Using The Arm & Elbow To Block Punches

Elbow forearm block boxing

Boxing gloves play a crucial role in the sport, offering essential protection to a boxer’s hands during punches and defensive maneuvers. While gloves are commonly employed as a shield for defense, there exist alternative and more effective methods of safeguarding oneself in the ring.

In addition to evasive footwork and strategic head movement, boxers have the option to block and parry incoming punches using not just their gloves but their entire arms. This technique draws inspiration from traditional martial arts and MMA, where the absence of bulky gloves necessitates reliance on the forearms and elbows for defense.

Interestingly, these blocking techniques are not only permitted but also widely employed in the realm of boxing. This article aims to explore the applications, benefits, and optimal scenarios for utilizing the forearms and elbows as defensive tools within the ring.

What makes forearm and elbow blocks effective?

Forearm and elbow blocks and parries bring some great advantages that can and should be used. Here is why you should use the entirety of your arms for defense, not just the gloves.

No impact on the head

Blocking with gloves is the simplest and most energy-efficient method of defense, but it is far from ideal. Some of the impacts of the punches will always bleed through the guard and into the head.

And with more powerful hitters, this becomes a serious problem.

There have been countless instances where a boxer blocks a shot with his glove but is still knocked down by the force. Parrying and blocking with the forearm and elbows can remove that problem.

Have a large defense area

Parrying with the glove is great, but the margin for error is very small. Blocking with the gloves also leaves some openings, especially with smaller competition gloves.

On the other hand, forearms and elbows have a lot of target areas that can be used for defense, and the timing rarely needs to be as strict.

The elbow is relatively small, but blocking with it also puts the forearm and upper arm in the path of punches, so even if the punch does not land right on the sharp bone, it will likely still land on some part of the arm. 

Hitting the elbow hurts

A big part of what makes elbow blocks great is that they are damaging to the attacker. Even with big padded gloves, hitting the elbow bone hard will likely hurt the attacker’s hand, and with smaller the gloves, the more pain he will feel.

Imagine how hitting an elbow with a 4oz MMA glove, let alone a bare fist feels like! 

Can be used in any fight

Forearm and elbow blocks and parries are excellent for MMA and street fights. A common criticism of boxing’s effectiveness in a real fight is the over-reliance on gloves, both for offense and defense. This is a valid criticism, but only if a boxer only uses the shell guard and glove blocks, which is never the case in higher-level boxing.

All forearm parries and elbow blocks are excellent against small gloves and even more so against bare knuckles, where a hard straight punch to the elbow will very likely lead to a broken hand. 

Negatives of blocking with elbows

Every move and every tactic has its flaws, and it’s no different with blocking with elbows. First and foremost, it’s harder to do than the traditional glove defense. Learning how and when to lift the elbow is a skill that must be learned and drilled before it can be used in a real scenario.

Then pointing the elbow toward the opponent is a recipe for disaster if he enters quickly and gets hit by it. Another disadvantage to using your elbows is that every time you block a punch to the head, the body on the same side is wide open for attack. Or even the overhand right can also be used against it if timed correctly. As even Floyd Mayweather fell victim vs Shane Mosley.

Different types of forearm and elbow parries and blocks

Body elbow block

One of the first things you will learn defensively in the boxing gym is to defend your body with elbows. Doing this is very natural in the standard boxing stance.

Just squeeze your elbows close to your body, slightly lean your body to the side you are defending, and brace. All the while, the hand remains ready to block possible punches to the head. See Canelo And Wrinky Wright using this below:

Canelo & Wright's Elbow Body Blocks

Forearm parries

The forearm block to straight punches looks like exactly what they teach in karate, and it works just as well in boxing. But whereas in karate they teach an exaggerated movement, in boxing you only need the meat of the move, which is a slight but firm use of the outside of your forearm that sends the incoming straight strike upwards. Parrying a punch this way makes it more difficult for the opponent to bring back his hand to block, making it easier for you to counter with a rear straight either to the head or to the body.

The forearms can also be effectively used to block hooks and overhands by extending your blocking hand slightly forward and meeting the punch halfway on its path with your forearms. This is also the most often recommended way to block bare-knuckle punches and what many self-defense systems teach, as well as what is very common in traditional martial arts. Forearm parries are very efficient to use off a long guard, which already places the lead hand on the path of punches. See Ward using this vs Dawson below:

Andre Ward Forearm – Blocks & Control

A preventing shield

You can also use the forearms and elbows as a way to prevent strikes rather than to block or parry them. To do that, you place your lead hand in front, bent at around 90 degrees. This forms a shield or wall that closes the paths punches must take to hit you in the head. This is a completely defensive move, as it does not allow you to fire with that lead hand, but it also outright prevents all straight punches from coming your way.

The key to this technique is to actively move this shield and negate any possible direct punches by placing your arm in the opponent’s punching path. This forces the opponent to either find a way around your arm or first move it with his own hands. This position is a natural part of the long guard and can be used to counter. See Bernard Hopkins demonstrating using this below

High elbow block

There are two ways to use your elbow to block punches to the head. The classic high elbow block was popular in boxing in the past and is still used today. In modern times, you can find it in the arsenals of defensive masters like Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez, and many others.

The high elbow block is basically the lead arm lifted from the shoulder roll position. The hand remains touching the body or points downwards, while the elbow is pointed up and towards the opponent, blocking incoming right hands. Doing a slight roll in this position guarantees the shoulder will take the hit if the punch is a looping overhand instead of a straight. See Mayweather using in action below:

Floyd Mayweather Jr Elbow Block & Counter

Because it is a natural extension from the stance, many fighters who use the Philly shell as their primary type of defense heavily incorporate high elbow blocks. The downside of this block is that it leaves the body open.

The other way of using the elbow for a block is by gluing your glove as you would for blocking a hook, but instead of keeping the elbow tucked to cover the body, you lift it and point it forward.

This is a very good way to block an incoming right punch that is either a straight or a hook. If it comes straight, it will collide with your elbow. If it comes hooked, it will collide with the shoulder or a glove. But if timed well, the elbow can really hurt the hand of the attacker.

I recommend you watch World Class Boxing Channel’s demonstration video below which shows this all in action.

Cross guard

Cross arm aguard boxing
George Foreman using the cross guard vs Evander Holyfield. CREDIT: Neil Leifer /Getty Images)

A more extreme version of using forearms and elbows to block is exceedingly rare in modern boxing cross-guard. The cross guard involves crossing both arms in front of you with the elbows outward to block incoming punches to the body and the head. For orthodox fighters, the standard way of doing the cross guard is to cross the right hand on top of the left.

The cross guard is very effective at blocking combinations and can be traced back to the bare-knuckle days of boxing when defending with your elbows was also a way of offense because it can destroy the hands of the opponent. This form of defense has a lot of advantages, but it also includes many intricacies and requires a lot of skill, which is the main reason so few fighters use it nowadays. 


In conclusion, it is not only within your capability but imperative to utilize your forearms and elbows for blocking punches in the realm of boxing. Embracing this defensive technique offers a multitude of advantages, including the ability to inflict pain on your opponent’s hand, evade the impact of incoming punches, and create openings for well-timed counterattacks.

While certain techniques may be more straightforward, others require a higher level of skill and finesse. However, regardless of the complexity, it is undeniable that expanding your defensive arsenal will always provide an advantageous edge within the ring.

Remember, the more tools you possess, the greater your chances of achieving success in the sport of boxing.

If you enjoyed or found this blog useful, make sure to check out more boxing technique articles below:

Plamen Kostov

I am Plamen, and I have been involved in martial arts for 15 years, writing about them for the last 2. I am fascinated by all aspects of fighting, be it physical, mental, or philosophical. The sweet science of boxing has a special place in the pantheon of combat sports and in my heart, and I will be sharing my knowledge, analysis, and opinions on it here on "Boxing Life"

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