I started doing kettlebell windmills regularly last summer. For two reasons. One they looked like fun and a real challenge. Two, I thought that low back and hip pain I was experiencing were being caused by tight and weak lower back, ab, and hip muscles. The doctors I saw to diagnose and help me treat the issue thought the same.
So in addition to physical therapy twice a week I was learning to do windmills. I did them almost every day. Sometimes with weight, other times without any to on my mobility.
I saw results from them within a few weeks. My mobility improved significantly and I was getting stronger, increasing the weight I used by 20 lbs.
Unfortunately these positive results didn’t include a reduction in my back, hip, and lower ab pain. After a few more months of increasingly severe pain I finally learned why it wasn’t going away. It wasn’t because my hips and back were still tight. I had a rather large kidney stone that was stuck and not going anywhere.
Thankfully I was able to have the stone removed which got rid of my pain. I kept doing kettlebell windmills too. They may not be able to get kidney stones to pass but they have so many other benefits that they’ve become a permanent fixture in my workouts.
How Kettlebell Windmills Benefit Your Body
They Make Your Core Super Strong And You A Better Athlete
Doing kettlebell windmills at least 3 times a week has made my core much stronger. From my ab muscles to my serratus and erector spinae every one of this group of muscles is stronger.
Here’s how they do this, and what benefits it’ll give you, whether you’re a competitive athlete or not.
When you do a windmill your core tightens up, acting as a brace for your body so you can lift and hold the weight up. Then, these muscles work as a connector between your shoulders and upper back to your legs so you can rotate and complete the rep.
How’s this make you a better athlete? First of all, the stronger your core, the better your posture and mechanics when you run, jump, hit, kick, and throw. The strength and mobility you gain also helps decrease the risk of injury.
Equally important as the first two benefits is that strengthening your core via bracing and the bending and rotating windmills help to ‘connect’ your upper and lower body muscles. This improved connection you get from a strong core makes you better at running, jumping, throwing, etc because there’s not a weak link in the middle of your body.
Here are two ways I’ve noticed this benefit. During jiu jitsu training I notice that I’m better at using my legs in one direction while my hands and upper body go another. You have to do this a lot when competing against a partner, for example using your legs defensively while attacking with your arms and hands.
I’m also able to throw farther. I like to go to the beach and throw medicine balls of different weights. One way I throw them is rotating and throwing the ball. The same motion as swinging a baseball bat. After a month or so of practicing windmills these throws became much better.
Windmills Help You Train In The Forgotten Plane
The majority of us spend our workouts doing front to back and up and down movements. Exercises like overhead presses, push ups, squats, and lunges. I’d say that many of your workouts if not all only have you moving in these directions. Mine certainly used to.
While they’re great exercises, we also need to strengthen our muscles to move from side to side and rotate if we want to be strong and able to perform our best. Of the 3 movement patterns, rotational strength and mobility are the most neglected. That sucks since it’s something we do all the time. Not just in athletics but during the day doing simple tasks like picking a bag of groceries off the ground and turning to put it on the counter behind you.
Fortunately, kettlebell windmills make you much stronger at rotating your body. From the time you begin until the end of the rep you’re rotating and twisting your upper body around so you can keep your eye on the kettlebell that’s overhead.
This is why they’re one of my favorite standing ab exercises that you can do with a kettlebell.
Another reason I like them so much for rotational strength is since you do them from a standing position. Just like so many things we do. Whether you’re hitting a forehand in tennis, twisting to carve and turn when you surf, or turning your body while shoveling snow you’re twisting from a standing position and windmills will help you be stronger so you do all of them better.
Windmills Make Your Upper And Lower Body More Mobile
Windmills are the exercise that taught me how flexible I’m not. When I started doing them I wasn’t able to twist my upper body enough to have the weight properly overhead. My shoulders were so tight I was holding the kettlebell at a crazy angle. To make things even worse, my hips and hamstrings were so inflexible I couldn’t even get close to finishing the rep with my free hand on the ground like you should.
Little by little, my flexibility has improved to where I can now really stretch and complete a proper repetition. I’m more flexible now than I’ve been for years over which I’ve done a lot of static and unweighted dynamic stretching. I had tight shoulders from jiu jitsu that nothing really fixed. It was to the point I couldn’t properly press a weight overhead. Now I can without any issues.
Thankfully I persisted. Over time, I’ve become flexible and learned that windmills are the total body stretch my body needs. What I think makes them so great at making us mobile is that the stretching you have to do is done against resistance. Studies show this is more effective than static stretches like touching your toes and holding it for 30-60 seconds.
Windmills Are A Total Body Workout
When I’m really pressed for time, am really sore, or don’t feel like working out I’ll do 5-10 sets of kettlebell windmills and call it a day. This is because windmills use every major, and most of the minor muscles in our body.
Let’s look at a single rep to see what muscles are involved at various parts of the exercise.
- Lifting the kettlebell and holding it overhead. Shoulders, core, upper back, arms.
- Extending and flexing your hips, bending, and rotating. Shoulders, upper back, lats, core, glutes, hip flexors and extensors.
- Twisting and bending until your free hand reaches your opposite leg. Shoulders, upper back, lats, core, glutes, hip flexors and extensors and your hamstrings.
The same muscles are also working when you reverse the lift to stand back up. As you see you’ve almost every major muscle group. Even though it isn’t as involved, your chest muscles are also used to keep the weight safely overhead.
Another thing that makes windmills a good total body workout, especially when you’re sore or not recovered from your last workout is that it’s not too hard on your muscles and joints. Unlike thrusters, snatches and many other movements, the kettlebell windmill doesn’t require lots of pressing, pushing, or pulling that really stresses your muscles and joints.
This means you can do windmills often, I often do them every day without feeling wiped out and too sore to train. I actually feel energized and refreshed after a windmill only workout. I defy you to try it yourself and tell me you don’t feel great afterward too.
Kettlebell Windmills Build Self Confidence
Lifting heavy weights is a great way to challenge yourself and learn to set and accomplish goals. Since windmills are a technical exercise that puts you into a precarious position, learning to be good at doing them with heavy weights is a great confidence builder.
Just think how good you’d feel to be able to do a picture perfect windmill with our upper body rotated and bent 90 degrees from your waist, arm straight overhead holding a kettlebell that could come crashing right down on your head, and free hand hitting the ground as it reaches to touch your opposite food.
Being able to do this is a big win. Enough for you to keep with you and remember when you’re faced with doing something that’s difficult. If you’re already able to do a windmill and don’t feel this way, you need to use a much heavier weight.
Kettlebell Windmills Benefit Every Body
Whether you want to do a 10 minute total body workout that won’t leave you exhausted and sore, need to improve your posture, or want a stronger core, becoming good at windmills will help. Making them an exercise you do regularly will give you more strength and mobility and help you perform your best in and out of the gym.
Simão R, Lemos A, Salles B, Leite T, Oliveira É, Rhea M, Reis VM. The influence of strength, flexibility, and simultaneous training on flexibility and strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1333-8.