Isometric Exercises Elbow-Strengthening Exercises

Isometric elbow exercises are those in which you contract a muscle without visible movement to help strengthen the elbow joint. They are used in physiotherapy for the rehabilitation of people who have undergone elbow surgery or have sustained an elbow injury.

They can also help maintain or improve strength and range of motion in people with chronic conditions like elbow arthritis, tennis elbow, or elbow bursitis.

This article describes the different muscles that support the elbow and offers three exercises that help with elbow strengthening, flexion (bending), extension (straightening), pronation (rotation inward), and supination (rotation outward).

A shirtless man holding his elbow
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Muscles of the Elbow

The bicep and tricep muscles are the large muscle groups that bend and straighten the elbow. The biceps are located on the front of the upper arm, and the triceps are located on the back.

As noted by the name, two heads (points of origin) form the biceps while three heads form the triceps. The biceps is also responsible for turning your forearm over so your palm is ​facing up.

Exercising these muscle groups not only increases arm strength but also helps people (especially older adults) perform everyday tasks and activities. Strong elbows and arms help lift you out of a chair and provide you the means to dress yourself, hoist objects onto a counter, and open and shut doors, cabinets, and drawers.

Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before starting this, or any other, exercise program.


Click Play to Learn How to Do Elbow Strengthening Exercises

This video has been medically reviewed by Laura Campedelli, PT, DPT.

Isometric Elbow Strengthening

There are some excellent elbow- and arm-strengthening exercises that your PT may add to your exercise program. These include isometric exercises in which you contract muscles around the joint without making any movement.

There are three that are exceptionally well-suited to building strength and flexibility no matter your age. They can be done several times per week to help improve muscular function around your elbows.

Triceps Strengthening

The aim of this exercise is to use your own body weight to exert sustained pressure on the triceps muscles. You will need a chair with sturdy armrests able to bear your weight without placing you in an awkward position.

To do this exercise:

  1. Sit in a straight-backed chair with armrests.
  2. Put your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Place your hands on the armrests and push up with your arms, lifting your bottom slightly off the chair.
  4. Hold for a count of six.
  5. Slowly lower yourself into the chair and relax.
  6. Repeat this strengthening exercise 10 times.

This exercise works the triceps muscles located on the back of your upper arm. These muscles extend your arms and help you push things away from you. They are also muscles that are active when you are pushing yourself up from a chair with your arms.

Tricep-strengthening exercises are beneficial if you have a lower extremity injury or are frail and find it difficult to rise from a seated position.

Supination and Pronation

Supination and pronation is the action of turning your hand over to have your palm up or palm down. This simple exercise aims to increase and strengthening the rotational capacity of the elbow and forearm. For this supination and pronation exercise, you will need a washcloth or washcloth-sized piece of material.

To do this exercise:

  1. Stand up straight, holding a washcloth in your hands.
  2. Pretend to wring the cloth dry for six seconds.
  3. Pause and repeat this motion 10 times.
  4. Switch the direction in which your hands are wringing the cloth.
  5. Repeat this 10 times.

Isometric Elbow Flexion

Elbow flexion is when your forearm moves toward your body by bending at the elbow. It is a motion meant to lift objects and also involves muscles of the upper arm, including the biceps. For the isometric elbow flexion exercise, you will need a chair and table.

To do this exercise:

  1. Sit straight up with your hands under the table, palm-side up.
  2. Lift your hands straight upward as if trying to lift the table.
  3. Hold this position for six seconds.
  4. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Apply as much pressure as you can without causing pain. This exercise strengthens the biceps muscles located in the front of your upper arm. as well as strengthening muscles around the radius and ulna bones of your forearm.

Although you may experience aches during a workout, especially after an elbow injury, never "push through" sharp or shooting pains. Pain is your body's signal that you should stop whatever you are doing.

A Word From Verywell

If you have an elbow injury, your physical therapist can assess your condition and prescribe exercises to improve your elbow mobility and strength. These isometric strengthening exercises may be one component of a well-balanced therapeutic rehab program.

Progression from these exercises to more challenging ones can be done by adding a resistance band to your workout or by using dumbbells while performing the exercises.

By working with a PT and being vigilant about your home exercise program, you can get back to your normal functional mobility quickly and safely.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Patton K. Anatomy and Physiology. New York, NY: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2015.

  2. Clifford C, Challoumas D, Paul L, et al. Effectiveness of isometric exercise in the management of tendinopathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2020;6(1):e000760. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000760

  3. Kim JH, Hwang UJ, Jung SH, Gwak GT, Kwon OY. Immediate improvements of supination range of motion and strength following pronator teres muscle friction massage: a clinical trial comparing people with and without supination limited motion. J Man Manip Ther. 2019 May;27(2):109-114. doi:10.1080/10669817.2018.1542559

  4. Yang J, Lee J, Lee B, et al. The effects of elbow joint angle changes on elbow flexor and extensor muscle strength and activation. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014 Jul;26(7):1079-1082. doi:10.1589/jpts.26.1079

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.