The Russian twist is an easy to use (and easy to master) core exercise. It has a low barrier to entry and some modest progression paths with dumbbells or medicine balls, but it’s not the only way to target your midsection. If you’re starting to reach a plateau, it’s time to look elsewhere.
While crunches and planks are strong candidates for your next core workout, the Russian twist offers slightly different benefits. The rotational nature of the Russian twist draws on your obliques to pull you side to side and change direction — that’s the real secret sauce.
But don’t fret, there is a whole library of stand-ins for the Russian twist. Better yet, each utilizes a range of resistance options from bodyweight to dumbbells, or even landmines. Whether you’re in need of a progression, regression, or just a fresh set of ab exercises, here are nine alternatives to the Russian twist.
Best Russian Twist Alternatives
- Side Lying Crunch
- Bicycle Crunch
- Oblique Knee Raise
- Windshield Wipers
- Side Bends
- Side Plank
- Landmine Oblique Twist
- Kettlebell Windmill
- Rotating Medicine Ball Throw
The side lying crunch is a perfect beginner exercise. Most of your body is supported by the ground, making execution that much easier. The side lying crunch also helps target the oblique muscles that the Russian twist would without having to constantly change direction. Just hunker down and rep things out to failure for some big oblique gains.
When To Use the Side Lying Crunch
The side lying crunch is a great introductory tool to train your obliques. You can implement the side lying crunch into your program on nearly any day, but it fits neatly at the end of your workout. Trying to build some foundational muscle or strength in the obliques is the perfect time to hit some side lying crunches.
How To Do the Side Lying Crunch
Lie down on your side with your legs bent to 90 degrees. Wrap your down side arm around your midsection and press your working side obliques. Take your free hand on the working side and support your neck (similar to performing sit-ups). Flex your working side oblique and bend laterally towards the sky, breathing out your air for a tight contraction on each repetition.
The bicycle crunch is a dynamic core exercise that puts a fresh spin on your Russian twist. While the side lying crunch keeps your focus on completing one side at a time, the bicycle crunch alternates between your left and right oblique.
[Read More: The 15 Best Shoulder Exercises For Building Muscle]
When To Use the Bicycle Crunch
The bicycle crunch is a more dynamic version of the side lying crunch and, arguably, even the Russian twist. This means you’ll want a bit more experience under your belt to get the most out of your technique. Try logging a few weeks of training either the Russian twist, side lying crunch, or other introductory exercises before jumping in on bicycle crunches.
How to Do the Bicycle Crunch
Lay on your back with your legs lifted in the air — your hips and knees should both be flexed to 90 degrees. Support your neck with your hands interlocked behind your head. Draw one leg towards your body with the opposite side elbow moving to meet it. Contract your oblique and rotate your torso to complete each repetition.
The oblique knee raise is another great choice to roast your core without any added load. While the Russian twist keeps your lower body stationary while your upper body moves, the oblique knee raise does just the opposite. For perfect execution you’ll need a solid brace and a sturdy set of shoulders.
[Read More: The 8 Best Knee Sleeves You Can Buy]
When To Use the Oblique Knee Raise
The oblique knee raise is a perfect addition to any program that emphasizes a braced core. The abdominals and core bracing are intimately connected: Training crunch or twist style oblique movements helps to shore up your midsection strength, but you’ll still want to integrate a bracing exercise for programs that focus on heavy lifting.
How To Do the Oblique Knee Raise
Set up in the chair by placing your back flat against the pad and supporting yourself on your forearms. Step off of the platform and let your legs hang fully extended. Stabilize any body sway and subtly rotate your torso to one side. Contract your obliques to draw your legs towards your body, finishing with your knees and hips flexed to approximately 90 degrees. Alternate sides for repetitions.
Windshield wipers are grueling. While the Russian twist is an entry level exercise, windshield wipers take things to a much higher level. Although you’ll draw on your full body for this one, your obliques get challenged during both the concentric and eccentric portions of each repetition.
When To Use Windshield Wipers
Windshield wipers are an intermediate to advanced exercise. Since they demand a ton of full body coordination and core strength, windshield wipers would be extremely beneficial as an accessory in a program focusing on big strength exercises or calisthenics.
How To Do Windshield Wipers
Lay flat on your back with your legs straight in the air. spread your arms out to either side creating a “T” shape for stability. Brace your core and slowly lower your legs while rotating towards one side. Once your legs reach the floor, brace again and draw your legs back towards the starting position. Alternate for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: As a progression, perform windshield wipers while hanging from a pull-up bar. For an easier alternative, perform windshield wipers with bent knees to reduce the difficulty.
Side bends are a classic oblique building exercise. With little to no set-up needed, side bends are easily executed in nearly any training environment. There are also plenty of loading options – from free weights to cables. This makes the side bend deceptively effective and provides a long runway of progress for your program.
When To Use Side Bends
Side bends are an extremely accessible Russian twist alternative. Since they don’t require a ton of equipment, coordination, or baseline strength, the side bend is easily woven into nearly any program. Take advantage of the low barrier to entry and use your side bends your entry-level ab programming.
How To Do Side Bends
Set up in a 45-degree back extension station lined up sideways with the thigh pad supporting one hip. Hold a dumbbell in the free arm and brace your legs, glutes, and core. Flex your obliques on the up side to raise into a side-crunched position. Repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip: If you don’t have access to a-45 degree back extension, perform side bends while standing. Assume a staggered stance to prevent the weight from resting on your body.
Side planks bring an uniquely isometric aspect to your Russian twist alternatives. Although the obliques are still the main target during your side plank, your goal is to perform a timed hold. The side plank is a great beginner to intermediate addition to your program and offers an easy way to change up your oblique training once Russian twists have run their course.
When To Use the Side Plank
The side plank is a staple core exercise that helps to reinforce your brace but also challenges counter rotation. Since there are fewer exercises that hit these goals directly during many bodybuilding or strength specific programs, the side plank is a solid pick as an accessory.
How To Do the Side Plank
Lay on your side with your legs locked out and posted up on your forearm – perpendicular to your body. Assume a staggered foot placement with the top foot slightly ahead of the other. Subtly rotate your shoulders towards the floor, contract your obliques and perform a timed hold.
Coach’s Tip: Perform the side plank from the knees first if you need to build your base prior to performing them from the feet.
The landmine is a specialized training tool that provides a pivot point for a barbell. The landmine oblique twist takes advantage of this pivot point and allows you to get a tremendous thoracic rotation while using weight. Prepare for a challenge; this one is hard even without weight.
[Read More: What Are Workout Splits and Which Is the Best One?]
When To Use the Landmine Oblique Twist
Using the landmine creates a long-lever challenge for your obliques, where many other Russian twist alternatives do not. This makes even small jumps in weight extremely challenging and would best serve you in an intermediate level of program.
Wait until you’ve gained some significant strength in your core by using bicycle crunches, side planks, or even oblique knee raises before giving landmine oblique twists a shot.
How To Do the Landmine Oblique Twist
Place a barbell in a landmine station and interlock your fingers on the barbell sleeve. Step back far enough that the barbell makes an approximate 45 degree angle from the landmine. With your elbows subtly bent, flex your quads, glutes, and brace your core. Slowly rotate the barbell as far to one side as possible while keeping your hips pointed square to the landmine. Flex your obliques and draw the barbell back to the starting position.
The kettlebell windmill is a highly-coordinated exercise that is tremendously beneficial for your hips, shoulders, thoracic spine, and obliques. It places you in a highly unstable position which means you’ll be locking down many joints to control your repetitions. Grab a light kettlebell to get the feel, as there are many moving parts to this one.
[Read More: Get Freakishly Strong With the 5×5 Workout Program]
When To Use the Kettlebell Windmill
The kettlebell windmill is a great tool for nearly any experience level. Although it seems quite challenging to coordinate at first, it’s also beneficial when performed without any weight. This makes the barrier to entry for almost any experience level very low.
To get the most out of your kettlebell windmill, start with just the weight of your arm to master the flow. As you gain experience, add weight.
How To Do the Kettlebell Windmill
Grab a kettlebell and raise it above your head, locking out your elbow. Assume a shoulder-width stance and slightly bend your knees. Slowly slide your hips back into a hinge, with a bias towards the side of your body holding the weight.
Allow your thoracic spine to rotate as your hips move back. With your kettlebell arm still locked out, reach your free hand towards the floor to create a straight line between arms. Use your hips and obliques to raise you back to the starting position, rotating and hinging back to an upright posture.
Explosive power training is a great way to challenge your athleticism and the rotating medicine ball throw does just that. The rotating medicine ball throw adds a ballistic element to a familiar motion that you are accustomed to seeing from the Russian twist. Find a wall that is capable of safely taking a beating and you’ll combine power with oblique training in no time.
When To Use the Rotating Medicine Ball Throw
There are some coordination aspects to the rotating medicine ball throw to account for, but it isn’t the most complex exercise out there. Athletic programs, particularly for sports that require rotation such as throwing or even rugby passing benefit from the rotating medicine ball throw. Scale the medicine ball weight to master the skill and you should see benefits very quickly.
How To Do the Rotating Medicine Ball Throw
Grab a medicine ball and stand adjacent to a sturdy wall. Assume a shoulder width foot stance and grip the medicine ball tight. Brace your core and rotate away from the wall, allowing your leg closest to the wall to pivot.
Drive through your working leg, changing direction and rotating explosively back towards the wall — your hips and obliques should fire hard here. As you complete the rotation, release the medicine ball allowing it to safely crash into the wall.
Muscles Worked By the Russian Twist
The obliques are the main target of the Russian twist and its alternatives; however, you actually have more abdominal muscles helping out. The rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and transverse abdominis muscles simultaneously contribute to various degrees.
The rectus abdominis is what you know as your six pack. They are the most superficial or (close to the surface) of all your abdominal muscles. Performing crunches are the quintessential way to target your rectus abdominis, as they are responsible for spinal flexion. However, any time you are trying to neutralize your core, the rectus abdominis also contracts isometrically to help out.
The external obliques are the big, powerful muscles that make up the sides of your midsection. Unlike your six pack that runs straight up and down, the external oblique fibers run much more laterally. They have a slight downward angle to them as well, making them capable of helping you tilt your trunk. Oblique crunches and side bends are perfect examples of oblique exercises.
Your internal obliques are a layer of muscle deeper (underneath) the external obliques. While the external obliques are horizontal and angled slightly downward, the internal obliques lack that downward angle.
This means that pure rotational exercises hit both internal and external obliques, while downward angles help to target the external obliques more specifically. Much like the rectus abdominis, the internal obliques are quite helpful for a strong core brace when squeezed isometrically.
Your transverse abdominis is your major core muscle involved in bracing. It is also the deepest muscle on the list, meaning you won’t visually see it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Exercises like windshield wipers that require a ton of bracing draws on your transverse abdominis for stability.
Russian Twist (and Its Alternatives) Form Tips
The Russian twist and its alternatives primarily target your obliques to rotate through their range of motion. To get the most out of your rotational exercises, try to anchor your hips, stay within controlled ranges of motion, and progress slowly.
Anchor the Hips
To best target your obliques and produce strong rotation, your hips need to remain relatively anchored. Your obliques are responsible for flexing and rotating your thoracic spine — if both your torso and hips are moving at the same time, there is nothing concrete for the obliques to contract against. Your obliques still contract, but anchor your hips motionless in the same position to target your obliques as effectively as possible.
Don’t Force It
When performing any Russian twist alternative, you have to respect your current mobility levels. Your thoracic spine is meant to rotate, but not to an extreme degree. You may also be stiff due to lifestyle or training habits, so being controlled and precise about your range of motion is recommended here. Over time, the exercises themselves help mobilize any restrictions you may notice, but only if you don’t force it.
Many Russian twist alternatives are extremely challenging. They either demand a ton of coordination, full-body strength, or use long levers (such as the landmine oblique twist) to smoke your obliques.
[Read More: The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements]
Rushing for as much load or as many repetitions as possible may not be the best choice, as proper technique is very important here: You may not have experience loading and rotating your trunk. For the best results, choose a load that you execute with perfect form. Progress slowly and prioritize maintaining proper position.
Put a Spin On Your Ab Workouts
The Russian twist is a fantastic exercise in its own right. Rotational movements are challenging, but they often bear fruit that like no other style of training. From thoracic spine mobility to bracing and proprioception and gaining a sweet set of abs to boot.
When you’ve started to run up against the ceiling of progress that the Russian twist provides, look no further than these great alternatives to keep moving forward.
Still twisting yourself into a knot over the Russian twist — or any of its alternatives? We have answers to your commonly-asked questions.
How do you modify the Russian twist?
Modify the Russian twist by changing the resistance (from simply your hands to a dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball) to changing the angle of attack. Trying using a decline abdominal bench and performing your Russian twists for an even greater challenge. You can also load the Russian twist for reps, use your own body weight to the point of muscular failure.
What is another name for the Russian twist exercise?
The Russian twist is sometimes known by an alternative name, the Persian twist, depending on where you look. Another name is a simple anatomical description such as alternating thoracic spine rotations.
How long should I twist for?
The Russian twist rotates your thoracic spine to train your external obliques. With that in mind, you should rotate only as far as your thoracic spine allows you. If you notice your hips start to rotate you have either gone too far or your mobility is lacking (thus compensating through the hips). When the hips move, the Russian twist is over.
What are some common Russian twist benefits?
The major benefits of the Russian twist are improving the core stability and strength of your abdominal muscles (particularly the external obliques), improving thoracic spine mobility, bracing, and proprioception improvements.
What can I replace Russian twists with?
Exercises such as side lying crunches, bicycle crunches, oblique knee raises, windshield wipers, side bends, side planks, landmine oblique twists, kettlebell windmills, or rotating medicine ball throws are great alternatives. Weave each exercise into individualized workout programs to suit your goals.
Featured Image: Yaroslav Astakhov / Shutterstock