Strengthening your abs is a cornerstone component — one might even say a core component — of every good strength training program. Without a strong, stable core, your form is likely to break down pretty quickly during your heavy barbell exercises.
Instead of letting your core become the limiting factor in everything from your deadlift to your overhead press, make sure you’re getting in the core workouts you need to stay on top of your game. While there are a wide array of ab exercises to choose from, the Russian twist is a pretty solid candidate.
The Russian twist requires you to hold a challenging core isometric position while also rotating through your upper body. This combination makes this exercise a master class in rotational control and isometric strength. Read on to learn more about the benefits of the Russian twist, as well as how to do it and how you can add it into your program.
Benefits of the Russian Twist
- Rotational Control
- Isometric Core Strength
- No Equipment
- Teaches Upright Posture
- Improves Power Potential
- Strengthen Your Obliques
- Engage Your Lats
Just as the name suggests, the Russian twist is about rotation. But instead of imagining this move as a forced rotation, think of it as a controlled maneuver to teach you how to intentionally rotate — and stop rotating — your torso.
Since you’ll be holding your torso at a 45-degree angle throughout your reps, you’ll be getting in a lot of time under extreme isometric tension. This — combined with your dynamic twisting motion — will teach you to rotate with precision. You’ll deploy exactly the amount of control you need to maintain your torso angle while moving your upper body.
Isometric training might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the Russian twist — after all, you’ll be twisting, which is dynamic rather than isometric. But while you will be twisting from side to side, your torso itself will remain quite rigid.
Keeping yourself upright — instead of hunching over or tilting to one side or another — will build a tremendous amount of isometric core strength. You’ll be keeping your torso steady at a 45-degree angle with the ground throughout all your reps. Even before you start twisting, that’s quite a hefty core challenge.
You can certainly use a weight plate, kettlebell, or dumbbell to make this move more challenging. But strictly speaking, the Russian twist is a bodyweight exercise and doesn’t require any equipment to be effective.
If you need to increase the level of challenge without any equipment, you can do so by adjusting the position of your feet and legs. You can also add tempo training to the mix, moving slower to make sure you’re spending maximum time under tension. No equipment required.
There are plenty of ways to modify this movement to make it easier or harder, depending on your needs and experience level. By keeping your feet down, you can make this move more accessible if you tend to have trouble maintaining your balance.
If you raise your feet, you’ll make the balance aspect more challenging and up your core engagement. Straightening your legs makes this movement even more difficult, as does holding a weight throughout the lift.
Throughout the Russian twist, you’ll be keeping your torso in a rigid, upright position. Staying locked at about 45 degrees will train your body to maintain an upright posture during dynamic movement. This becomes even more difficult when you add load to this movement.
In this way, the Russian twist will help you teach yourself to maintain a rigid isometric hold during dynamic exercises. That can translate into strong carryover into heavy barbell lifts that require a rigid torso during loaded movements — think squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.
A major function of your core is to transmit force throughout your body. You’re likely to lift more efficiently — and heavier — when your core is stable enough to effectively transmit force. The Russian twist focuses on developing stability and keeping your torso rigid even as you move. Your core muscles will be better able to support your body through power-based exercises that require stability in the face of dynamic movement.
Your obliques — the sides of your abs — may well get neglected in the face of so much training in the sagittal plane (think: squats and deadlifts). But keeping your obliques strong is a key to supporting your big lifts. Strengthening the sides of your abs will ensure that your lifts will stay stable instead of shifting from side-to-side.
When learning how to brace their core, people are often cued to pull their belly button in toward their spine. While that can be a valuable cue, it is not the whole story of what you need to do to create a solid abdominal brace. You need to recruit all of your core muscles for a strong core brace — including bearing down on the sides of your core, as well as the upper part of your torso.
Enter your lats. The Russian twist requires you to avoid rounding your back — even as you twist — which means you’ll have to keep your lats engaged. Maintaining that strong 45-degree angle with the ground starts with keeping your shoulders back and down throughout the movement. You’ll need your lats to work overtime here, especially when holding an external load.
How to Do the Russian Twist
In some ways, the Russian twist is a straightforward movement. In other ways, it will require a lot of precision and control to execute it properly.
- Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet planted on the floor.
- Lengthen your spine to sit tall, leaning back into a 45-degree angle.
- Maintain your torso angle and keep your heels on the ground. Gently clasp your hands together — or hold a weight — in front of your chest.
- If you can, lift your heels so that your feet are hovering off the ground. Straighten your legs if desired.
- Establish tension across your entire torso. Maintaining this tension and keeping an upright torso, twist to one side. Lead with your upper body. Keep your glutes firmly on the floor.
- With control, come back to center and twist to the other side. That’s one rep.
It might be tempting to rush, but moving slowly and steadily will increase your chances of maintaining impeccable form. Make sure you’re breathing throughout your reps.
Russian Twist Variations
Maybe you just can’t get a feel for the Russian twist position. Or maybe you love the move and you’re looking for similar ways to breathe new life into your core training. Here are some variations of the Russian twist that will give you similar benefits.
At first glance, the Pallof press doesn’t look like much of a core movement. For one thing, you won’t even be moving your core. The Pallof press is all about anti-rotation, meaning that you’ll fire up your core muscles by holding them isometrically against rotational forces.
While in the Russian twist, you’ll (literally) lean into rotation as a way to strengthen your anti-rotational strength, the Pallof press will work in a more straightforward way. You’ll resist the pull of the cable or band by keeping your torso rigid throughout your reps.
Landmine Rotational Chop
The landmine rotational chop is a dynamic movement that increases the strength and development of your obliques. It can help athletes learn to rotate their hips and torso in unison. This ultimately increases rotational performance and power rather than segmenting core work into different components.
Like the Russian twist, the landmine rotational chop requires you to maintain tension in your torso while moving through the transverse plane. This will teach you to keep structural integrity in your spine despite rotational movement.
Standing Cable Woodchop
You can do the standing cable woodchop at a very smooth and controlled — read, slow — pace to develop your obliques.
This exercise is somewhat of a combination between the Pallof press (which creates constant tension through the cable) and the landmine rotation (which requires you to rotate your torso).
Russian Twist Form Tips
While the Russian twist isn’t the most complex movement out there, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it right to avoid any risk to your lower back. Check out these form tips to help you twist effectively.
Start With Your Feet Down
If you’ve never done Russian twists before — or you’ve never done them properly before — start by performing your reps with your feet on the floor. There’s no need to keep them firmly planted, but giving yourself support through your feet generally helps teach good form.
Even if you know you can perform this move with your feet up, try starting your first set — or at least your first couple of reps — with your feet on the ground. This allows your body to ease into the movement to make sure any kinks with stiffness or lack of coordination are ironed out before you really get it going.
Warm Up First
Especially if you’re new to the movement, you likely don’t want to dive into the Russian twist cold. While many athletes use various core-focused exercises as part of their movement prep and warm-ups, the Russian twist might not be the best choice for a warm-up.
You’ll want to make sure your hips, hip flexors, core, erector spinae, and upper back are all ready for movement before diving into Russian twists. Since doing this move correctly also requires a bunch of balance and coordination, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got your head in the game before you get after it. Warm up and activate the center of your body before twisting it out.
Programming the Russian Twist
The Russian twist can easily be integrated into your core-specific training sessions. That might mean adding them to the end of your workout a few times a week. Try integrating Russian twists into supersets with other core-focused exercises like planks or leg raises.
You’ll load up the Russian twist differently depending on your experience level and goals. Check out the following guidelines.
- For Core Strength: Do three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps, increasing your load as needed.
- For Rotational Control: Perform three to five sets of three to five reps per side, pausing briefly at each end of your range of motion to eliminate momentum.
- For Core Endurance: Use lighter weights — or your bodyweight — to perform two to three sets of 15 to 20 slow, steady reps per side.
If you’re a beginner, consider keeping your feet planted instead of raising your heels. Instead of loading up the weights to progress, you might instead train yourself to raise your feet and maintain balance over time.
Use the Russian twist to boost your core strength, rotational control, and train yourself to maintain a rigid torso during dynamic movement. This seemingly simple core move can pack a big punch of power. You’ll work your obliques dynamically and build your isometric core strength all at the same time. With these powers combined, you can twist your way out of any shortcomings in your core training.
Featured Image: PeopleImages.com – Yuri A / Shutterstock