“In life, we use many movements that include all planes of motion, one of which is rotation,” says Openfit fitness expert Cody Braun. He explains that rotation is one of the most undertrained movement patterns of the human body; and when you skip it, you open yourself up to huge strength and functional deficits.
Whether you’re changing directions on the soccer field or reaching behind you into the backseat of your car, you need a strong, stable core that’s able to brace itself and protect your spine while rotating from side to side, Braun says. Plus, if you want a core that looks chiseled from every angle, you need to get with oblique twist exercises — like the Russian twist.
A Word of Caution Before Performing the Russian Twist
When performing any exercise, form is of paramount importance. But with the Russian twist, as soon as your form slips, you will feel it — most likely in your low back.
To properly work your core muscles and avoid dumping stress into your low back, it’s important to focus on maximally squeezing your core — like you’re about to be punched in the gut — throughout the entire exercise. This will keep your torso rigid and in proper alignment.
How to Do the Russian Twist
If at any point during Russian twists you feel the arch in your low back exaggerate, try a modification of the move (see below) or cut your set right there and rest before starting up again.
Program: Rough Around the Edges
Workout: Total Body Killer Core
- Sit on the floor, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your chest, and balance on your butt with your knees bent and feet together a few inches off the floor.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, rotate your torso to your right and lower the weights toward the floor outside your right hip.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat to your left. Continue alternating sides, performing equal reps on each.
What Muscles Does the Russian Twist Target?
- Obliques: Including both the deep-lying internal obliques and more superficial external obliques, these muscles sit along the sides of your torso and are the primary drivers of both rotation and lateral flexion.
- Transverse abdominis: Called the TVA for short, the transverse abdominis is in charge of stabilizing your spine, acting like an internal corset that keeps everything nice and tight.
- Rectus abdominis: These crave-able six-pack muscles work to flex the lumbar spine and help keep the torso lifted — crunch-style — throughout the exercise.
Alternatives to the Russian Twist
If Russian twists are too difficult for you or are uncomfortable for your back, try performing them using just your body weight and/or with your feet on the floor.
“When you place your feet on the ground, you increase stability through points of contact,” Braun says. This reduces the amount of work the core has do to keep you supported, and can help ease stress on your low back.
Also, whether or not you perform Russian twists, there are plenty of other rotational core exercises you can add to your routine that place minimal stress on your back. Try out these core moves and stick with the ones that feel good for you.
Perfect the Russian twist in addition to hundreds of other full-body exercises in Openfit program Rough Around the Edges, a series of high-octane workouts led by an inspiring tribe of professional stuntwomen, athletes, and martial artists. It’s designed to leave you feeling fit, fierce, and incredibly powerful, and you can try it now for free!