Nuts and Bolts, Part 2
(Formerly Exercises You Should Be Doing...But Probably Aren't)
A versatile exercise that can be done using a kettlebell, barbell, dumbbell, child, warhammer, etc; the windmill has fallen out of favor with modern fitness enthusiasts due to its challenging nature and the incorrect perception that it is damaging to the spine. Just like any movement that involves movement and the hip and loading of the spine, the windmill could potentially be injurious, but only if done recklessly, with poor form and too much weight. When done with proper technique, the windmill is an invaluable movement for spinal strength and hip/lower back flexibility. Let's do it.
1. The windmill begins with the weight either press or jerked overhead. Lock the arm, keeping the weight in a neutral position, along the midline of the body. The toes point in a 45 degree angle, away from the arm holding the weight. In the case of our photo, the arm in question is the right, so the toes then point off to the left. This is your beginning stance, and the position to which you will return at the completion of each repetition
2. Once your body is in position (arm overhead, toes pointed in the opposite direction), you will then lock the hips: this process is accomplished by driving the hips back and away, in the opposition direction of the toes. In our photo the feet are pointed off to the left, so the hips will then push back and to the right, at approximately a 45 degree angle. The legs should remain fairly straight, with the spine in extension and the chest out. The body should bend at the hip joint - NOT the waist. If you find you are bending over and crunching at the waist, restart and push the hips back further. As the hips travel back, the free hand reaches for the ground, and the weight remains overhead.
3. At the bottom of the windmill, strive to touch the ground with the free hand. At first, tightness of the hips and hamstrings may not allow this - do not try to force it. Forced stretching can potentially damage the hamstrings and lower back, as well as endanger the spine by moving the spine from its safe position in extension.
4. Once the bottom position is reached, drive back up through the weight, keeping the arm in the lockout position until you reach the neutral start position.
It may seen simple in theory, but the windmill is quick to reveal your imbalances, weaknesses and inflexibilities. I often use it as an assessment tool, to find distortions in the lumbo-hip-pelvic region, as well as relative limb weaknesses. It is, no doubt, a demanding exercise, and I recommend adding it to your program with prudence, though I encourage you to pursue it with relish once you've mastered it. It can be used as either an accessory exercise (with higher repetitions later in your workout), or as primary movement (with higher weight and lower repetitions).
Tyler Welch is the Strength & Conditioning Coach at Neutral Ground Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is also the founder of Second Nature Fitness, an active Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, and a whole lot of other stuff that means he paid a bunch of people to teach him things about fitness. Follow him at www.twitter.com/secondnaturefit, www.myspace.com/secondnaturefitness, Facebook and www.secondnaturefitness.org
See a list of previous USCS Strength & Conditioning articles here.