There is a recent interest in the response of thermoplastics to shock. Previous work on three simple hydrocarbons has indicated that the shear strength increases with the complexity of the side group. Strength values have been calculated using lateral stress measurements with manganin gauges that have been recalibrated for use in the low stress regime. The present work aims to investigate the effect of the configuration of the thermoplastic's chain when side groups are added. In particular, whether steric effects are present when the groups become larger. Results show that whilst polyethylene has the lowest shear strength, polypropylene and polystyrene have similar values. In all cases the strength of polymer increases with time after the shock has passed. As the applied stress increases, polystyrene and polypropylene strengthen to a higher degree when compared with polyethylene. Explanations are offered in terms of microstructure and tacticity of the chain. © 2007 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.