The windmill is a complex kettlebell exercise that works the whole body but emphasizes improving strength and stability in the obliques (sides of the torso), glutes, and shoulders. You’ll also improve strength throughout your core muscles and improve flexibility in the hamstrings and hips.
Kettlebell windmills are often used in CrossFit and boot camp-style workouts and can be combined with traditional strength training exercises. This is an advanced movement that should be performed by those with reasonable stability, strength, and flexibility.
Also Known As: Windmill
Targets: Full body
Equipment Needed: Kettlebell
How to Do a Kettlebell Windmill
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.
Start with the feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Toes can rotate out just slightly to allow for a greater range of motion.
- Grip the kettlebell with your right hand and extend the right arm over your head. Your right palm should face forward.
- 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.
- Hinge at the hips to 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. 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.
- Reverse the movement, lifting the body while keeping a strong straight spine. Keep the weight steady and elevated over the right shoulder.
- Return to the starting position and begin again. Be sure that you maintain a strong, straight spine throughout this move.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Windmill
There are a few reasons that to add kettlebell windmills to your workout 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 provides 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.
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.
Less Equipment Needed
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. 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. These are less of a concern with kettlebells.
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.
Research shows that kettlebell training can be as effective as the resistance circuit based training. 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. It found that kettlebell training could be as effective as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for improving glucose tolerance.
Other Variations of the Kettlebell Windmill
Kettlebell training can offer many benefits. The kettlebell windmill, in particular, is an advanced exercise that provides a full-body workout. There are ways to modify the movement to make it more or less challenging, depending on your fitness level and goals.
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 people, however, won’t gain the benefits of shoulder stability without adding weight.
If you don’t have access to a kettlebell, you can perform the windmill exercise with a dumbbell. The balance challenge will change as the weight is centered directly over your wrist rather than behind it. Follow the same instructions for the kettlebell windmill.
Heavy Kettlebell Windmill
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 cannot maintain a tight core and strong torso throughout the lifting and lowering phases, then decrease it. Follow the same instructions for the kettlebell windmill.
Kettlebell Windmill Press
This version adds a press to the windmill. Once you are in the windmill position, slowly and with control, lower the kettlebell by bending your elbow toward your side. Once your elbow is fully bent, press the kettlebell back up until your arm is locked out.
Then reverse the movement as you would with the standard kettlebell windmill, lifting the body while keeping a strong straight spine. Return to the starting position and begin again.
There are a few common blunders to watch for when doing the windmill. Avoid these to make the exercise safer and more effective.
Too Little Rotation
If you tilt to the side without any rotation, you won’t be able to get low enough 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 during the lowering phase.
If you find that you are sliding your hand down the outside of your leg, 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 leg, not to the side. This small adjustment will allow you to get the 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 (holding the kettlebell) as you move the lower arm down.
Your upper arm should not be 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.
If you are less flexible, you may bend one or both legs substantially during this exercise to get the 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 (not locked straight) on the side where you are lowering your arm. That means you have a small bend, almost unnoticeable. The other leg should remain straight.
Safety and Precautions
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 learn how to engage the core rather than the lower back when bending forward at the hips.
Engaging the core properly is an essential skill when performing more advanced movements like the windmill that involve hinging at the hips with rotation. Doing a few hip hinges before the windmill during your workout may help to warm up the lower back and prevent injury.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do 5 to 10 repetitions on one side. Then switch, gripping the kettlebell in other hand and repeating the sequence.
Try It Out
Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these workouts.
- Advanced Ab Workout for Super Core Strength
- Kettlebell Cardio and Strength Total Body Exercises
- Advanced Weight Training Fitness Workout