Updated: Feb 27, 2019
Strengthen the upper back and shoulders, lateral hip muscles, obliques, and abdominals while correcting postural imbalances and unequal weight distribution.
Have you ever wondering what the purpose is of a particular movement in your corrective exercises? I am asked that question frequently, so thought I'd introduce and feature a corrective exercise a month to break down and share with you all.
The standing windmill doesn't mimic a machine that converts energy into the wind. In my experience, I find that to learn a movement well and get a clear understanding is to break the moves down into a few foundational building blocks or steps. Doing so will serve as both instruction for those new to it, and a refresher for those of you who are currently doing it regularly.
Find and Establish a Balanced Posture Alignment
The first thing I coach all my students on is the precursor movement of how to stand with good posture against a wall. If you don't have any experience with this, I highly suggest you practice this movement for a few days to adapt your body to the demand of the muscle and joint change positions before adding in the windmill movements. Standing against a wall with proper postural alignment is for many, surprisingly challenging and deceptively more difficult than it looks. It's always best in my experience to give your body some time to both adapt to the demand and practice the movements to gain competency before adding a layer of movement challenge to the base.
If you're curious about this, I highly recommend you book a posture assessment to better identify your posture imbalances and receive instruction on how to set up and practice both good standing and good sitting posture.
The Standing Windmill aka "Standing Side Bend"
The Standing Windmill starts by first establishing (to the best of your ability): Proper postural alignment while standing against a wall
Heels 1-2 inches away from the wall with your feet aligned underneath the hips, knees and ankle joints
Ankle joints neutral and pointing straight ahead
Feet straight with the second and third toe aligning underneath the center of the ankle joint
Knees straight and hip bones stacked neutral in the frontal plane directly over the ankles
Gluteals lightly touching the wall
Pelvis as neutral as possible (many students will have to do a TVA "transversus abdominis draw" to establish this)
Shoulder joint neutral with the collar bones open/elongated
Eye of the elbow facing forward
Palm facing the thighs with the thumbs facing away from the wall
Shoulder blades slightly gliding in a down and back sensation, so the upper body is touching the wall
Back of the head also lightly touching the wall with the gaze forward, and the chin sitting approximately one fist distance from the sternum to the bottom of the jaw. NOTE: many people will struggle with this, and you may need the coaching expertise of a corrective exercise specialist to program movements specific for you to implement on your own to help change
There are four sets of this exercise. The first and last set both apply a movement demand to the neuromuscular system, but also serve as a test and re-test of the range of motion and ease of movement.
Start with Good Standing Posture and perform five to ten repetitions per side depending on your postural strength and stamina.
Set One - Hip Distance Apart
Set Two - Shoulder Distance Apart
Set Three - Four to Six Inches Wider than Shoulder Distance Apart
Set Four - Repeat Hip Distance Apart
Movement Coaching Tips
With the pinkie fingers against the wall, draw the arms up to shoulder height so that they are horizontal and level with the floor (it is not unusual for students to have great difficulty doing this, and if so, you can begin with the arms lower. However, I recommend again to contact a corrective exercise specialist who can program movement progressions to get you to this demand safely and effectively).
Elbows are straight and rotate the shoulders into the joint so that the elbow angle is neutral and the backs of hands (knuckles) are against the wall with fingers spread wide open. This position ideally should be maintained throughout all four sets of the move. It creates shoulder thoracic and shoulder demand on top of a stable lumbo-pelvic base, allows the shoulder blades to both stabilize and glide properly. Additionally, the position helps promote lateral flexion of the upper body and provides for connecting joints, the elbows, wrist, and fingers to align with the central positioner, the shoulder.
Keep the legs straight – all the way, or as far as you can extend the knee (but not pushing so far back as to touch the wall)
When flexing side-to-side, be mindful that the movement comes from the torso flexing side to side, and that the head, arms and torso move as one unit. It's common to see students drop the arms or the head comes off the wall in compensating actions.
Your gluteals, shoulder blades, and back of the head should remain against the wall throughout
Pay attention to your feet. Do not let your heels to lift off of the ground or the knees to bend
The scapula, clavicle, and humerus along with many joints, nerves, and muscles comprise the shoulder complex. The big shoulder blade (scapula)is on your back, the clavicle is the hard front part, and the humerus is the first big bone in your arm extending from the shoulder. Spreading your fingers open wide with the back of your hand against the wall, allows for ligament, tendon and nerve cannel's to expand and stretch to create more space, thus, reducing impingement. Once you start the actual movement from left back to the middle and then to the right, many muscles are engaging, fascia, i.e., the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels and nerves are being elongated. Based on the stable nonmoving hip position, the upper body is being allowed to engage and stretch away from the lower body creating more range of motion.
It's important to understand that the body doesn't work singular muscles, although, in this exercise, one of the primary muscles you may actively feel working is the Quadratus Lumborum. Better known as the QL and nicked named the "hip hiker" because of its capacity to elevate the hip. These two muscles (one on each side of the body) are some of the deepest skeletal muscles of the abdomen. This muscles attach to the back part of the hip bone called the iliac crest and then at the twelfth rib and the first through fourth lumbar vertebrae. Many additional muscles will activate during the movement that helps create stable hips, shoulders ankles, and knees — assisting in the process of your alignment.
Aside from providing a nice stretch - the windmill has multiple benefits which depending on an individual's unique muscular imbalances and load joint compensations.
The Standing Windmill aka Side Bend can affect the spinal stabilizers; including the erectors, the psoas, the lats, and obliques. It also has a direct impact on the upper back, providing thoracic extension and scapulae retraction.
The Windmill also affects the lower body, helping to create a more neutral pelvis, creating the lumbar extension, lateral hip engagement, femur rotation, and kinetic chain. I love Windmill. I mostly use it to help reduce/ eliminate pelvic and torso rotation. Removing this rotation can relieve or eliminate upper, mid, or low back pain.
So next time your coach assigns you the "Standing Windmill" as a corrective exercise, you will have a better understanding of all of the different postural muscles that are involved, and why this corrective plays such a roll in our quest for improving postural alignment and joint function.