The Kettlebell Windmill
“It makes you comfortable in uncomfortable positions” I said to my client who started complaining about the weird, contorted position I was having them get into. I had one of the pro fighters I trained performing a windmill with a light kettlebell and he was struggling. Not only was he a strong dude, but an insanely capable athlete. Even so, a kettlebell windmill was challenging because it wasn’t about brute strength. It’s about stability and flexibility in a pattern that most people rarely train.
The windmill challenges your shoulder stability, core strength, flexibility and glute strength all in one. It’s a move popularized by old school strength athletes like Arthur Saxon typically done as a bent press or side press, but morphed into the straight arm windmill. It’s a show of strength and balance that creates a more capable, resilient athlete.
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The windmill has some distinct benefits that make it a useful exercise.
It builds shoulder stability
The strength needed to keep the arm vertical combined with the wide range of motion creates a space for the stabilizers of the shoulder (the rotator cuff, scapular muscles, etc) to work double time. The stronger these stabilizers are the stronger and more secure your shoulders will be.
It builds core strength
As you drop into the bottom position and pull yourself back up you’re working your obliques, core, stabilizers of your spine, serratus and more. Building a strong core will always be valuable at creating a strong and useful physique.
It builds glute and hip strength
All hinges (Deadlifts, swings) will build glute and hip strength and so will the windmill. The added bonus of working the glutes unilaterally (one at a time) and anti-rotational strength as you fight to maintain a solid torso the entire time.
How to perform:
Set up with the bell in your right arm in the rack position. Stand with a slightly wider than hip width stance and point your toes 45 degrees or so to the left (away from the racked bell). Lift the bell overhead. Drive your hip back as you bring your upper body in the direction of your feet. Keeping your right arm vertical as you hinge and watching the bell to maintain stability pull yourself back to the starting position. Maintain tension to avoid flexing at the spine. Match your breath to the movement so as you stand exhale without releasing all tension.
Regress it down:
If you don’t have the requisite shoulder mobility then there are three regressions for you!
This was the first thing I’d have my client do and for some people this was all they needed. The stress on their core and the lack of shoulder mobility made this the perfect starting point that was still fairly challenging.
If they had the strength to hinge, but maybe didn’t feel secure having the bell overhead the entire time we’d bring it down. Letting the low hand hold the bell while maintaining the same pattern allowed my client to work on the core strength and simply hold their hand overhead to practice the mobility.
This allowed my client to focus on the movement and create more load on the core. It takes the same weight they were holding in the low position and redistributes it to keep the focus on the upper body. This helps create the upper back tension and connection to maintain an extended spine throughout the movement
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When to use it:
Personally I prefer using the windmill as a primer or loaded mobility drill to get the most use out of it. I’ve chased heavier and heavier numbers, but the risk-reward ratio makes it a challenging one. You don’t want to go too heavy as you have less margin of error if form deteriorates. You also don’t want to fatigue with it.
If your form is on point and you’re hell-bent on using the movement to get stronger then focus on 3-6 CLEAN reps for 3-5 sets. Take plenty of time between sides and between sets to focus on perfect form.
If you’re looking to build some size I’d recommend presses, jerks, and push presses, but this can be a handy movement to pre-fatigue the shoulders if your weights are too low. 8-12 reps and then going into presses will challenge you significantly while putting the shoulder and upper back through plenty of time under tension.
If you’re looking for endurance go higher reps or throw it into a circuit work with reps 12 and up, but be INCREDIBLY mindful of your form. Even with light weight you can do some damage if form diminishes and you put yourself in an awkward position.
So there you have it; a deeper dive of the kettlebell windmill. A movement that will deliver strength, stability, mobility and control. For more kettlebell workouts, programs and tutorials subscribe to Living.Fit! Get free kettlebell workouts here!
Master Kettlebell Coach