The windmill is one of my favorite exercises! It’s beautiful and elegant yet requires serious amounts of shoulder stability and core strength. The windmill is easily regressed or progressed for a variety of skill sets. If you know anything about the movement pattern of the windmill I’m sure you might be asking yourself how exactly can you make a windmill easier (and maybe even how can you make it harder).
Learning the windmill should first be done as bodyweight only exercise, doing so will not only allow you to learn the unique multi-planar movement pattern but will also allow you to teach the windmill in the group setting safely. I like to introduce the bodyweight version as skill work in a few sessions then start to include it as part of certain warm ups. This allows our clients to get used to the movement, which isn’t a typical pattern we do in every day life.
The one downfall to teaching the windmill as a bodyweight only exercise initially is the tendency to not focus on the arm remaining vertical to the shoulder and perpendicular to the floor. One of the key components of the windmill is to maintain two vertical and perpendicular structures with the same side arm and leg, regardless of the loading pattern. Let’s take a look and break it down.
As with most exercises there are a variety of coaching cues and possibly several variations of a single movement. These are my preferred coaching cues as well as my preferred way of doing and teaching the windmill.
- Start with the feet slight wider than hip width apart.
- Raise the right arm overhead, the elbow should be fully extended, the bicep should align with the ear and the hand should remain directly above the shoulder throughout the entire exercise.
- Keep the heals planted and parallel to each other, shift the toes to point slightly to the left. (There are some schools of teaching that have you keep one foot facing forward and the other pointed slightly to the left, for ease of coaching in a group environment I believe it is more effective to coach clients to point both feet in the same direction.)
- Shift 75-80% of your bodyweight into the right leg and kick the right hip out like you’re making a ledge. (You’ll always shift the majority of your bodyweight into the same side leg that has the arm overhead.)
- The overhead right arm and the right leg must remain vertical and perpendicular to the floor through the entirety of the windmill.
- Depending on flexibility, the left leg may maintain a soft bend in the knee or can be straight. Whichever option you choose the degree of flexion must remain the same throughout the entire exercise.
- Fold at the hips, pushing them back, similar to an RDL pattern.
- Allow your left hand to guide itself along the inseam of your left leg.
- Continue to fold at the hips until your hand can reach the floor or as far as your current level of flexibility allows you.
- At the bottom of the windmill the right leg will form a right angle triangle with the floor.
- The spine should remain neutral, the movement comes from the hips not the spine. Avoid losing the natural curve of the spine. Avoid any lateral flexion.
- Engage the right glutes to return to a standing position.
- Fully extend the hips at the top of the exercise and shift your bodyweight back to equal on each leg.
Once this movement pattern has been mastered with bodyweight it is now safe to progress to loaded patterns of the windmill. Each of the different loading patterns requires a different level of muscle recruitment and skill.
The difference between a low windmill and a high windmill makes the exercise more challenging than the bodyweight version in different ways.
Both the low and high windmill require hamstring flexibility and lower body strength, however the high windmill requires significantly more core strength and shoulder stability than the low windmill.
The starting position for both the low and high windmill are identical minus the loading pattern.
Notice the shifting pattern of putting the majority of your bodyweight into one leg. The hip creates a ledge, this is the leg that must maintain a vertical and perpendicular structure to the floor.
As you fold at the hip, in both variations, the same side leg and arm are perpendicular structures to the floor. Think of them as buildings, if they lean in any direction they are less stable and will eventually tumble. Notice that in the low windmill, even if flexibility is not an issue, you will be limited to how far you can go to the floor due to the height of the kettlebell handle. In the high windmill you have the opportunity to reach to the floor should your flexibility allow it.
To finish both variations of the windmill return to standing, keep in mind that far more core strength is required in the high windmill than the low windmill.
Pamela MacElree is owner of Urban Athlete in Philadelphia and is an advocate of women’s strength training which she often talks about on her blog, PMacStrong.com. She has a Masters degree in Injury Prevention and Sports Performance from California University of Pennsylvania. You can keep up with her at her blog http://PMacStrong.com and https://www.facebook.com/PMacStrong.