How to Do a Kettlebell Windmill

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Windmill

Targets: Full body

Equipment Needed: Kettlebell

Level: Advanced

The windmill is a complex kettlebell exercise that works the whole body but puts special emphasis on improving strength and stability in the obliques (sides of the torso), glutes, and shoulders. You'll also improve strength throughout the muscles of your core and improve flexibility in the hamstrings and hips.

Kettlebell windmills are often used in Crossfit workouts, bootcamp-style workouts, and can be combined with traditional strength training exercises. This is an advanced movement that should be performed by those with a good degree of stability, strength, and flexibility.

Before attempting the kettlebell windmill, you should be comfortable doing a hip-hinge exercise with good form. Learning proper hip-hinge techniques will help you to learn how to engage the core rather than the lower back when bending forward at the hips. This is an essential skill when performing more advanced movements like the windmill that involves hinging at the hips with rotation. In fact, doing a few hip hinges before the windmill during your workout may help to warm up the lower back and prevent injury.

Benefits

There are a few reasons that you should consider adding a kettlebell windmill to your routine. If you're not already using kettlebells, there are some evidence-based reasons to shift to this type of workout equipment. And if you are already using kettlebells, adding movements that boost back and core stability provide advantages.

Improved Daily Movement

Exercises like the windmill and the hip hinge mimic activities of daily living. For example, it is very common that we have to tilt forward at the hips to pick things up off the floor or duck down beneath a low-hanging obstacle. Practicing these functional movements and learning to perform them properly with exercise can help you to safely and effectively execute these moves throughout the day.

When you add rotation and weight, as with the windmill exercise, you further train the body to perform more challenging tasks in daily life. For example, if you need to bend forward and reach to the side to retrieve something under a bed or a table. Or if you need to hold your body still while lifting something heavy over your head.

Most research on training the body for activities of daily living is conducted with aging adults. But there is no reason to wait until you are older to promote functional movement in your workouts. Including movements like the windmill that involve tilting, bending, rotating, and stabilizing can keep your body healthy at every age. In fact, the American Council on Exercise encourages trainers to incorporate these movement patterns in their clients' workouts in order to improve health, fitness, and performance.

American Council on Exercise

Movement efficiency not only helps reduce the physiological burden of performing activities of daily living, job tasks, and sports skills, but also reduces one’s likelihood for certain types of musculoskeletal injuries.

— American Council on Exercise

Less Equipment Needed

Exercise physiologists are learning that kettlebell training may offer several benefits when compared to traditional weight lifting. If you can't get to the gym, this might be the best workout style for you.

One study compared kettlebell training to traditional strength training that uses equipment such as a weight bench, barbells, dumbbells. Researchers noted that there are major restrictions to traditional training, such as cost, the fact that it takes up a large footprint in a gymnasium, and that equipment may be intimidating to novice users.

Researchers concluded that kettlebell training can enhance strength and power without the need for traditional (more expensive) equipment. Researchers cautioned readers, however, that proper instruction is needed for beginners and that more research is needed to fully understand how kettlebell training compares to traditional weight training.

Improved Aerobic Function

While kettlebell training is not considered "cardio," you may improve your aerobic function with kettlebell workouts.

One published study explored the ways that kettlebell training may improve both aerobic power and muscular strength in the same way as resistance circuit-based training. Many exercisers find resistance circuit-based training appealing because it can increase several variables at the same time—that is, it produces improvements in strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic conditioning simultaneously.

The study authors concluded that kettlebell training can be as effective as the resistance circuit based training. These authors also noted cost and accessibility as unique benefits of kettlebells.

Better Glucose Control

One small, preliminary study compared the use of kettlebells to other types of training for the purpose of improved glucose control.

For the study, researchers worked with six sedentary men. Study participants had their blood glucose and insulin levels measured after either a kettlebell workout, a high-intensity interval running workout, or no exercise at all.

Researchers found that both kettlebell and high-intensity interval running exercise significantly lowered blood glucose. Additionally, there was no significant difference in blood glucose or insulin concentration between kettlebell training and high-intensity interval running. Study authors concluded that a bout of kettlebell exercise is as effective as high-intensity interval running at improving glucose tolerance in sedentary young men.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Before you try this or any exercise, you should be in good health. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare provider if you are new to exercise or if you are coming back to exercise after an injury, pregnancy, or illness. You can also work with a qualified fitness trainer to get form tips and exercise advice.

You should also have some experience working with kettlebells. Many experts suggest that you master basic kettlebell moves (called "grinds") before you attempt this more advanced exercise. Kettlebell grinds to work on before you try the windmill include the overhead press, the figure eight, or the stiff leg deadlift.

kettlebell windmill
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

When you are first attempting the windmill, use a smaller kettlebell or no weight at all. As you become more comfortable with the mechanics of the move, add more weight.

  1. Start with the feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Toes can rotate out just slightly to allow for a greater range of motion.
  2. Grip the kettlebell with your right hand and extend the right arm over your head. Your right palm should face forward.
  3. Extend the left arm down in front of your left thigh with the palm facing forward. In this position, your arms might look like two arms of a windmill.
  4. Hinging at the hips, lower the upper body down and to the left side. Your left hand will stay facing forward while it slides down near the front of your left leg toward your foot. Keep the right arm steady and fully extended overhead.
  5. In the lowest position (with the left hand close to the left foot) your torso will be tipped to the left but slightly rotated to the right. When done properly, you'll feel some weight shift into your right hip.
  6. Reverse the movement, lifting the body while keeping a strong straight spine. Keep the weight steady and elevated over the right shoulder.
  7. Return to the starting position and begin again.

Be sure that you maintain a strong, straight spine throughout this move. Do 5–10 repetitions on the right and then place the kettlebell in the left hand and repeat the sequence bending to the right.

Common Mistakes

There are a few common blunders to watch for when doing the windmill.

Too Little Rotation

If you tilt to the side without any rotation, you won't be able to get low enough during this exercise to reap the full benefits. One way to ensure that you are using just the right amount of rotation is to monitor your hand placement on the lower arm during the lowering phase.

If you find that you are sliding your hand down the side of your leg (the side of the thigh, then the outside of the shin), then you are tilting the torso laterally only. In this position, you'll notice that you get about halfway down and can't lower any more. Rotate the torso just slightly to the right so that you can place the hand in front of the left leg, not to the side. This small adjustment will allow you to get the left hand closer to the foot.

Too Much Rotation

If you use too much torso rotation, your upper arm may move out of position, putting it at risk for injury. Over-rotation may also be a sign that you are rotating the upper torso only and not the full torso. To check for this mistake, monitor the placement of the upper arm as you move the lower arm down.

As you lower your body, some exercisers may notice that the torso opens up to such a degree that your upper arm is behind the shoulder when your lower hand is near the foot. As you lower the body down, only allow enough chest rotation so that the kettlebell stays directly over the shoulder. Making sure that your back stays straight and the core stays engaged will help ensure that you don't twist at the waist, but move the torso as a whole, instead.

Overextending the Shoulder

Another way that your upper arm might float back and behind the shoulder is by using too much extension at the shoulder joint. To check for this mistake, look at the position of the shoulder joint when the body is lowered down to the side. The chest and shoulder should maintain a flat straight line. If you notice a break at the joint where the arm bends back a bit near the shoulder, bring the hand forward slightly so that it is in a line with the shoulder and chest.

Bent Knees

Exercisers that are less flexible may try to bend one or both legs substantially during this exercise to get their lower hand closer to the ground. But bending too much reduces the workload and the flexibility benefits you might gain.

It is reasonable to keep the knee "soft" on the side where you are lowering your arm. That means you have a small bend, almost unnoticeable. The other leg should remain straight.

Modifications and Variations

There are a few different ways to make this movement harder or easier.

Need a Modification?

The easiest way to make this exercise easier is to use less weight or no weight at all. You'll still gain substantial benefits from rotating, tilting, and lowering the torso without added resistance. Your glutes and obliques will have to work hard to move the torso. Most exercisers, however, won't gain the benefits of shoulder stability without adding weight.

Up for a Challenge?

The best way to make this exercise harder is to add weight. It is already an advanced move, so adding balance challenges or additional movement is not warranted. However, each time you add weight, recheck your form. If you notice that you're unable to maintain a tight core and strong torso throughout the lifting and lowering phases, then decrease it.

Also, it should be noted that this exercise can be performed with a dumbbell. However, a kettlebell is likely to be safer for most people because the handles make it easier to maintain your grip.

Safety and Precautions

While this movement can help to improve core and hip stability to keep your lower back healthy, it may be too advanced for people with established lower back problems. If you have a history of back problems, speak with your healthcare provider or your physical therapist before attempting this move. You may also want to work with a trainer to make sure that you maintain good form when doing a windmill.

Also, those with shoulder problems should exercise caution when performing this movement. Proper placement of the kettlebell overhead will be especially important. Speak with your physical therapist to make sure that the exercise is appropriate for you.

Try It Out

Incorporate the kettlebell windmill into one of these workouts.

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Article Sources
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