to carry them in a bag, we have a wide selection of large sports bags that can house all your equipment.

4- Do I have to buy the shoulder pads recommended for my child's position?

Typically, yes. We don't recommend buying shoulder pads that aren't meant for your athlete's position. For instance, if he's a quarterback who needs extremely lightweight pads and you purchase an option that's too bulky or heavy, it can hurt his performance on the field and may even make him susceptible to injuries.

5- Can my child wear pre-owned shoulder pads?

Hand-me-down shoulder pads typically don't provide the proper fit that your athlete needs to play at his best level. Sometimes, pre-owned shoulder pads can even have damaged parts that will affect his playing style. That's why we recommend buying new shoulder pads that are free from scuff marks, odor, bacteria and potentially cracked plastic. Find new pads that fit your athlete perfectly so he or she can tackle, make sharp cuts and score winning touchdowns with confidence.

This guide is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for consulting with your physicians, coaches, trainers, equipment managers and/or other professionals for specific advice tailored to your need and situation. No protective equipment can totally eliminate the inherent physical risks of football. In no event shall Academy Sports + Outdoors be liable for direct, indirect, punitive, incidental, special, consequential damages, or any damages whatsoever arising out of or in any way connected with the use of or performance of information, products, services or reliance on the contents of this guide. The use of this guide is subject to the Terms and Conditions of Website Use that can be found here.