Russian Twist – Oblique Trunk Rotation
The Russian twist is a simple exercise that combines stabilization with rotation. This beginner to intermediate oblique exercise works the oblique (side) muscles as well as the upper and lower abs (whole rectus abdominis). Do it in one slow, continuous motion.
This exercise is believed by those who practice it to build explosiveness in the upper torso, which may help in sports such as swimming, baseball, track & field, hockey, golf, lacrosse, or boxing. The origin of this exercise is not exactly known, but most trainers believe it came from the USSR, during the Cold War period.
Place your feet under a support, such as the base of a weight machine or a heavy dumbbell, barbell or plate. Bent your knees at least 90 degrees. Hold your torso at a 45- to 60-degree angle to the floor, as though you’re halfway through a situp. Your arms should be raised and fully extended in front of your chest with your palms facing down (or with your hands clasped), and your heels should rest on the floor.
While maintaining the torso angle (45-60 degrees), rotate as far as possible to one side. Move your arms with your torso so that they reach out to the side. Without pausing, rotate to the other side, then repeat, using continuous motions. As you get stronger, hold a light weight (medicine ball) in your hands as you do the movement.
Additional Tips & Key Points
- Without dropping your legs or arms bring (rotate) your hands (the medicine ball) to one side, twisting as far as you can. Twist to the opposite side as quickly as possible, and repeat.
- Maintain the same torso angle along the entire movement (range of motion).
- Make sure you lean back to engage your abs and force the rotational load during the entire exercise. You will have to keep your abdominal muscles very tight in order to avoid falling or leaning back too far.
- Make sure that you rotate your trunk from side to side from your waist, not your shoulders.
- Keep your hips stationary and create the rotation from the upper spine and thoracic muscles.
Russian Twist Variations
- Hold your legs up off the floor. You can also perform the Russian twist by raising the feet off the floor to balance on your sit bone. You are less stable in this variation, and without the feet anchored you will have more movement in the hip.
- Hold a small medicine ball between your hands.
- Feet anchored. Anchor your feet with a pair of heavy dumbbells, an abdominal board – anything that won’t move. This allows you to use heavier weights and establish more muscle isolation, since your legs won’t move as you twist.
- Swiss-Ball Russian Twist. Start in a regular crunch position on the stability ball. Lift your shoulders so that they clear the ball. With your arms extended out in front, rotate from side to side, as in the standard Russian twist. This move is supposed to be fast and challenging and everybody rolls off the ball at some point. If you do, just sit down on a floor, reconnect with the ball and get straight back on.
- Decline Bench Russian Twist. Set a bench to a 30-degree decline and secure your feet. Begin exercise by twisting your trunk as far to the left as possible, while keeping your arms straight. Twist back to the center and repeat for desired reps.
- Standing Russian Twist. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Bend the knees and hips just a little bit so you are not standing up perfectly straight. Bending the knees and hips allows the legs to absorb some of the rotation, keeping your back from doing too much twisting. Hold a medicine ball straight out in front of you, with one hand on each side. Quickly rotate your body to the left as far as you can. When you get as much twist as you can out of your trunk, quickly rotate all the way around to the right as far as you can. Repeat rotations to the left and right as fast as you can with proper form. Keep the ball out in front of you at shoulder height. If the ball starts to sag, stop and rest, or use a lighter ball.
What Muscle Groups Do Russian Twists Work?
Russian twists are one of the best ways to work your obliques. The rectus abdominis (lower and upper part) is also engaged throughout the entire exercise. The erector spinae works to straighten the back and assist with side-to-side rotation.
- Hip Roll or Lower Body Russian Twist
- Cross-Over Crunch
- Lying Oblique Reach
- Oblique Cable Crunches
- Lateral Crunch, etc
An effective exercise to incorporate into any ab or core workout program, Russian twists (medicine ball twists) challenge every part of your abdominal muscles.