Core exercises are among the most important parts of any workout. By strengthening the abdominal muscles, they improve posture and overall stability, not to mention firming your middle. The Russian twist is a simple core exercise that relies entirely on body weight. It is simple to modify and can fit into many routines.

Performing a Russian Twist

To perform a Russian twist, lie faceup on the floor, keeping the knees bent. Each foot should be flat on the ground and about even with the shoulders. Contract the abdominal muscles to prepare. Lift the upper body off of the ground, extending the arms forward. Some people clasp their hands together. Twist the body to each side with slow and controlled movements, keeping the arms even with the center of the chest. Aim to do the same number of repetitions in multiple sets.

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How Long to Exercise

Every person will exercise for different lengths of time because this is entirely dependent on overall fitness. Initially, the average person should aim for three to five sets of 10 repetitions, taking a one-minute break between each set. If this proves too difficult, feel free to reduce the number of sets or repetitions. More athletic individuals can perform more repetitions to further improve muscle endurance. Alternatively, they may wish to try some modifications of the Russian twist.

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Muscles at Work

Exercises like the Russian twist work muscles in the area that many people refer to as their core. Specifically, this exercise involves the oblique and abdominal muscles. The obliques allow for side-bending and rotation. The transverse abdominal muscle provides stability to the chest, pelvis, and spine. The rectus abdominis muscles are what many people refer to as the abs or six-pack, and they are responsible for flexing the spine in the lower back.

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Overall Benefits

By working the various core muscles, the Russian twist provides many benefits. Visually, engaging the abdominal muscles strengthens them, increasing their definition, and exercising the transverse abdominal muscle tightens the stomach to help achieve the appearance of a “flat” belly. Some experts believe that because the core muscles , strengthening them results in less back pain. If an individual performs Russian twists at higher intensities, the move may also burn a notable number of calories.

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Incorporating Into a Routine

Because they do not require any equipment, it is easy to work Russian twists into most routines. Some people include the core move in a routine of other short, high-intensity exercises, such as a circuit of jumping jacks, squat jumps, push-ups, and Russian twists. Individuals aiming to build their strength may choose to do a circuit workout of bodyweight exercises, including squats, lunges, push-ups, and Russian twists. Always vary your exercises, though. Adding Russian twists to a routine with other core exercises can lead to muscle overuse or damage if the intensity is too high.

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Russian twists are simple, so they are also easy to modify to increase their difficulty. Some people lift their feet while performing the exercise to challenge the muscles required for balance. Holding a heavy object such as a dumbbell or a medicine ball can add intensity while also improving arm and chest strength.

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Precautions to Take

Some people have difficulty maintaining even breathing while working out, especially when exercising their core. This is an issue for several reasons. Primarily, it is a crutch that prevents proper form development — you should always be able to breathe while doing an exercise. Additionally, the muscles need oxygen. Depriving them increases the risk of hernias, dizziness, and muscle cramps. Russian twists also place stress on the lower spine and much of the shoulders and chest. This can be difficult or painful for people with back issues or injuries.

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Potential Risks

A rising trend in the exercise world is eliminating workouts that may eventually damage the spine. This includes a significant number of core muscle exercises, like the Russian twist, because they place stress on the lower spine, potentially injuring it. Additionally, the Russian twist involves spine flexion, which may lead to ligament and spinal disk damage. The twisting may also cause damage because it is extremely easy to twist beyond the spine’s normal range of motion. Ideally, have a professional show you how to do a proper Russian twist, and speak to a doctor if you have any health concerns.

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Who Can Do Russian Twists

Thanks to the exercise’s simplicity, almost anyone can perform a Russian twist. However, because of the posture they require, Russian twists are not ideal for people who cannot maintain the form. They can also cause further damage to people who have spine or back issues. Personal trainers recommend that the average person uses less stressful exercises to engage their core muscles. If you want to work up to Russian twists and do not have limiting injuries, postures like boat pose could help.

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Core exercises that are easier on the spine include:

  • Dying Bug: Lie faceup on the floor, keeping the knees bent. Extend the opposite arm and leg while taking a deep breath. Repeat.
  • Front Planks: Face downward, balancing on the forearms and toes. Maintain a straight line from the head to the seat. Aim to hold for 60 seconds.
  • Ab Wheel Rollouts: Kneel on the ground with the hands and upper body weight on an ab wheel. Slowly lean forward, letting the wheel roll out until you are in a kneeling plank position. Engage the abs to pull your body back to all fours.

front plank couple exercise Cecilie_Arcurs / Getty Images


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