If you’ve been thinking about trying the windmill exercise, you no doubt already know one thing: it looks and sounds really cool.
But we care about more than just looks.
This exercise is just as good for building full-body stability, improving core strength and working those all-powerful glutes, says Ryan Campbell, a kinesiologist and training specialist at Anytime Fitness in Southern Wisconsin.
Just like the windmills you see in the field, with windmill exercises, all the energy comes from the center, he explains.
Here’s how to do it with perfect form, a few fun variations, and all the benefits you can get from it.
How to do the windmill exercise
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Turn your left toes straight out to 90 degrees. Reach your right arm up to the ceiling and let your left arm hang by your side. Look up at your right hand.
- Engage your core and push your hips to your right. Without putting pressure on your leg, slide your left hand under your left leg toward your ankle as far as possible — use your core to stabilize yourself. Your left arm should be perpendicular to the floor the entire time. The right leg should be straight. You can allow a slight bend in your left leg to avoid locking your knee.
- Pause, then push down through your legs to come back up to start, keeping your core engaged and your spine straight the entire time.
- Repeat all repetitions, then switch sides.
There are a number of ways you can perform the windmill exercise. Once you learn proper form from above, you can then add weight and try more difficult variations.
Here are some common windmill variations based on the traditional single kettlebell windmill exercise:
- Lower Kettlebell Windmill: Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, pressing straight up toward the ceiling. Let the bell hang behind your wrist and maintain a neutral wrist. Turn your left toes straight out to 90 degrees. Tie your core.
- Dumbbell Windmill: Instead of using a kettlebell, hold a dumbbell in your raised arms. It’s a bit more challenging for shoulder stabilizers and easier if you don’t have kettlebells.
- Bottom-up: Hold the kettlebell upside down with your hands wrapped tightly around the handle and the bottom of the bell facing the ceiling. This is incredibly challenging for both the shoulders and the grip.
- Double-kettlebell: In addition to holding a kettlebell overhead, hold one in your lower arms for added resistance to returning to the start.
- Double-kettlebell with single rack: Do the double-kettlebell variation, but hold the bottom kettlebell in a rack position (resting just in front of your shoulders).
Does the windmill exercise work the muscles?
Featuring the glutes and hamstrings, the hips are the powerhouse of the windmill exercise.
As you lower into the exercise with proper form, you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings (not your waist).
Then, to lift up, focus on squeezing your glutes to bring your hips back to center. Think of it as a sort of sideways deadlift.
When your hip strength Windmill exercises, your core, keep you from bending or collapsing mid-rep.
By keeping an engaged core, you’ll keep your torso strong and stable so you can move more weight — and with better, safer form.
After first helping you hold the weight overhead, the shoulder muscles (including both the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles) work hard to keep that weight in place and keep it from teeter-tottering around.
When performing this exercise, you will likely notice that one of your shoulders is slightly stronger or more stable than the other.
A similar name, but a very different move, the windmill stretch can help balance out all the hard work you’ve done with the windmill exercise. This stretch involves lying down and stretching your back, increasing your range of motion and relaxing your spine.
- Lie on the right side of your body, arms extended in front of you at shoulder height and palms together. Bend your knees to 45 degrees, so that your knees are below hip height.
- In an arcing movement, reach your left arm toward the ceiling and to the left, following it with your gaze. Aim to get your forearms and both shoulder blades on the floor, but only go as far as is comfortable, keeping your feet planted on the ground.
- Bring your arm back to center, over your other arm. Complete all repetitions, then repeat on the other side.