What it is and how to perform it – Cleveland Clinic

In the world of fitness, a new workout trend arrives every other day. If you like to vary your routine, so much the better. But if you’re the type who likes things simple but effective, we might have the move for you.

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The windmill exercise is a full-body movement that can be performed with a kettlebell, dumbbell, or no weight at all. And when done correctly, it can help strengthen your core, hips, and shoulders. Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Ernest Miller, PT, DPT, CSCS walks us through this move and explains why your form is so important when doing the windmill exercise.

What is the purpose of the windmill exercise?

Before we dive into how to do this move, we need to give a word of warning. Although the windmill exercise offers a variety of benefits, it is not exactly an exercise for beginners.

Dr Miller says it’s ‘not particularly complicated to do, but it’s more advanced’, adding: ‘It requires a good range of motion and strength. And the two main areas where you need range of motion the most are your shoulders and your back.

If you have pre-existing shoulder pain or back problems, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do this exercise. But Dr. Miller strongly advises you to consult your health care provider before starting.

Benefits of Windmill Exercise

One of the main reasons Dr. Miller loves this move is that it is a multi-planar exercise. This means it moves your body through all three planes of motion.

“Most of the exercises we do involve forward and backward movements. Think push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, lunges, and squats. With these movements, you are facing forward and your joints bend forward and backward. We tend to neglect moving side to side and rotating (twisting and turning your body). When we don’t explore these different planes, we get stiff and don’t move well,” says Dr. Miller.

With the windmill you train your muscles to be more flexible and stronger when moving in different directions. This exercise also allows your spine to get a little more rotation.

Another reason the windmill is beneficial is that it allows you to work one side of your body at a time. By doing so, you can spot imbalances from side to side.

“With dumbbell movements, you are using multiple parts of the body to move the weight and this can mask any imbalances you may have in strength or range of motion from side to side. The windmill exercise is done one side at a time. It’s good because it allows people to determine if one side of their body isn’t as strong or as flexible as the other,” says Dr. Miller.

Once you recognize these imbalances, Dr. Miller adds, you can make adjustments and work on strengthening the areas that need it.

How to do the windmill exercise

You’ve talked to your healthcare provider, they’ve given you the all-clear, and now you’re ready to get down and start your windmill. Dr. Miller offers these tips for doing it right.

Start with your feet between hip and shoulder width

“It’s usually a position that’s between hip-width and shoulder-width. You will see people expand their position a bit and that is not wrong. It’s just different. However, I recommend standing upright with your feet shoulder-width apart,” Dr. Miller advises.

Raise one arm above the head

“It doesn’t matter which arm you start with. Just be sure to raise that right arm above your head, palm facing forward. Your feet are going to be turned slightly in the direction you are going to reach out with your arm down. So if you start with your right arm above your head, you’re going to move your left arm down along your left leg,” says Dr. Miller.

Slowly slide your other arm down your leg

“While keeping your eyes on the raised arm (specifically, the hand or the weight in it), slowly reach your other arm along the corresponding leg and hinge the hips. (Again, if your arm right is up, you bring your left arm down along your left leg.)” he says.

Dr. Miller adds that if you look away from your raised arm or weight, you’ll end up leaning sideways and not experiencing any rotation in your spine. Keeping your eyes focused on your raised hand or the weight you are holding is key to this rotation. Also, make sure your back stays neutral, unflexed, all the time, and don’t shrug your shoulders.

Reverse the movement and start again

Once your lowered arm reaches your ankle, come back up with your eyes still focused on your lifted hand/weight and your back still in a neutral position. Once you are in that original starting position, repeat the entire movement. Dr. Miller says you can do five or 10 windmill exercises on each side, and if you find the movement getting easier, you can do more. But the goal is not to rush into the movement without being challenged.

“With an exercise like this, you don’t have to worry about producing maximum force in the beginning. You can start by working on your endurance and form, and you don’t need a kettlebell or a dumbbell to do that. As you get stronger, you can add a kettlebell or a 10-pound hand weight. When you can do 10-15 windmills comfortably on both sides without any problems, you might want to consider increasing the weight by five or 10 pounds and see if you can do 10 windmill exercises without any problems” , he suggests.

Common Windmill Exercise Mistakes

Again, you don’t have to go all out when you start doing this exercise. As Dr. Miller said, start by focusing on your stance and form. Here are a few other things you might be tempted to do but shouldn’t.

load weight

If you decide to do this exercise with a weight, you don’t need to start with a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell. Start light and progress. “For most people, 5 to 15 pounds is a good starting point. Focus on less weight as you slow down the movement. You want to feel comfortable both ways, and then you can start progressing from there,” says Dr. Miller. If you have too much weight, your arm may tend to extend behind your shoulder and that’s not good. Your chest, shoulders, and raised arm should all be aligned.

Trying to overcome the discomfort

When you windmill you should feel slightly challenged. This move is certainly not easy. But you shouldn’t feel any popping or pain. “What you’re looking for is at most a slight stretch or slight tension. You shouldn’t feel sharp pains or as if you’re trying to force a range of motion that doesn’t exist. The movement should be tolerable and you shouldn’t feel like you’re forcing yourself into a position where your body just doesn’t want to go,” notes Dr. Miller.

Variations of the Windmill Exercise

As mentioned, you can do a windmill without a kettlebell or dumbbell if you think adding weight would be too much. On the other hand, if you feel comfortable with a resistance band, Dr. Miller suggests using the type that has handles so you can step on one end while lifting the other end.

If you are not as flexible, you can modify this exercise by bending your knees in your position. This might make it easier for you to reach your ankle. You don’t even have to go that far. Go as far as you can and go back up.

And if you need help with your form, ask a professional

It’s natural for us to want to nail an exercise or workout the first time around, but with windmill exercise, it takes time to perfect your form. So don’t rush and get frustrated. Just keep practicing and if you need help, ask a trainer for help.

“The reality is that you’re not going to look like a fitness instructor when you start doing this exercise and that’s okay. Over time your flexibility will improve and so will your form. But don’t don’t feel like you have to force yourself to look like someone who’s been doing this exercise for months or years the first time you try it,” Dr. Miller encourages.

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