Windmills: Jacked of All Trades
If I asked you to create the perfect movement, how would you do it? Perhaps you would start with one of the archetypal patterns for athletic movement. Your mind probably immediately lands on the hip hinge; mine certainly does. Next you might add simultaneous strength, mobility, stability, and balance requirements, for both the upper and lower body.
Since we are dreaming big, why not have it address some of the most common alignment and postural issues we see in our modern culture? Problems like tight hips, hamstrings, and IT bands, bound-up thoracic spines, immobile and unstable shoulders that don't allow people to access a proper overhead position.
Think such a movment is too good to be true? Then I'd like to introduce you to the windmill.
The windmill might not have been gifted from a divine being, but it needs to be a part of every athlete's program. Because of its complexity and multi-faceted benefits, the windmill serves to diagnose and fix many mobility, stability, and strength deficiencies.
What the Windmill Brings to Your Training
Like a good morning or deadlift, the windmill strengthens your hip hinge and stretches your hamstrings. It also has the added benefit of providing a loaded strength movement to your IT band. Primarily a single-leg hip hinge, the windmill will also expose and fix any strength and mobility discrepancies between your two sides. The windmill’s overhead position requires your lats to fully engage. Strong and active lats are a primary component of shoulder stability and postural support.
Arguably the most valuable aspect of the windmill comes from the spinal twist, primarily in the thoracic spine. We can point to myriad postural issues in our modern culture, but none is as widespread or pernicious as a bound-up thoracic spine.
How to Hone the Windmill
Stick to these finer points to glean the most from your windmills:
- Foot Position - Start with your feet directly under your hips. They can be just outside your hips, but not as wide as you would squat. Beginning too wide will prevent proper weight distribution. Turn your feet away from your overhead arm at a 45-degree angle. Your feet should remain parallel to each other.
- Hip Hinge - Hinge at the hips, pushing your hips back on the line of your feet. This will feel like a hip hinge, but also like you are cocking your hips out over your back foot.
- Weight Distribution - Keep your back leg straight. Soften your front leg. Do not bend your front knee, but pull most of the weight from your front leg, almost as though lifting your foot. Your weight distribution should be roughly 80% rear foot and 20% front foot.
- Hip Position - Keep your hips square to your feet. Do not let them twist toward your front foot. Your rear hip should remain above or outside your rear foot.
- Overhead Position - Keep your overhead arm locked out with a tight grip and strong wrist position. Keep your lats engaged by pulling your shoulder away from your ear.
- Spinal Twist, Not Flexion - Twist your shoulders as you descend into the windmill. Think about pressing your lower shoulder forward and showing your chest to the wall across from you.
Where Windmills Go Wrong
The most common faults come from misunderstanding the goal of the windmill. The goal is not to touch the ground, but simply to descend as far as you can while maintaining form and stability. When prioritizing touching the ground, most athletes will sacrifice a packed (engaged) lat and neutral spine. If you feel yourself reaching or stretching for the ground you have probably fallen into one or both of these common faults.
To guard against losing your neutral spine, focus on your ribs. If the ribs on your overhead arm's side are expanding or the your whole rib cage is moving away from your pelvis, you have lost neutral spine. This is difficult to assess in the midst of the windmill. Use a coach, friend, or video to examine your form.
To guard against losing a packed lat and shoulder, pay attention to the head of your shoulder (the round part at the front). Keep the head of your shoulder in line with the rest of your chest. It is also helpful to imagine a straight line from hand to hand. Stretch your arms wide and make a straight line between them to maintain a packed shoulder.
How to Progress to Loaded Windmills
Use half-kneeling windmills to develop the requisite mobility for full windmills. See the video for a full description of these progressions.
When moving to the full windmill, always begin with body weight. Simply make a fist overhead. Next, progress to a low windmill, with weight in your lower hand. Once you feel confident and fluid in the movement pattern, advance to full windmills with weight overhead.
Windmills for a More Useful Body
Windmills may look a bit odd, but performed well, can bring strength, flexibility, stability, and a deeper awareness of how you move. If your goal is to be better in tune with your body, add the windmill to your repertoire of movements.
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