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Exercise Spotlight: Kettlebell Windmill

windmill-karen-327x341Kettlebell Windmills are a beautiful expression of mobility, stability and strength. The windmill is an advanced exercise taught at the STRONGFIRST level II Kettlebell certification. Some specific cues and coaching tips will improve your success with the windmill significantly.

“The windmill should be a simultaneous hip hinging and spine rotation.” — Pavel Tsatsoline

Most often, we see spine torsion and a major emphasis on the forward bent knee bearing the load. What the windmill is not, is a skill that is simply a “lean over and touch the ground and stand back up holding a weight” exercise.

There is so much more detail required to perform them properly. One should have the proper amount of shoulder, thoracic spine (t-spine)  and hamstring mobility, and shoulder stability to perform a successful windmill.

Progressions for Learning the Windmill

½ Kneeling Windmill

  1. Lunge back with the left leg
  2. ½ kneeling with right leg forward and right arm extended over head
  3. Windshield swipe the left leg behind you
  4. Hinge and send your weight toward the right hip
  5. Rotate the T-spine, while keep open chest and packed shoulder, to find the ground
  6. Slowly lower to your forearm

Watch video demonstration of the ½ Kneeling Windmill here:

Next, you can move on to the standing windmill but again, keep it unloaded and practice this movement with proper t-spine rotation.

Standing Unloaded Windmill

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart
  2. Rotate feet facing left at about 45 degrees
  3. Right arm is locked out straight overhead
  4. Hinge hip to right and feel tension in the right glute (think “sassy hip”)
  5. The right leg must start straight and loaded
  6. The left leg can be straight or bent, but mostly unloaded
  7. Rotate at the t-spine while keeping your eyes on the locked out arm
  8. While keeping shoulder packed and chest open, rotate toward the ground only as low as your mobility will allow, without rounding your lower back
  9. Squeeze your glutes and stand back up

Watch video demonstration of the Standing Unloaded Windmill here:

IMPORTANT:  The working side leg (right, in my example above) must stay straight and the non-working side (left) stays soft or unloaded.

At a certification many years ago, Pavel had a student place an egg under the front foot to correct his error of loading the front leg too much. He was instructed to windmill and not crack the egg that was under his foot.

This has always stuck with me and I use this with my students to visualize the egg and keep the load in the working leg. I hope this visualization will help you also to remember soft front foot, loaded back foot.

The t-spine is also an important factor in proper windmill execution. If you are extremely tight in your t-spine from sitting often or from texting, then windmills will be very challenging for you.

Watch the following video for  “Glides and T’s Drills” that can help you increase your mobility in your spine:

The above drills were assigned to me by an SFMA to regain my spine mobility after a car accident and since then, they have been a part of my students’ daily warm ups.

They are also great to judge your mobility (tightness) and any asymmetries from day to day before training overhead skills like, military pressing or rotational skills as the windmills are.

Loading the Windmill

Once you have the proper t-spine mobility you can begin to load the windmill (beginners load the down hand first and later advance to loading overhead). When loading the overhead arm, you can either clean and press, or snatch the bell over head.

After getting the bell overhead and shoulder packed:

  1. Rotate the feet to the left
  2. Hinge the hip to the right and load the straight back leg
  3. While keeping the front foot soft, rotate the t-spine and fold toward the ground
  4. Eyes should be on the overhand arm and shoulder packed
  5. Go as far as your mobility allows without lumbar rounding
  6. Tense glute and stand back up

Only go as low as your mobility allows—this is not a “reach the ground at all costs” skill!

Windmills will increase your shoulder stability and your t-spine and hamstring mobility, while increasing your overall strength. Helping women get stronger and achieve coveted feats of strength like the windmill is one of the things we do best. We want to help you reach your goals with a balanced, intelligent approach.

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About The Author: Karen Smith

Karen Smith is a highly-respected trainer and coach specializing in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a StrongFirst SFG Master Instructor and Chief Bodyweight Instructor. Karen travels the world instructing and certifying individuals through StrongFirst, and works with clients online and in person. Learn more about Karen on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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