The Kettlebell Windmill: Strength and Stretch in Motion

There are many drills with kettlebells that not only are demanding, but also are very revealing or diagnostic in nature. The Windmill (WM) along with the Turkish Get Up (TGU), are two of such drills and on this short article I would like to highlight the Windmill. I will also share a little video showing my latest progress in this fabulous drill..

The Windmill is not a beginner’s KB drill. The practitioner should already be able to Clean, Rack, and Military Press the kettlebell prior to attempting the Windmill. Furthermore, it is essential that the breathing be under control with the abdominal wall under pneumatic pressure. This keeps the lumbar spine pressurized and prevents low back injury. Of equal importance, is to keep the eyes on the kettlebell throughout the entire sequence. The lats should be extended and the arm supporting the bell should stay packed and always in a perpendicular direction to the ground.

I find the WM to be both diagnostic and remedial in nature. In other words, practicing the WM reveals areas of constriction within the musculature and fascia. The same practice, if done properly and with the right amount of weight, can be used to help release constrictions or muscular tightness. It is always important to not use too much weight when using the WM therapeutically. It is all about the quality of movement and not about the amount of weight being lifted.

I also like practicing the WM with a Qi Gong kind of mentality. A combination of resistance training coupled with breath work such as in the practice of various Chinese meditative arts. Practicing in this fashion is beneficial in that it keeps feeding a good supply of oxygen to the muscles and maintains a mind-muscle connection throughout the drill. I seldom use music in my training, but if I do, it is more of a meditating quality such as music used in Tai Chi. Again, it is all about quality of movement and not mindless motion.

A common mistake I see is that the practitioner lowers the body too quickly. To me, this approach lessens the benefit of the eccentric contraction of the abdominal muscles in particular the function of the obliques and can also lead to injury. It is best to always practice the WM in a slow fashion.

Here’s how I currently practice the WM:

  • Clean and press the kettlebell and keep the arm locked over head. Fire the lats and keep eyes on the KB.
  • Shift the weight to the leg corresponding to the arm holding the KB.
  • Slide the hip to the side as if holding a baby
  • Point both feet around 45 degrees in the direction away from the arm holding the KB
  • Take a deep breath and gradually lean forward in the direction of the feet. Be sure not to lean laterally. This could cause injury. Do not fully exhale. Keep the abdomen pressurized.
  • Allow the arm not holding the KB to track the leg not supporting the weight. It is fine to let that leg bend at the knee if hamstrings are too tight. Otherwise keep it straight.
  • Lean down as low as possible keeping the back straight. Straight is not the same as perpendicular.
  • When arriving to the lowest position, the arm holding the KB and the one tracking the leg should form one straight line. The leg supporting the KB should remain as perpendicular as possible. Thus, as in the video, it should look as two pillars in a parallel line. Take a deep breath..
  • Slowly rise while exhaling through the teeth.
  • If the kettlebell is light, lower it with a corkscrew descent in a controlled fashion.

There are several variations of the WM some more intense than other. All variations of the WM will have a tremendous effect on the core. I will post more on these later.. Enjoy..