The Russian Twist: An Oblique-Focused Ab Exercise

9th October 2019
If you want your oblique muscles to be more defined, we recommend adding an exercise, known as the Russian twist, to your routine. This exercise is more complete than you may imagine!

This is one of the most used exercises in Crossfit due to its effectiveness when it comes to toning and defining the oblique muscles. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Russian twist.

What is the Russian twist?

This exercise is perfect for when you want to work your ab muscles in general, but especially for your obliques. The Russian twist is a very complete movement. If you follow the correct technique, all the muscles involved will be in a tense position.

It’s also one of the most common exercises in Crossfit or Tabata routines, professional training programs for athletes and even and home workouts. One of the main advantages it has is that you don’t need special machines or equipment to perform it.

It’s definitely possible to do this exercise without any additional weight. However, if you truly want to get the most out of the potential in the Russian twist, we recommend using extra load with dumbbells, discs, kettlebells or even homemade weights made out of plastic bottles filled with water or sand.

The Russian twist is a highly beneficial exercise if you’re looking to work on your oblique muscles. However, we don’t recommend it for people with back problems because of the posture that you must maintain during the whole movement.

What muscles does the Russian twist work?

As we mentioned before, the Russian twist will work all of your abdominal areas. But beyond that, it’s also a great exercise to strengthen and tone the oblique muscles, the ones on the sides of your torso. Oblique muscles are the ones that become more noticeable as soon as we gain weight!

A young woman doing the Russian twist at the beach

On the other hand, the Russian twist also activates the rest of your muscles. This way, it achieves a greater effect on the front abdominal muscles and the three stabilizing areas: the erector muscles, the quadratus lumborum muscle and all of the glute muscles. On top of that, since you’re using weights to do this exercise, your biceps, triceps and shoulders also get in a bit of work.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, by doing the Russian twist we boost our balance and improve the posture of our spine.

How to do the Russian twist

To start this exercise, it’s very important to sit comfortably on the ground and extend your legs. Grab your desired weight with both hands and put your arms in front of you.

Immediately after, lift up your legs slightly so that they’re not touching the ground. Keep them in this position throughout the whole exercise. Lean back a little bit until your back forms a diagonal line with the floor.

Keep in mind that you can’t let your spine curve because this would make you more prone to contractures, and you wouldn’t be using the right form for the movement. To ensure you have a good lumbar and cervical position, look straight ahead and not at the weight you’re holding.

Once you’re in the right position, it’s time to do the actual twist after which this exercise takes its name. To do so, twist your torso slightly to the right and bring the weight of your body along with the dumbbell or disc. The opposite shoulder should be slightly higher in relation to the other.

After that, go back to the starting position and follow the same steps but on the left side. The goal is that your movements are slow and synchronized. This way, you’ll thoroughly work your belly, and you’ll avoid injuries in your lumbar area due to a bad posture.

If you’re a beginner and you want to do the Russian twist, we recommend doing it with your heels on the floor. You can lift them up from the ground once you get a bit of experience. On a professional or advanced level, cross your legs and lift them higher than your hips.

Variants of the Russian twist

There are different types or variants to train your oblique muscles. Do them once you’ve mastered the basic Russian twist!

1. Standing up

To do this version, stand with your legs close together. Then, lower your torso until your back is parallel to the floor. Extend your arms and twist your waist from one side to the other.

A woman relaxing by the park after her workout

2. With open legs

Sit on a mat and open your legs as wide as you can. Lift up your arms so that they’re parallel to the floor. Then twist your torso so that your right hand touches your left foot. Go back to the starting position and repeat the movement on the opposite side.

3. With elevated legs

This is the most complicated version of the Russian twist. Sit with your legs close together and lift them up while flexing your knees at the same time. Your calves should be parallel to the ground. Grab the dumbbell or disc and twist your torso to the sides. Your back should be diagonal to the floor, in the way we’ve shown in the main image of this article.

The Russian twist should undoubtedly be present in your ab routine. It’s an incredibly complete and efficient exercise, don’t hesitate to try it out for yourself!

  • Fuentes García, J. P., & Gusi Fuertes, N. (1999). Valoración y entrenamiento de la fuerza-resistencia abdominal: validez comparativa y reproductibilidad en tres pruebas de evaluación en tenistas. Apunts: Educación Física y Deportes.
  • Tous, Julio. (2001). Tous, J. Entrenamiento de la musculatura abdominal. Tesis Doctoral. Universidad de Barcelona, 2001.