Isometric Shoulder Exercises

If you have shoulder pain, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help you regain normal shoulder range of motion (ROM), strength, and functional mobility. Your physical therapist will be able to assess your condition and prescribe various treatments to help you return to your normal self.

Exercises for your shoulder are essential to help you regain normal function. There are various types of exercises that you can perform. These may include:

Isometric exercise is also a type of exercise that your physical therapist may prescribe for your shoulder. Isometric exercises are performed when your muscles contract, but no motion occurs around your shoulder joint. Your physical therapist may prescribe isometric shoulder exercises as part of your rehab home exercise program.

There are specific times when isometric exercise is favorable to perform. These may include:

  • In the initial stages of therapy when inflammation may make shoulder motion painful.
  • After shoulder surgery.
  • When trying to improve muscular function in a specific shoulder ROM.

To start isometric shoulder exercises, follow this step-by-step guide.

Make sure you check in with your doctor before starting this, or any other, exercise program. It is also recommended you visit your physical therapist to learn how to do the exercises properly and to be sure the exercises are appropriate for your specific condition.


Isometric Shoulder Flexion

Pic of isometric shoulder flexion.
Brett Sears, PT, 2015

To start with shoulder flexion, stand facing a wall. Bend your elbow of the shoulder you wish 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.

Keep in mind 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 the exercise causes pain, then stop and take a break.

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


Shoulder Abduction Isometric Exercise

Photo of isometric shoulder abduction.
Brett Sears, PT, 2015

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.

Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move onto the next exercise (designed to get your rotator cuff muscles working).


Isometric Shoulder External Rotation

Isometric shoulder exercise for external rotation.
Brett Sears, PT, 2015

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 nches 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.

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


Isometric Shoulder Internal Rotation

Picture of shoulder isometric internal rotation in physical therapy.
Brett Sears, PT, 2015

To perform isometric shoulder internal rotation, position your body so that you are facing an outside corner of a wall or facing a door frame. You should be facing the wall, and the shoulder you are exercising should be near the door opening or corner of the wall.

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 inwards towards your belly button. Remember, no motion should occur in your shoulder during the exercise. Use a small folded towel for padding. Press and hold for five seconds, and then slowly release.

Repeat 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, PT, 2015

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. Remember, very little motion should occur at your shoulder.

Hold the pressure against the wall for 5 seconds, and then release slowly. Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 repetitions.

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.

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

A Word From Verywell

Shoulder isometric exercise is a great first step during your rehab process for your shoulder condition. By performing the exercises early in your therapy program, you can set yourself up to have a seamless transition into more advanced shoulder strengthening exercises. This can help you return to your previous level of function quickly and safely.

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Article Sources

  • 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.