Isometric Shoulder Exercises

Moves to assist with rotator cuff rehab

Isometric exercise is a type of exercise in which you contract certain muscles without any other movement. A physical therapist may prescribe isometric shoulder exercises if you have pain or need to regain normal shoulder range of motion, strength, and/or mobility.

An isometric shoulder exercise plan may include:

  • Passive range of motion (ROM) exercises, in which movement of the joint is helped along by the therapist or a machine
  • Active range of motion exercises, in which you move the joint yourself
  • Shoulder plyometrics, involving exerting maximum force in short intervals
  • Rotator cuff strengthening exercises to improve the integrity of the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint

Shoulder isometrics can be performed up to three times per day, but be sure to ask your physical therapist about the frequency for your specific condition.

This article offers five specific isometric shoulder exercises that you can do on your own and how to perform them.

Make sure you check in with your healthcare provider before starting this or any other exercise program. A physical therapist can prescribe a set of moves specific to your needs and show you how to do them properly.

Isometric Shoulder Flexion

isometric shoulder flexion

Brett Sears

To perform shoulder flexion:

  • Stand facing a wall.
  • Bend the elbow on the side of the shoulder you want to exercise and make a fist.
  • Place a folded towel between your fist and the wall, and gently press your hand into the wall.
  • Hold for five seconds, and then slowly release.

There is no need to try to push the wall over. Just press gently into the wall to activate your shoulder muscles. This is especially important if you are just starting isometric exercise after shoulder surgery.

If it causes pain, take a break.

Do 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the next exercise: isometric shoulder abduction.

Isometric Shoulder Abduction

isometric shoulder abduction

Brett Sears

To perform isometric shoulder abduction exercises:

  • Stand about six inches from a wall, but turn your body so it is perpendicular to the wall.
  • The shoulder you wish to exercise should be close to the wall.
  • Make a fist and press it into the wall. You may wish to use a folded-up towel for a little extra comfort.
  • Gently press into the wall as if you are trying to lift your arm out to the side, and hold it there for five seconds.
  • Slowly release pressure on the wall.

Again, no need to push the wall over; gentle pressure will do.

Perform 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the next exercise, which is designed to get your rotator cuff muscles working.

Isometric Shoulder External Rotation

Isometric shoulder exercise for external rotation.

Brett Sears

Isometric shoulder external rotation is an exercise that can help strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, specifically your teres minor and your infraspinatus.

To perform the exercise:

  • Continue standing perpendicular to a wall about six inches from it.
  • The shoulder you are exercising shoulder be closest to the wall.
  • Bend your elbow 90 degrees, make a fist, and press the back of your hand into the wall as if you were rotating your arm outwards.
  • Use a small towel for a little padding, if needed.
  • Gently press into the wall for about five seconds.
  • Slowly release pressure on the wall.
  • Stop the exercise if you feel any increased pain.

Do 10 to 15 repetitions, and then start the next rotator cuff isometric exercise.

Isometric Shoulder Internal Rotation

shoulder isometric internal rotation in physical therapy

Brett Sears

To perform isometric shoulder internal rotation:

  • Position your body so that you're facing a door frame or an outside corner of a wall. The shoulder you're exercising should be near the door opening or corner.
  • Bend your elbow 90 degrees, make a fist, and gently press into the corner wall or door jamb as if you were trying to rotate your hand inward towards your belly button.
  • Press and hold for five seconds, and then slowly release.

Remember, no motion should occur in your shoulder during the exercise. Use a small folded towel for padding.

Perform 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the final shoulder isometric exercise: isometric extension.

Isometric Shoulder Extension

Physical therapy shoulder isometric extension exercise.

Brett Sears

To perform isometric shoulder extension:

  • Stand about six inches away from a wall with your back facing it.
  • Keep your elbow straight so your hand is down near your hip.
  • Make a fist, and gently press it into the wall behind you. Very little motion should occur at your shoulder.
  • Hold the pressure against the wall for 5 seconds, and then release slowly.

Do 10 to 15 repetitions.

Once you start regaining shoulder muscle activation, you can progress by incorporating dynamic resistance band isometrics and shoulder active ROM. 

1 Source
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. Nikolaidou O, Migkou S, Karampalis C. Rehabilitation after Rotator Cuff Repair. Open Orthop J. 2017;11:154-162. doi:10.2174/1874325001711010154

Additional Reading
  • Mullaney, M. J., Perkinson, C., Kremenic, I., Tyler, T. F., Orishimo, K., & Johnson, C. (2017). EMG OF SHOULDER MUSCLES DURING REACTIVE ISOMETRIC ELASTIC RESISTANCE EXERCISES. International journal of sports physical therapy12(3), 417.

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.