The Kettlebell Windmill is a classic exercise that also opens up a gateway to some pretty cool, more advanced drills.
To be fair, most people never need the more advanced versions, but the windmill really ought to be in everyone’s tool box.
It teaches us to hinge into our hip with an emphasis on one leg. As we sit into this leg, the hip moves into internal rotation.
The hip both flexing and internally rotating will load up our glutes nicely, meaning that even when performed without a load, say in a warm up, we are putting some stretch load into our glutes and giving them a good reason to contract.
The raised arm is supporting rather than lifting a weight.
This is important as reduces the risk of damage in the shoulder joint and can actually have a therapeutic effect on the shoulder.
If I were to move my arm in the pattern it goes through during the windmill, but unloaded and either standing or lying down, it would look very much like a standard physio rehab drill for your rotator cuff.
But in a windmill, the arm is static while the body moves kinda like a weird closed chain / open chain combo, plus we can add significant loading to the movement.
These two points ask a lot more from the shoulder muscles than you might think and can replace all pressing actions, at least temporarily, while maintaining or even building pressing strength.
In the video below, watch the orientation of my hand as I go through the lift.
You’ll notice it doesn’t (or rather, shouldn’t) change as I move. If I do my best to keep the palm facing forwards, or even orient the thumb slightly backwards, I take the shoulder into a nice external rotation.
This puts a bit of a stretch into the pecs and allows the back to take most of the strain.
This is important as all the best pressers, be it in bench press or military press, will tell you the press from the back.
As we usually load the back with pulling actions, it can be difficult to visualise this, or even feel it happening.
The windmill, with its overhead support, almost feels like a press but much of the load is in the back. This helps a lot in getting people to use their back musculature to stabilise the shoulder during the more standard pressing actions.
I’d talk about the core training benefits of the lift, but that’s been done to death on every other kettlebell blog everywhere on the internet.
I actually don’t use it for “core training” I use it as a complete upper body strength drill.
That said though, go heavy on this, especially with both hands loaded and you’ll feel the midsection working like mad to keep the spine safe.
And that’s a good thing.
Have a look at the video:
The lift is not owned by the kettlebell community, although that’s where you’ll see it the most. There’s no reason not to use a dumbbell, even a barbell to load the movement.
But as it’s the movement itself that holds the benefit, be sure to practice a lot with either no, or very light weight before trying to load up.
Once you have it nailed and are adequately warmed up, feel free to load it all you want.
In this picture, I have 40kg in the top hand and 64kg in the bottom hand, for a total of 104kg. I weighted just below 90kg at the time.
I rarely lift this amount in this lift, but with regular exposure to submaximal loads with 24’s and 32’s I can perform this feat from cold. But the key point here is repeated practice with submaximal loads.
Have fun with this lift, and be prepared for some funny looks if practised in a standard public gym.
I’ll follow up this post with a look into the more advanced version of the movement, the Side Press and the Bent Press.
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I know, terrible pun, but forgive me…….
Core strength is important.
No news there eh?
For years now the emphasis has been on developing the posterior chain strength, which is basically your hips, hamstrings and back. This includes your core with a posterior emphasis.
The strength and fitness industry as a whole pretty much threw out all anterior core work outside of planks and turkish get ups.
But as good as these movements are, their still not enough. Our anterior core, aka “da six pack” deserves more.
This is where the Ab Wheel roll out comes in.
If you deadlift, squat, swing snatch, then this is the opposite action.
The reason I like so much is simple.
It keeps the spine relatively neutral, which is good news for many people with a forward flexed posture, thunk of your fighting posture or even how you sit at your desk.
It loads the abdominals in a lengthened position. What the hell does that mean?
It means that as the wheel rolls out, it is stretching out the abdominals and the lats, while at the same time loading them. This pretty close to the way in which the abdominals fire in real world movement, the muscles are usually stretch loaded prior to firing. Have a look at this thrower to see what I mean:
What do you think, has she stretched out the anterior chain, including the abdominals in order to generate more power for that throw?
Now what if you were throwing a punch or a person?
There are a few important pointers that you must adhere to in order to both keep the spine safe and also get the most out of the exercise.
This video shows how it ought to be done:
Once the basic gets easy we have a few ways to progress the drill:
“Pennate Roll Outs”
Decline Roll Outs
Standing Roll Outs to a Ramp
Obviously the standing roll out is serious work, so be sure to have a solid base of kneeling work before even attempting it.
On any variation, stay within your safe range of motion, if you lose control at any point, then simple drop to the floor, trying to save it can put tremendous strain into the lower back.
This cheap piece of kit is highly underrated but if used well can and will build some serious core strength and give balance to a body.
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If it’s good enough for Iron Man…..
I think it’s fair to say the Turkish Get Up is one of my favorite things to do.
It’s also pretty fair to say there’s a lot of people who would agree with me that it is an incredibly valuable lift, for a number of reasons.
It’s also fair to say that a lot of people talk a lot of bollocks about the lift.
There are many ways to work the get up depending on the type of response you’re trying to elicit from the body.
And just the other day I had two very different lads in who have get ups programmed into their workouts but for very different reasons, and as a result, they do the lift differently.
The two lads are Don and Les. Don is a BJJ player, fairly new to the sport coming into it with very little of any sort of training. Much like most people who take up a martial art, it was his first real training experience.
Les on the other hand is a bit of a machine. He’s a hockey player (proper hockey, not that padded up ice dancing thing…) and loves to train hard.
The two lads both partake in sports that live in a forward flexed posture. The hockey player is hunched over with his stick on the floor to control the ball. The BJJ guy, especially the new guys, are usually on their backs in a foetal position trying not let the better guy fold them in half.
Don realised early on that he needed to get some serious core strength going, so he came to me. At first he couldn’t hold a plank steady for 30seconds.
With some “gentle persuasion” he accepted my homework assignment and couple of weeks later he passed a 2min plank test.
But he despises the plank, and to be fair, 2mins is plenty,.at least that’s what Dr Stuart McGill says and who am I to argue.
So what next? Various exercises, all very core centric with an emphasis on developing the get up.
Some days he worked volume with a comfortable weight, other days he’s pyramid up to a max.
Just the other day a 75kg Don did this with a 40kg bell
In total he worked up to the weight before managing 3 reps each side. It was only the second time he’d worked the 40.
Interestingly, a shoulder injury he picked up from an overzealous submission attempt has magically cleared up.
He first noticed his shoulder had cleared up, ie no longer clicked or ached when he started working with the 32kg bell regularly.
Which brings me to Les.
As I said, Les is a different animal. Les is completely anterior chain dominant, he lives in his sporting posture, forward flexed, internally rotated shoulders. Much of what I talked about in Fighting Back direct applies to Les.
It’s no surprise his shoulder blew up and he ended up in physio before coming to me.
Now we have him doing a bottoms up half get up every warm up.
In the beginning he could barely hold the weight out. A strong lad being crushed by an 8kg bell shows a huge problem.
So Les worked the movement with no weight, than slowly added load in the standard grip until eventually he could manage a single bottoms up rep.
This clip shows him performing the drill on his injured side
Remember this is him simply warming up. His training is very much about getting that posterior chain kicking in, but before anything happens we use this drill to turn on the rotator cuff and integrate the shoulder into the rest of the body.
Already in just a few weeks Les’ symptoms are reducing and he’s able to take on more movements.
So we have one exercise, the Get Up, being utilised in two very different manners according to individual athletes needs.
There is no one best way to perform any given exercise, especially something as global as the get up.
The mainstream kettlebell community may deride Don for not bridging up during the get up, but his hips are not our focus. We do other work for that.
They may also be baying for blood because Les doesn’t roll enough, not realising that to get to where he is now is an achievement in itself and a constant work in progress.
The key point here is that we can take an exercise and break it down, tailoring it to suit the athlete. We don’t try to make the athlete suit the movement, we.make the movement suit the athlete.
Spend time with the get up, get to know it intimately, and while a half bodyweight get up is the standard we want to achieve, for many, like Les, it’s not realistic.
A few weeks ago I wrote 5 Reasons to Love the Turkish Get Up, and you lot seemed to like it, it’s become the most viewed post I’ve written to date.
So thank you.
Today I want to talk about it’s cousin, the Windmill.
The windmill is a cool lift but one lives in the shadow if it’s bigger sibling, the Get Up.
Both have huge benefits for mobility, particularly around the hip. And both tick major boxes when it comes to both shoulder and core stability.
But the Get Up just looks cooler, so get all the attention meaning poor Windmill here needs a leg up.
So lets highlight a few reasons why you should be giving it some attention.
First a video:
Now the writing:
1 – Mobility
The Windmill is a great mobility drill.
When you lower into it you are stretching out that rear hip in a manner that we rarely hit in the field of exercise. When we are in the gym we pretty much stick to moving in the saggital plane, ie forwards and backwards. We don’t go off on angles very much at all.
But what about outside the gym, on the field or the matt?
The windmill takes the hip through a range of motion often restricted by tightness/weakness.
This makes light windmills a great warm up drill.
2 – The Hip Crease
When we initiate the movement we fold into the hip crease. Back in my Kung Fu days this was called the Kwa and being able to open and close the Kwa was the key to generating power.
Now, lets lose the kung foolery and stick to simple terms.
Sitting back into the hip crease on one side becomes a snapshot of almost any athletic power based endeavour.
Look at a thrower or a boxer at full extension, they have folded into the front hip.
Look at an athlete cutting and changing direction, they (should) sink into and explode out of the hip (as opposed to torquing the knee and snapping their ACL)
This is NOT a windmill, it IS a side bend.
A windmill involves the hip crease
The windmill is not the be all and end of of this hip fold, but it certainly a great way to bring people’s awareness to the fold and how to use it. The straight leg nature of the stance is giving a nice stretch as we learn the hinge, so double bonus.
If folding into the hip crease is of interest to you, focus on it during split squats, it adds and almost spiralling feel to movement.
3 – Shoulder Stability
We spoke about this with the Get Up, but here it is again with the Windmill.
The Windmill is an overhead support, it’s not really a lift as far as the shoulder is concerned. But there is movement at the shoulder as the torso changes angle.
Essentially your shoulder does the kind of action your physio gets you to do with a teeny tiny dumbell, which non of us actually do because it’s booooooooorring!
Yet, disguised in the form of the Windmill, we have similar movement…and because it’s a support, rather than a lift, we can load up a wee bit……
So from a shoulder stability point of view, the windmill rocks. Between this and the Get Up, you’ll probably do more for your shoulder health than any amount of standard physio.
4 – Core Blimey!
Have you ever really loaded up a windmill?
I mean REALLY loaded it up?
I don’t mean, “Oh this is a bit heavy” heavy
I mean “nnnnnnnnnnnnghaaaaaarrrrgggghhh!!!” heavy.
The kind of heavy that you have to have moment to yourself after.
The best way to do this is with a very heavy object in the top hand, then reach down and pick up something even heavier with the bottom hand.
Try it (with care and common sense of course) and just feel what happens to your midesction…..
5 – The Fun Progressions
Windmills are part of a family of lifts that go along a kind of continuum.
We start with the basic windmill with the bell held low, this is the initial learning stage. Then the windmill proper with the bell overhead and then the double windmill with weight above and below.
From here it gets old school.
You can start on the Side Press, the Bent Press (or screw lift) and even use it as a 2 Hand Anyhow lift.
Bent Press by Mike Mahler
Keeping things simpler is adding it to an other lift to make a complex.
A Wild Geese favourite is the following:
Snatch – Turkish Get Up – Windmill
Here’s how it works:
Get a large kettle. Snatch it up to the lockout, then perform a Get Up in reverse, when you get back to standing, perform a windmill. Bring the bell down, swap hands and repeat.
We do this anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes continuous work.
Try it, it’s as fun as it sounds.