The Russian twist is one of the most widely seen and used core training movement across most fitness levels and gyms, anywhere. With the popularity in mind, one should still ask themselves, “Is the Russian twist a great and SAFE core exercise”? The answer is, maybe. Below we discuss the benefits of this movement, all making a strong case for a yes, that is is a great movement. However, we also discuss potential reasons why this may be a more risky endeavor than you thought.
Russian Twist Exercise Demo
Below is a brief exercise demonstration of the Russian twist. Please note, that in the below section(s) we discuss…
- How to do a Russian Twist
- Are Russian Twists Safe/Worth It?
- Five Benefits of the Russian Twist
Before we dive into the benefits of this exercise, it is important to point out that the Russian twist was receiving some negative notoriety among some coaches stating that this movement is a risky exercise that can result in poor spinal integrity and movement. Without getting into too much detail, the spine should not be forced into rotation in the legitimate fear of excessive shearing force on the spine. Some coaches prefer excluding Russian twists all together, and seek a more integrated approach to core and oblique training.
Pallof Press: This exercise can help lifters gain isometric strength and anti-rotational abilities under constant tension in a very fixed and safe environment.
Landmine Rotations: This is a dynamic movement that increases the strength and development of the obliques and can help athletes learn to rotate their hips and torso in unison, ultimately increasing rotational performance and power rather than segmented core work.
Woodchoppers: Woodchoppers can be done at a very smooth and controlled (slow) pace to develop the obliques. This exercise is somewhat of a combination between the pallof press (cables create constant tension) and the landmine rotation. With that said, the Russian twist still can deliver some benefits for us (discussed below), but we also need to be aware of the potential risks out there with such a movement.
Benefits of the Russian Twist
Below are four benefits of the Russian twist that coaches and athletes can expect of these when done correctly (see the exercise video tutorial above).
Anti-rotational strength and control is necessary for increasing one’s ability to, well, resist spinal rotation. This is key for most human movements and sports, as the spine itself is highly susceptible to shearing forces that cause cause injury. In a sense, small (10-15 degrees) twists could help the obliques gain muscle mass, strength, and increase neural awareness to the positions. As discussed above, this goal may be attained better though more impactful exercises (like the landmine rotation of woodchop), however still important to credit the Russian twist with this benefit.
Isometric Core Strength
Isometric strength is when we are promoting force and having contractions, however no physical movement is occurring (think about wall sits, planks, etc). During the Russian twist, the lifter twists concentrically and eccentrically, however also needs to maintain a rigid and control isometric contraction throughout the core, similar to most endeavors in life (such as running, sprinting, baseball, etc). Granted, we may not be swaying side to side, but the simultaneous ability to isometrically contract while having some rotation is a benefit for most athletes.
No Equipment Needed
One of the reasons why this exercise is so widely used is that it requires zero equipment and very little setup, if any at all. The ease of use makes this an easier exercise to place into assistance exercises, class settings, or at home fitness/vacation workouts
The second reason why this exercise is so widely used in nearly every training environment is that it is very simple to perform and easy to modify for any skill level. Whether you have someone do these hovering the floor, with weight, on a tempo, or even against resistance bands, this can be a viable core training option.
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