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Shoulder Isometrics: Strength & Rehab

EnFuse Staff

Category: Strength & Rehabilitation

Shoulder Isometrics:  Strength & Rehab

Shoulder Musculature-

The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the human body. While mobility is important, the stability of the shoulder girdle is essential, especially throughout its entire range of motion.

Muscles serve as our dynamic stabilizers.  The muscles of the shoulder joint are as follows:

  • Deltoid
  • Supraspinatus (Rotator Cuff)
  • Infraspinatus (Rotator Cuff)
  • Teres Minor (Rotator Cuff)
  • Subscapularis (Rotator Cuff)
  • Teres Major
  • Biceps (Long Head)
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius (Upper, Middle, Lower)

*Note: Not all of the muscles mentioned above cross the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint; however, the scapula and its surrounding muscles are vital to shoulder stability and mobility.

Strength and Conditioning

Building strength and achieving hypertrophy involves deliberately training your muscles with specific frequencies and at specific intensities.  Popular workouts tend to include complex lifts like push-press, squats, etc.  Having strong stabilizers (stabilizing muscles) for the involved joints will allow for a healthier, cleaner, and when appropriate- heavier lift. 

Isometric exercises can add tremendous value and diversity when training stabilizers if you program your workouts to target the entire range of motion at that joint.

If weight training is fairly new to you, or you are recovering from an injury, incorporating isometric exercises into your shoulder workouts can serve as a great starting point.  Similar to a pyramid, it is critically important to build a strong foundation first before progressing to heavier more dynamic lifts.  As such, before pursuing more shoulder intensive lifts such as the Shoulder/Over-head Press or Push-Press, we strongly encourage you to build-up/protect the myriad of stabilizers which allow your shoulder joint (GH joint) to provide stable movement. 

Additionally, even if you are a healthy, seasoned weight lifter, isometrics can still add value. These exercises can improve recovery, strengthen the stabilizer muscles at the shoulder, and can lock-in your form which in many cases can help bust through plateaus.


Because the shoulder is extremely mobile, there is always an inherent risk for injury even with the most basic of movements inside or outside the gym; that is why we always urge our readers/clients to invest time and energy into thoughtful preventative strength training.

Some common impairments that occur at the shoulder are:

  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Generalized weakness
  • Tendinopathy
  • Capsular/ ligament tears

These injuries can all result in instability and all have their respective healing times. Rehab specialists commonly use isometric exercises in order to faciliate and strengthen muscles in a controlled environment.  Since the shoulder is at a fixed angle, it eliminates stressful movement, which can further irritate an existing injury.  Also, in the case of an early stage rotator cuff tear, you do not want to stretch or load the muscle to any extreme.  This circumstance is a perfect setting for isometric training since the length of the muscle does not change.


Scapular Retraction w. band

Stand facing the attachment point of the band (pole, pillar, wall hook) with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the band with both hands and pull towards your body until your arms are at a 90 degree angle. Retract your scapula and pretend you are trying to squeeze a towel in the middle of your upper back. Hold this position (start). Next, slowly take steps backward, maintaining the arm angle and scapular squeeze. As you progress backward, the resistance will increase. You should go until you reach a resistance that you can hold for 15-30 seconds. After the given time, walk back towards the wall for a rest. Repeat this 5 times. Also, changing the band color can vary the resistance.


Internal/External Rotation w. band

External Rotation- Stand with the target shoulder away from the wall (the non-target shoulder will be facing the wall. Hold the resistance band in the target shoulder, with your arm fixed at your side, holding the elbow in 90o of flexion. Now, side-step away from the wall until the ideal resistance is met. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat this 5 times.

Internal Rotation- The same set up as external; however, the resistance band is now in the hand of the arm that is near the wall, thus also switching the target shoulder.


Anterior/Posterior Deltoid Wall Push

Anterior- Stand facing the wall, with your arm locked at your side at a 90 degree angle. Make a fist and push into the wall, as if you are trying to punch through it. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat this 5 times. Also, alternate arms.

Posterior- Use the same setup, with the exception of your body position. For this exercise, you should be facing away from the wall, and pushing through the tip of your elbow back into the wall. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat this 5 times.

Shoulder Abduction

Stand with the target shoulder against the wall and your arm at a 90o angle. Remain in this position and push outward against the wall. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat this 5 times. Be sure to do this for both sides.


In order to progress these isometric exercises, you can-

  1. Increase the duration of the isometric contraction; this is known as increasing time under tension (TUT). 
  2. Increase resistance via weight or tension.
  3. Vary arm angle during exercises to ensure you are strengthening the shoulder joint throughout its entire range of motion.

Note:  Once you are in the position for the isometric, it is vital that you keep your shoulder and arm fixed at that angle. The diagram below illustrates this.

Contraindications:  When performing any type of exercise, it is important to utilize proper breathing techniques.  You should avoid holding your breath for any extended periods of time while lifting weights.  People with high blood pressure must exercise caution with these activities. Be sure to consult your doctor before pursuing any type of physical exercise.

Note: Not all shoulder injuries affect stability. Frozen shoulder rehabilitation would target mobility due to the range of motion restrictions.

If you would like help and or guidance developing a hand-tailored fitness program that considers your own unique needs, please contact our team- support@EnFuseFitness.com

We hope that you find this article helpful!

In Health,
Team EnFuse

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  • Budhota A, Tommasino P, Hussain A, Campolo D. Identification of shoulder muscle synergies in healthy subjects during an isometric task. 2017 International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics (ICORR). 2017. doi:10.1109/icorr.2017.8009235.
  • EMG and force production of some human shoulder muscles during isometric abduction. Clinical Biomechanics. 1986;1(2):116. doi:10.1016/0268-0033(86)90124-5.
  • Sabour S. Reproducibility of isometric shoulder protraction and retraction strength measurements in normal subjects and individuals with winged scapula; methodologic and statistical issue to avoid misinterpretation. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. 2017;26(4). doi:10.1016/j.jse.2017.02.001.


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