Q & A with Dragon Door Author, Andrea Du Cane about her upcoming presentation at the 2016 Dragon Door Health and Strength Conference
Secrets of The Windmill: A Deep Dive into The Athletic Benefits of This Remarkable Yet Under-Utilized Exercise
Dragon Door: Why are you a big fan of the windmill, and why do you think we don’t normally hear about this exercise much?
Andrea Du Cane: I think it’s not so much that we don’t hear about the exercise, I think that it’s misunderstood. I think people tend to not fully understand the purpose of the windmill, its uses, or how to perform it correctly.
For instance, on Facebook, many people post pictures of themselves doing a windmill (and don’t get me started on YouTube). But, you’ll often see that their spine is in flexion, their hand is fully touching the ground, the weight is over the front leg—and you can actually see that their shoulders are unpacked and their neck looks tense. So, they’re already missing three of the criteria for actually doing a windmill correctly. What they’re doing is potentially dangerous, and they are missing the incredible benefits of the exercise.
I plan to teach some of the basics and the benefits of the windmill. Even if someone is already performing it correctly, they may be missing some key parts which really benefit the body. Obviously, people realize that the standing windmill is kind of an advanced version of the kneeling windmill part of the get-up. In the kneeling windmill, you still get a lot of thoracic mobility, and stability of the shoulder, but no benefits to the hips and legs. So, while the kneeling windmill from a get-up is kind of a progression to the standing windmill, it is just one part of it.
Getting the lower body involved in the standing windmill adds in a whole new dimension including an enormous amount of hip and leg flexibility, the understanding of how to load and how to correctly support the weight overhead. It also teaches how to safely move into and out of the windmill without the risk of losing control of the kettlebell.
The windmill is hard for most people to do correctly because of the limitations of their lower bodies. The IT bands, and adductors might be tight, the hamstrings are tight… and this all restricts the performance a safe windmill. These restrictions cause them to end up in spinal flexion and kind of torqueing the spine instead of hip flexion and spinal rotation. SO that’s really important
What I love about the windmill is the fact that the movement is an integration of the upper and lower body, it incorporates t-spine mobility, shoulder stability, lower body flexibility ,and it’s all happening synergistically at the same time. That’s what makes the windmill an incredibly valuable exercise.
Dragon Door: One of your specialties is working with older populations. What are the three biggest challenges facing most athletes who are 50 + and what are your main strategies for dealing with those challenges?
Andrea Du Cane: As I said in my presentation last year, this population is growing and should be sought after. There are couple of things to consider when working with older athletes. And this whole population includes aging athletes, deconditioned people who are not active, as well as people coming back from injuries. It’s a big group.
Their bodies are a road map of everything they’ve done—or not done. So, consider all that history when working with them. Your first job is to spend time undoing years of poor movement or no movement. Of course, that work will include understanding their backgrounds, and what has happened to their bodies. Especially at first, you will end up spending extra time on mobility and flexibility. That will need to be a very big part of the pie.
People will come to you that have been runners or cyclists for many years who are now finding aches and pains and having to stop. They think that they just have to get that sweat going, and will just want to get their heart rate up. Then there will be others who have been lifting weights, and who will usually want the satisfaction of lifting something heavy. But, both of those groups will need to work on and address their mobility and flexibility to move better.
It can be very simple, they can just incorporate yoga, Pilates, animal movements, tai chi—anything to just get them moving—into their workouts. They will need to focus on specific joints: shoulders knees, hips and ankles, as well as the flexibility of the lower body and the front of the body to keep things open and moving well. You will need to make them understand that this must be done daily on their own, and when you are working with them it has to be incorporated into the workout both at the beginning and at the end. Sometimes they will want to skip over it, but they really must make time for it, because it’s just that important.
Something else to keep in mind with this population—and it’s not something people consider as much as they should—is that muscles build faster than connective tissues. If you are doing a lot of strength training, it can build up the muscles that move the joints faster than the joints and connective tissues that hold the joints together. The connective tissues and joints are often weak and inflexible because of misuse, under use, and so forth. They can be very easily injured if they haven’t had the chance to grow to support the forces that the muscles are generating. So, it’s very important (especially initially) to take it slow, and to progress the strength training slowly so that their bodies can adapt. This approach will keep them safe, although it may seem frustrating to you and them. But, they will start having aches, pains, and old injuries will flare up if you push it too fast.
With mobility, of course you have to get things lubricated and moving, but take your time when loading up. Let them guide the progression by how they are feeling so that you can appropriately increase the load when their bodies are ready for it.
One last thing to consider—and this is also extremely important—is that recovery takes much much longer for older adults. The older we get, the longer we need to recover between hard sets of lifting or high intensity training. We have to give our bodies a chance to rest. We didn’t need to do this in our 20s and 30s. Again, people will want to skip over it, and will want to train hard every day. That’s why there’s been such an increase in injuries at certain types of gyms—people are working too hard and not allowing their bodies to recover. It’s super important to take time to recover as you get older.
Dragon Door: You have taught and trained with kettlebells for 15 years now. What two benefits do you most value for yourself that you have gained from kettlebells?
Andrea Du Cane: I love kettlebells for the full-body strength and conditioning. I think you truly can call a kettlebell a gym in your hand. With this one tool, I can address all my physical and athletic needs. I still dance and I love outdoor activities, and I can fine-tune my workouts to augment, prepare, or correct the effects that these activities have on my body.
Kettlebell training prepares me to do the activities that I love to do at a very high level. And it doesn’t take much, I’m the “laziest” athlete out there. I train for maybe four hours a week, and I get everything I need.
Dragon Door: You look to be in amazing shape! What else do you do to remain so youthful and energetic?
Andrea Du Cane: Well, first I’ll say that I have great genes. I am very lucky that I inherited a lean, petite body from my mother. Of course I eat well, but I don’t restrict myself. I eat whatever I want, whenever I want to, and I indulge myself when I want to. But, I still believe that being moderate in what you do and what you eat is super important. Growing up in a food family, I enjoy what I eat, and I think that makes a big difference. I don’t feel like I have to spend a lot of time worrying about it. Sleep is huge for me, and I think that that’s another thing people neglect. You can eat as healthy as possible, exercise as well as you can, but if you’re not sleeping then it will show on your face, your body, and in your performance.
Dragon Door: What three qualities are most important for someone to succeed as a fitness trainer—however you might define “success”?
Andrea Du Cane: First of all, being passionate about health and fitness and passionate about wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. That includes being a healthy role model, which is not the same thing as showing off or intimidating your clients. Part of this is also continuing education. Never stop being a student. coaches need coaches—that’s how we keep ourselves on track.
Second, be a good listener and a good communicator. It’s a people-first business so you must be able to understand their needs and put them first.
And third, be a professional. This means you have to run your business with the level of professionalism that you’d expect from any other business. Part of being a professional is knowing when to refer a client to someone else, when you are not the right coach for that client. Or knowing when to refer a client out if they have needs outside your scope of training.
Andrea Du Cane will present Secrets of The Windmill: A Deep Dive into The Athletic Benefits of This Remarkable Yet Under-Utilized Exercise at this year’s Health and Strength Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.