The owner of NYC-based Drive495 gym—whose clients have included Blake Lively, Emily Blunt, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Sebastian Stan, among others—posted an Instagram video on Monday of him demoing the move that offers no less than seven—yes, seven—great benefits.
Among them: improved core strength, improved hip-hinging abilities, increased hamstring flexibility, improved shoulder stability, decreased back discomfort, developed glutes, and improved separation between the upper and lower body. Yeah, all of that in one move.
You can check out Saladino demoing the kettlebell windmill, via @donsaladino, here:
This movement offers so many benefits thanks to a series of complex steps that, together, engage essentially your entire body.
You'll start by holding a weight overhead with your arm fully extended. Hitting this position engages “pretty much your entire body,” Saladino explains. If you have proper form as you hold the weight overhead, you should be engaging your latissimus dorsi (the lats, the broadest muscles on each side of your back) to keep it lifted, rather than hunching up your shoulders for strength. If you're using a kettlebell, hold it by the handle with the bell hanging down and resting on the top of your forearm. (Despite the name, you don’t need a kettlebell to complete this movement. You could use a dumbbell, says Saladino, though he caveats that it might not be as comfortable to grip for this exercise.)
“People get very shoulder dominant,” says Saladino, meaning they frequently shrug (and engage) their shoulders when completing upper-body tasks. Doing this diminishes your ability to “really get that lat firing,” he explains. These windmills, on the other hand, “really force you to have to suppress the shoulders,” he says. To do the move correctly, you need to maintain significant space between your ears and your shoulders while also engaging the lats. This positioning—engaged lats, shoulder pulled down—is an important part of good posture, which is why doing this move can both improve your shoulder stability and promote good posture.
The next element of the movement is what Saladino describes as “almost like a hip bump,” which involves both shifting the hips laterally and simultaneously pushing the glutes backwards. It’s essentially the combination of a deadlift movement and a lateral shift. This melding together of two separate exercises adds complexity to the move and requires full-body strength to execute, Saladino explains. “You’re pretty much working everything because one area’s stretching while one area is stabilizing,” he explains. This movement stretches the hamstrings and also activates the core (in particular, the abs and obliques).
Lastly, the move teaches the upper body and lower body to work separately—the hips stabilize as the upper body rotates—which is important for several reasons, explains Saladino. Most of the movements we do at the gym (think: an elliptical workout, lunges, squats, and push-ups) are performed in one direction with the entire body moving together. On the other hand, doing moves like the kettlebell windmill that separate the two halves of the body can help us maintain good range of motion, he says. Also, because of the complexity involved, this type of segmented move can improve our ability to connect our minds to our bodies, a concept known as mind-muscle connection.
Because this movement is fairly complex, there are certain skills you should master before giving it a go.
Since performing the windmill involves a hip-hinging motion (among other components), you should be able to properly perform a basic hip hinge before attempting this more complicated variation.
On top of that, you should also have the ability to retract your upper back while keeping your shoulders down, plus the ability to hold a weight vertically overhead—two key parts of the move. “For someone who can’t hold a weight overhead, which is a lot of people, I would not recommend this,” says Saladino. Instead, focus on simpler movements that build up your hinging abilities and upper-back strength before trying the windmill.
Here’s how to do the kettlebell windmill.
Whatever type of weight you have, start light to “build confidence and understand the movement,” he advises. As you progress, you can go heavier, and doing so will actually reinforce good form, says Saladino, as you’ll be forced to keep your arm completely straight overhead (it’s easier to bend your elbow, which would be incorrect form, when you have a lighter weight, he explains).
Once you have your weight ready, follow these steps:
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart with both of your feet turned about 45 degrees to the left. Grip the weight in your right hand and raise your right arm straight overhead (don't bend your elbow) so that it’s “almost touching the ear,” says Saladino. Pull your right shoulder down away from your right ear and engage your lats to keep the weight hoisted. Your left hand should be resting straight by your side. This is the starting position.
- From here, keeping your right arm directly overhead and your eyes on your right hand, perform the “hip bump,” pushing your right hip out to the side and your glutes slightly back. Your left knee will be slightly bend as your right leg remains straight.
- Then, hinge forward at your hips as you lower the left hand down to the ground in between your inner thighs, rotating your upper body slightly inward so that your right arm stays pointing toward the ceiling. Keep your core tight and your back flat (not arched or rounded).
- When your left hand reaches the ground, pause for a moment before slowly standing back up to return to the starting position, keeping your right hand raised straight above you as do you so.
- This is 1 rep. Do 3 to 5 reps.
- Switch sides and do 3 to 5 reps.
Go slow with this movement. “It’s more important at the beginning to make sure that everyone is in proper positioning,” says Saladino. “A rep, if done properly, is going to take a bit of time,” he adds, suggesting about 5 to 6 seconds for each rep.