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The Windmill, an Underrated Exercise

The Kettlebell Windmill is a classic exercise that also opens up a gateway to some pretty cool, more advanced drills.

To be fair, most people never need the more advanced versions, but the windmill really ought to be in everyone’s tool box.

Here’s why:

It teaches us to hinge into our hip with an emphasis on one leg. As we sit into this leg, the hip moves into internal rotation. The hip both flexing and internally rotating will load up our glutes nicely, meaning that even when performed without a load, say in a warm up, we are putting some stretch load into our glutes and giving them a good reason to contract.

The raised arm is supporting rather than lifting a weight. This is important as reduces the risk of damage in the shoulder joint and can actually have a therapeutic effect on the shoulder. If I were to move my arm in the pattern it goes through during the windmill, but unloaded and either standing or lying down, it would look very much like a standard physio rehab drill for your rotator cuff. But in a windmill, the arm is static while the body moves kinda like a weird closed chain / open chain combo, plus we can add significant loading to the movement. These two points ask a lot more from the shoulder muscles than you might think and can replace all pressing actions, at least temporarily, while maintaining or even building pressing strength.

In the video below, watch the orientation of my hand as I go through the lift. You’ll notice it doesn’t (or rather, shouldn’t) change as I move. If I do my best to keep the palm facing forwards, or even orient the thumb slightly backwards, I take the shoulder into a nice external rotation. This puts a bit of a stretch into the pecs and allows the back to take most of the strain. This is important as all the best pressers, be it in bench press or military press, will tell you the press from the back. As we usually load the back with pulling actions, it can be difficult to visualise this, or even feel it happening. The windmill, with its overhead support, almost feels like a press but much of the load is in the back. This helps a lot in getting people to use their back musculature to stabilise the shoulder during the more standard pressing actions.

I’d talk about the core training benefits of the lift, but that’s been done to death on every other kettlebell blog everywhere on the internet. I actually don’t use it for “core training” I use it as a complete upper body strength drill. That said though, go heavy on this, especially with both hands loaded and you’ll feel the midsection working like mad to keep the spine safe. And that’s a good thing.

Have a look at the video:

The lift is not owned by the kettlebell community, although that’s where you’ll see it the most. There’s no reason not to use a dumbbell, even a barbell to load the movement. But as it’s the movement itself that holds the benefit, be sure to practice a lot with either no, or very light weight before trying to load up. Once you have it nailed and are adequately warmed up, feel free to load it all you want. In this picture, I have 40kg in the top hand and 64kg in the bottom hand, for a total of 104kg. I weighted just below 90kg at the time. I rarely lift this amount in this lift, but with regular exposure to submaximal loads with 24’s and 32’s I can perform this feat from cold. But the key point here is repeated practice with submaximal loads.

triple windmill

Have fun with this lift, and be prepared for some funny looks if practised in a standard public gym.

I’ll follow up this post with a look into the more advanced version of the movement, the Side Press and the Bent Press.

Regards Dave Hedges

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