The Kettlebell Windmill

The Kettlebell Windmill

One of my favorite kettlebell exercises is the KB windmill.  I’m sure if Brett Jones is reading this he’s getting a laugh out of it.  Here’s the 1-minute story.

I wrote an article for Dragon Door a while back about how powerlifters can benefit from using kettlebells in their programming.  I put a picture of myself in there performing a windmill, and Brett subtly let me know that my technique was off.  It wasn’t so much on purpose – I had been taught in correctly, but it was funny nonetheless.

I like the windmill for several reasons.  First and foremost, it’s a great assessment tool.  Obviously you won’t load this up on the first session with a client, but you can learn a lot of things about how your client moves from watching them attempt this exercise.

Do they move through their hips or lumbar spine?

What flexibility limitations do they have?  I.e., where do they feel the stretch?

The windmill takes a ton of hip mobility.  Often you’ll see people fail to “push into” their hip, and as such, they simply use a mix of lumbar flexion and rotation to produce the movement.

THIS IS HORRIBLE!  Please don’t let your clients (or yourself) do this.

If you can’t go through a full range of motion initially, that’s fine.  Work through your functional range, and as your mobility improves, work to slowly increase range of motion.

You can also get an idea of whether people want to load their hips as well.  It’s not just a mobility thing; people with weak hips generally don’t want to push into and load their hips on this exercise.  Again, work through their functional range to start, and look for asymetries between sides.

Here are a few cues/tips that made a big difference for me:

  • Turn both toes to 45 degrees.
  • The leg on the side your holding the kettlebell should be kept straight.  This was a big issue for me before, as I was originally taught to bend this knee!
  • Lock your torso/lumbar spine into a neutral position.
  • Push into the hip, and think about lifting it up as well.
  • If you start to lose your back position, immediately stop and return to the starting position.

When used correctly, this exercise falls right in line with the joint-by-joint approach – mobility in the t-spine and hips, stability in the lumbar spine.

The unfortunate thing is many people (myself included) have butchered the exercise at one point or another.  Take the time to perform it correctly and I think you’ll love the kettlebell windmill as well!

Stay strong

MR

4 Comments

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  1. MR,
    What's the difference between the bent press and the windmill? I always thought the windmill used a KB in both hands, but I was apparently mistaken, as this post and the accompanying picture indicate only 1 KB.

  2. Thanks for this. I would really like to see a video that properly brought out these points. I have a few questions.
    – Turn both toes to 45 degrees.
    The girl in the photograph seems to have only the toes on the load side at 45 degrees, and that is what seems natural to me. What is the purpose/benefit of having both toes at 45 degrees?
    – Push into the hip, and think about lifting it up as well.
    Is this instruction directed to the hip joint on the load side only? By "push into the hip" I presume you mean "push the hip joint backwards", is that correct?
    Does "think about lifting it up" mean anything else besides keep your leg on the load side straight?
    – What flexibility limitations do they have? I.e., where do they feel the stretch?
    I feel a stretch in my quadratus lumborum on the load side. Am I doing it incorrectly?
    Thanks

  3. Agreed on the usefulness of this exercise. I use the windmill as movement prep a lot of times, and as an assessment tool as you mentioned here. For myself, nothing pinpoints my asymmetry in hip and tspine mobility as drastically as the windmill. Definitely a favorite!

  4. MIke,
    Good stuff as always. And watch out for Brett – he's got quite the eye!
    Some other things I've noticed people have to watch out for when performing the windmill are the following:
    – Thoracic spine tends toward flexion – must work to push the chest out
    – Support shoulder (holding the bell) has tendency to come unpacked the lower the individual folds into the hip, regardless of lumbar spine position. Usually working on the opposite hip helps…
    – Lateral neck flexion instead of rotation. This is a biggie I see. It can usually be corrected by re-setting the neck by rotating it toward the floor and then back toward the shoulder (not to be done under heavy loads) and also by pushing deeper into the back hip.
    Just thought I toss those in there.
    Keep the good info coming!

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