At first sight, kettlebell windmills might look complex and intimidating, but once you have mastered the movement pattern, you're gonna be reaping the sweet benefits from their twisting, turning and compound nature.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Windmill
Kettlebell windmills will help you increase hip mobility and hamstring flexibility, strengthen your glutes and core muscles (including your obliques – the muscles on the sides of your torso). The overhead position will strengthen your lats and improve your shoulder mobility and stability.
The twisting motion – when you open up your chest towards the sky on the way down and up – will benefit your thoracic spine (the portion of the upper and middle back), which plays a major part in a good posture.
The components of the kettlebell windmill will translate to everyday life. Remember when you have dropped something valuable into a tight opening beneath you? When you had to duck down to avoid a tree branch hitting your face? Or when you had to fetch a heavy object from a shelf above you? You will learn to do it without pain and injuries to your lower back and shoulder.
Safety tip: this is a pretty advanced movement. If you are new to kettlebells or lifting, learn it without weight first. Also, be extra careful if you have a history of shoulder problems.
Muscles Worked in the Kettlebell Windmill
Kettlebell windmill is a full-body exercise, with the greatest work done by your obliques and abs, glutes and hams, and shoulders, including shoulder stabilizers (rhomboids, rotator cuffs, muscles of the upper back).
Before You Start
If you are new to lifting in general and kettlebell training in particular, practice the movement without weight first. Clench your fist and use it instead of a kettlebell – before you have learned the movement pattern. Then, progress to the Kettlebell Low Windmill (see Kettlebell Windmill Variations). After that, you may be ready to try the classic – high – kettlebell windmill.
If you are lacking hip and hamstring mobility and flexibility, you might also want to try the Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Windmill (see Kettlebell Windmill Variations) first.
Kettlebell Windmill Form
Here is the sequence for the classic, high kettlebell windmill.
1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight. The kettlebell is resting on the floor in front of you.
2. Pick the kettlebell up with one hand, then clean and press it to the overhead position.
3. From here, pivot both feet at about 45 degrees off the center – in the direction opposite to the arm holding the bell.
Bend your knees just slightly – to slightly sit down towards your back hip.
Fix your eyes on the kettlebell – and keep them fixed on it throughout the movement.
Turn your torso slightly in the direction of your supporting arm.
This is the starting position for every rep.
4. Extend your free hand down towards the inner side of your thigh (on the same side of your body as the free arm) and start sliding it down the inner side of your leg, with the palm facing forward, while hinging at the hips – until you touch the ground with your fingertips or, if you are mobile enough, with your entire palm.
You may think of the hip movement this way: you are pushing your back hip out, while simultaneously loading the back heel.
As you lower the weight, keep your chest rotated towards the sky – do not slouch nor rotate your chest down.
Keep your supporting arm steady and fully extended (locked out) over your head. Do not let the elbow soften: remember, a heavy weight over your head and face!
5. Reverse the movement: stand all the way back up, sliding your free hand up the inside of your leg.
6. At the top position, straighten your legs all the way and rotate your back – in the same direction as your feet.
8. After you have hit the desired number of reps, lower the bell to the rack position, then on the ground, and switch the arms.
Important: do not look away from the bell. Keep your eyes fixed on it throughout the movement. Do not look down on the ground or at the ceiling. Control the descent and ascent by sliding your free hand down and up your leg – it will guide you in the right direction. Otherwise, you may lose balance with a heavy (even if not so heavy – doesn't change a thing) bell hanging over your head.
Frequent Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
1. Looking away from the bell. This is by far the most common windmill mistake. Keep your eyes fixed on the bell throughout the movement. Do not look down on the ground or at the ceiling. Control the descent and ascent by sliding your free hand down and up your leg – it will guide you in the right direction (towards the ground or towards the ceiling).
2. Prioritization of touching the ground. If you lack mobility and/or flexibility to go all the way down and touch the ground, do not compensate for it by bending your back or dropping your supporting shoulder. Your spine must remain neutral and your chest must remain open towards the ceiling.
If you cannot do it, you might want to work on your mobility and/or flexibility first (e.g. by doing Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Windmills (see Kettlebell Windmill Variations)).
In general, your goal is not to touch the ground, using any orthodox and unorthodox methods. Your goal is to go down as far as you can. As your mobility and flexibility improves, you will be able to go down further and further.
Kettlebell Windmill Variations
Straight-Legged Kettlebell Windmill
In this version, you're gonna keep your legs straight throughout the movement. This will require more hamstring flexibility and mobility.
As you go down, your hip will go outside the line of your foot. When you stand up, your hip will return to its original position – underneath your torso.
Straight-Feet Kettlebell Windmill
In this version, you will not rotate your feet at a 45-degree angle off your midline. Instead, you will keep your toes pointing straight ahead.
As you go down, you will be lowering the kettlebell somewhere in between the base of the triangle, formed by your legs.
This version requires much more core and hip rotation, so it is advisable to transition to it only after you have mastered the classic version (with your feet rotated at a 45-degree angle away from your midline).
Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Windmill
Use half-kneeling kettlebell windmills to develop the requisite mobility for full windmills.
To perform this movement, assume a low-lunge position: put one knee on the ground and plant the toes of your foot firmly on the floor; put the other leg in front of you. Both your knees should be bent at 90 degrees. You might want to angle your back leg slightly inward, which will give you more support.
Pick the kettlebell with the same arm as your front leg and press it overhead.
From here, you will be lowering your bottom hand to the floor and reversing the movement to the starting position.
Kettlebell Low Windmill
The setup for the Kettlebell Low Windmill is the same as for the classic – high – windmill, except that you will be holding the bell in the bottom hand – not in the top hand. Your top hand will still be pointing towards the ceiling, and you will still be keeping your eyes on its palm – to learn the proper movement pattern.
In this exercise, the palm of the hand holding the kettlebell will be facing away from your body, not towards your leg, which will help you activate your lats.
You may use this exercise as a way to develop flexibility and mobility before you transition to the high windmill.
This is an absolutely advanced exercise. Progress towards it only when you have mastered the classic, single-kettlebell windmill and only when you have attained all the necessary shoulder strength, hip mobility and flexibility.
In this exercise, you will be holding the bell not only in your upper arm, above your head, but also in the lower arm. As you go down, you will be touching the floor with the lower kettlebell.