The Kettlebell Windmill Is the Stability Exercise Your Core and Shoulders Need — Here’s How to Do It

Learn the benefits of mixing the intermediate-level kettlebell windmill exercise into your strength routine and how to do the move with good form.

Kettlebell Windmill

There's nothing wrong with performing beginner-friendly kettlebell exercises on repeat, no matter where you're at in your fitness journey. After all, beginners and pros alike can equally benefit from powering through kettlebell swings, squats, and deadlifts.

But when you're ready to spice up and advance your workouts, turn to the kettlebell windmill. This intermediate exercise not only can take the stability in your core and shoulders up a notch, but it can also help prevent injuries. Ahead, everything you need to know about the move, including the main kettlebell windmill perks, variations to try, and tips on how to add it to your fitness routine.

What Is a Kettlebell Windmill?

Essentially, the kettlebell windmill involves hinging at the hips while rotating your upper body and holding a bell above your head, says Maggi Gao, an NASM-certified personal trainer and Russian Kettlebell Challenge-certified coach in New York City. In order to perform the move with proper form, you’ll need a good amount of flexibility in your hamstrings (the muscles that run along the back of your thighs) and mobility in your thoracic spine (the part of your spine that extends from the base of the neck to the abdomen), says Gao. 

If the exercise sounds seriously complicated, let Gao’s demonstration help clear it up for you.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a light kettlebell racked in right hand, the bell resting against top of forearm. Press the kettlebell up overhead so biceps are next to right ear, right arm is locked, and palm faces forward. Pivot both feet 45 degrees to the left. Left arm is hanging at side.

B. Look up at the kettlebell and rotate torso slightly to open chest toward the kettlebell. Keeping right arm straight, core engaged, shoulder blades retracted, and eyes locked on the kettlebell, hinge at hips to lower torso toward the floor. Bend left leg slightly and keep right leg as straight as possible while tracing left hand down inside of left leg toward floor, palm facing outward.

C. Continue hinging as far as possible without recruiting back muscles or bending at waist. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

The Key Kettlebell Windmill Benefits

Although the kettlebell windmill isn’t as much of a strength-builder as other kettlebell moves, the exercise is still worthy of a spot in your routine, says Gao. Here, the biggest benefits the kettlebell windmill has to offer.

Builds Core Stability

By practicing the kettlebell windmill on the reg, you’ll improve your core stability, says Gao. ICYDK, your core is a group of muscles — including your abdominals, erector spinae, diaphragm, and pelvic floor, among others — throughout your trunk that’s main job is to protect your spine, as Shape previously reported. When you lack core stability (read: you aren’t able to provide that essential stiffness for your spine), your workout performance could take a hit, and you may be more likely to experience injury and back pain, research shows. Simply put, “having good core stability means that if you end up tripping over something or you have to carry an uneven load, you're able to pull yourself back to center and utilize your own muscles rather than be pushed around by outside forces,” says Gao. 

Improves Shoulder Stability 

Just like your core, the kettlebell windmill can help improve your shoulder stability (aka the shoulder joint's ability to control its movement or position), says Gao. The reason: The muscles surrounding your shoulder will have to contract and support the kettlebell throughout the entire movement, and they get a break only once you’re done with your set. 

“The exercise is so good for building up shoulder stability,” says Gao. “You might be able to lift the weight in the air, but how long can you hold it up above your head? How long are you able to keep your center of gravity without slouching to one side?” As you further develop your shoulder stability, you may reduce your risk of injury, says Gao. And you'll also help prevent movement compensations that can ultimately lead to muscle imbalances, according to the American Council on Exercise. What's more, a small 2016 study found that when participants with shoulder musculoskeletal pain performed the kettlebell windmill three times a week for eight weeks, they reported a significant decrease in their discomfort.

Trains Your Body In Multiple Planes of Motion

Thanks to the rotation of the upper body and the hip hinge, the kettlebell windmill gets you moving in both the transverse and sagittal planes of motion. Reminder: Your movements can be categorized into three planes of motion: the sagittal (aka longitudinal), frontal (aka coronal), and transverse planes. The transverse plane involves twisting movements, while the sagittal plane involves forward and backward movements, plus joint flexion and extension, the latter of which is seen during the windmill’s hip hinge. 

And training in multiple planes of motion is important: Not only does it reduce the risk of injury and developing muscle imbalances, but it also makes everyday living much easier — and safer, as Shape previously reported. If you’re putting laundry into a dresser, you might bend over and twist your torso to stuff your socks into the back corner of the drawer. By practicing these multi-planar movements in the gym, your body will be better able to perform them IRL.

Kettlebell Windmill Muscles Worked

Your core and shoulder muscles are bearing the brunt of the workload during a kettlebell windmill, but your hamstrings and glutes are also engaging to keep your body stable and prevent you from tipping forward, says Gao. You’ll also call on the mobility in your thoracic spine in order to keep your gaze locked on the kettlebell above your head and hamstring flexibility to fully hinge forward at the hips, she adds.

Kettlebell Windmill Variations

If the traditional kettlebell windmill feels too challenging or not demanding enough for your fitness level, don’t force yourself to power through it. Instead, try these scaled-down and leveled-up variations to ensure you get exactly what you want and need out of the exercise.

Modification: Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Windmill

Kettlebell windmill newbie? Swap the weight for a yoga block or ditch the equipment entirely, suggests Gao. Or, take the exercise to the floor, performing the move half-kneeling and hinging your hips until your hand reaches the ground, she adds. This tweak makes it a bit easier to concentrate on and nail down your hip hinge, she says. Once you’re able to do the modification comfortably with good form and a light weight, progress to a standing kettlebell windmill, she recommends. 

Progression: Lateral Kettlebell Windmill

When you're ready to take the kettlebell windmill to the next level, you can perform the same half-kneeling kettlebell windmill as shown in the modification demo. But this time, you'll lower until your elbow — not your hand — touches the ground, giving you a deep hip hinge, says Gao. (Note: You'll need adequate hamstring and hip mobility to perform this progression safely, she says.)

Or, try the lateral kettlebell windmill, which is similar to the traditional variation but both of your feet will face forward rather than point out to the side, says Gao. Angling your feet at 45 degrees helps open up the hips and requires less rotation in the upper back, she explains. On the flip side, "the lateral windmill is a deeper hip hinge, and therefore a more aggressive rotation in the torso (without twisting the back), so it requires more mobility in the hips and upper back," she says.

Common Kettlebell Windmill Mistakes

One of the biggest form mistakes you can make while doing a kettlebell windmill? Bending over with your spine rather than hinging at the hips, which can lead to back discomfort and pain, says Gao. “If you are feeling it a lot in your lower back, you're probably not doing it correctly,” she adds. You’ll also want to keep your shoulders active, making sure there’s space between your shoulders and ears, to get the stability-boosting benefits of the move, says Gao. 

And finally, don’t choose a kettlebell that’s heavier than you can handle. “If you feel like you can't control it and something's wrong, just like drop it away from yourself,” says Gao. “I always tell my clients, ‘respect the weight.’”

How to Add the Kettlebell Windmill to Your Routine

Before you test out the kettlebell windmill, first get the green light from your health-care provider if you currently have or have a history of a shoulder, back, or hip injury, as the exercise puts additional stress on those areas of the body, says Gao.  

Once you’re given the all clear, incorporate the kettlebell windmill into your routine as a bodyweight exercise first so you can nail down the proper mechanics, says Gao. When you feel ready, choose a weight that you can comfortably press up into an overhead position and aim to do about three sets of 8 to 10 reps, she adds. (When in doubt, go lighter on the weight and gradually increase it as you build up your confidence in the movement pattern.)  As you progress, slowly increase the weight or amp up time under tension by spending more time on each rep, suggests Gao. 

In addition to your classic strength workouts, consider incorporating the kettlebell windmill into your warm-up routine to stretch out your hamstrings, open up your spine, and wake up your core, she recommends. Or, add the exercise to a kettlebell circuit with three to four other movements, she adds. Just remember, the move isn’t recommended for folks who’ve never picked up a kettlebell before, says Gao. To ensure the kettlebell windmill is as effective — and safe — for you as possible, perfect your hip hinge and core engagement before getting started.

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