Kettlebell windmills may sound more like some sort of wind power–generating machine than something you add to a workout, but in reality they’re an exercise that targets your upper body and lower body in a series of movements. They require minimal equipment but a lot of mobility, and they can help you build both strength and flexibility. They involve a set of relatively complex steps, so learning proper form is essential to doing them effectively and safely. Here, two fitness experts explain how to perform kettlebell windmills like a pro, as well as who the exercise is for (and not for) and how to modify them if you're just starting out.
Meet the Expert
What Are Kettlebell Windmills?
Kettlebell windmills are a compound exercise (i.e., one that works multiple muscle groups) that involves holding a kettlebell above your head while doing a hip hinge. According to Kemma Cunningham, a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Life Time, kettlebell windmills focus mainly on the shoulders, core, thoracic spine, hips, and hamstrings.
What Are the Benefits of Kettlebell Windmills?
Because of the different movements involved, there are multiple benefits of doing kettlebell windmills.
Salvador says kettlebell windmills do three things: Stretch the muscles of the hip (piriformis, hip rotator, and hamstrings), strengthen the muscles of the shoulder and core, and stabilize the shoulder.
The exercise improves strength, mobility, and stability, says Cunningham. And it not only challenges your core strength but it also challenges your entire kinetic chain (basically, the idea that joints and segments in your body are all connected, and that movement in one part affects others in the chain). The emphasis is on shoulder/scapular stability, glute activation, and increasing the range of motion in your hips.
Proper Kettlebell Windmill Form
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Rotate both feet out about 45 degrees by rotating through your heels or the ball of your feet.
- While holding your kettlebell from the rack position, press it onto the overhead position.
- Put your weight on your back foot (the side not holding the kettlebell).
- Begin the hip hinge by shifting the hip out in the direction of the kettlebell. Keep your front leg soft with a slightly bent knee, and your rear loaded leg vertical, long, and straight. About 70% of your weight should be on the back leg, and 30% on the front leg.
- As you begin the shifting of the hips, ensure your eyes are on the kettlebell at all times. The arm holding the kettlebell should be locked and as vertical as possible. Your upper torso should rotate, your chest faces the opposite knee, and avoid rounding your back.
- Slowly lower your opposite hand toward the floor, contracting your abs, glutes, and hamstrings.
- After you have reached the floor, raise the kettlebell back to the top. Keep your elbow locked out and your shoulder active.
- Start with 3–5 reps on each side with a 3 x 1 tempo.
A few other things to keep in mind while performing the windmill:
- There should be no lateral flexion of the spine or any stress on the lumbar spine as you hinge. If the weight starts to shift toward the front leg, it could mean you’re laterally flexing the spine in order to go deeper.
- The goal for the windmill is not to touch the ground with the off-hand, but to execute the windmill with proper form and technique.
- Keep a strong wrist, with the shoulder stacked underneath to support the stability of the kettlebell.
- You should choose a kettlebell that you can easily press overhead about 8–10 times. An average, active person should start with a kettlebell anywhere between 8–25 pounds.
How to Modify
A modification to make this exercise easier is to use a lighter kettlebell or no kettlebell at all. "I recommend this when starting the exercise to ensure proper alignment and flexibility before adding a heavier, more challenging weight," says Cunningham.
- Follow the same steps as a standard kettlebell windmill without holding the weight up overhead.
- Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Set a kettlebell in front of you.
- Point your feet away from your vertical arm in a 45-degree angle.
- Extend your arm to the ceiling, keeping your shoulder stacked and wrist straight.
- Hinge at the hips with weight on back leg while looking up at the vertical arm.
- Grab the kettlebell with the descending arm.
- Press back up, holding the kettle bell with palm facing out, to return to standing.
Kettlebell windmills may be too demanding of a movement for some people. You need to have overhead mobility and thoracic spine (t-spine) mobility because you’ll have to hold weight overhead and be stable while doing it. Because the windmill requires core, hip, and shoulder strength and stability, both Cunningham and Salvador caution that if you have any shoulder impingement, chronic back pain, or issues with flexibility or the spine, this might not be the right exercise for you. There are ways to modify the exercise to make it easier, but if you have any questions or concerns, always consult with a doctor or fitness trainer before attempting a new exercise or workout routine.
The Final Takeaway
Kettlebell windmills are a relatively advanced exercise move that can improve strength and mobility. They require holding a kettlebell straight overhead and hinging at the hip, and require your full body. Because of the complexity of the movement, you should consult with a doctor or fitness trainer if you have any spine or flexibility issues. The key to performing kettlebell windmills and avoiding injury is proper form. A good way to start out is to just use your body weight until you've mastered the proper hip hinge patterns, and then gradually add weight to progress.