What is a Russian oblique twist and its benefits

When it comes to the core, there is no shortage of exercises that promise improved strength and better definition of that area. Crunches and sit-ups are just some of the most common staple abs exercise that many people incorporate into their workout routines and over the years, different variations to these exercises have been developed to adapt to people’s ever-changing needs.

But while sticking to the classics is not necessarily a bad thing, doing them over and over again will eventually stop doing anything to your abdominal muscles because they are already used to the movement to the point that the exercise does not challenge the muscles anymore.

Good thing there is one other abs exercise that is just as effective, if not more effective, than both crunches and sit-ups. The Russian twist, while not as popular as these two exercises, can be a better substitute for both. Whether the goal is a flat stomach, a prominent six-pack, or simply an overall strong core, the Russian twist can achieve all these and more.  

What is a Russian oblique twist?

The Russian oblique twist, or simply the Russian twist, is a strengthening exercise that targets the core, shoulders, and hips using repetitive twisting motion focused on the abdominal area.

The specific muscles that are at work during this exercise are the internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors, erector spinae, scapular muscles, and latissimus dorsi.

The Russian twist is ideal for people who want to improve their balance, posture, and movement by toning their midsection and developing the core strength. Aside from that, the Russian twist can also help get rid of those pesky love handles that do not seem to go away.

While the exact origins of this exercise are still unclear, it is believed that the Russian twist started in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War as a training exercise for Russian soldiers.

How to do the Russian twist

  1. Begin by sitting on the ground with your knees slightly bent and your heels in contact with the ground.
  2. Lean backward until your torso and thighs form a V, then slowly raise your legs slightly above the ground. As you go into this position, make sure that you engage your abdominal muscles to stabilize your body.
  3. Place your arms in front of you and either clasp your hands together or put one on top of the other, whichever is more comfortable, as long as both are at the same level with the bottom of your rib cage.
  4. Breathe in deeply and twist slowly to one side. Make sure that the movement is performed by rotating your torso and not simply swinging your arms.
  5. When you rotate, make sure that you do it as far as possible for you to be able to touch the ground, and that you bring your shoulder with the movement as your eyes follow suit.
  6. Once you have reached down to touch the ground, slowly twist to the other side while keeping your core engaged and your back straight.
  7. Repeat according to your desired number of sets and reps.

Tips for a more efficient Russian twist

Leg and feet position

While it is more ideal that the legs are raised during the exercise to engage the core more, this will not always be the case, especially for beginners. So if you are still a Russian twist newbie, you may keep your feet on the ground first and just do the exercise with lifted legs once you have perfected the form and motion.

Breathing technique

Proper breathing is just as important as proper form and movement, so breathe out when you twist and breathe in as you return to the center.

Arm position

Maintain arms parallel to the ground during the twisting motion until you reach the bottom position where your hands are finally in contact with the ground.

Core and back engagement

Keep your abdominal and back muscles engaged at all times. But more importantly, refrain from slouching to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your spine. Since the angle of your back determines how much you work your core, you must position your spine correctly to fully activate it.

Eye movement

Bet you did not expect this tip. During a Russian twist, it is not only your core, shoulders, and arms that should move; as you twist and reach down to touch the ground, your eyes should also follow the movement.

Benefits of the Russian twist

Burning calories

Unlike most abs-focused exercises that only burn a few calories, Russian twists can be a great calorie burnerIncorporating weights into the exercise will burn calories even more. And while abs exercises alone will not completely eradicate belly fat, the Russian twist does help in getting rid of love handles and muffin tops.

Strengthening the core

The Russian twist is a good exercise to sculpt a six-pack or tone a flat stomach. But more than the aesthetic benefits, the exercise also builds core strength because it engages all the major core muscles, namely the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and the internal and external obliques.

Having a strong core prevents slouching and promotes good posture that not only helps boost confidence but also gives you a more well-defined figure. Moreover, strong abdominal muscles also improve balance that helps in the accomplishment of day-to-day activities.

Lastly, a strong core also means a strong lower back, and in performing this exercise, both are crucial in stabilizing your body throughout the movement.

Reduced risk of heart problems

The Russian twist helps reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack by burning calories and using the excess fat in your abdominal area. Well, at least the muffin top and love handles are of good use after all.

Some Russian twist variations to try

Weighted twist

This Russian twist variation is no different from the traditional one except for the additional weight. Whether it is a dumbbell, plate, or medicine ball, always remember that the weight you use should be heavy enough to still enable you to perform the exercise with proper form.

To do this, hold your preferred weight with both hands and twist the same way you would in a regular Russian twist but touch the ground with the weight instead of your hands.

Leg cross twists

This Russian twist variation requires you to simultaneously twist your legs and torso. To do this, cross your right leg over your left leg and twist to the right at the same time. Uncross your legs as you return to the center then cross your left leg over your right leg and twist to the left at the same time.

Punch twists

In this variation, you do not need to bring the weight down to the ground but you will need to showcase your boxing prowess with it. Well, not exactly but you do need to do some punching motion together with your twists.

To begin, sit with your knees bent and your feet planted firmly on the ground while you hold a pair of dumbbells close to your chest, one in each hand. Slightly lean back with a straight spine then breathe out as you twist to the left, punching your right arm over to the left side at the same time. Breathe in as you return to the center and then do the same thing to the opposite side.

Lower body twist

This Russian twist variation shifts the focus to your lower abdominals and obliques. To start, form a T by lying on the ground with your arms outstretched to the sides and your legs raised straight up. Once you are in position, twist your legs to one side and when your feet are almost touching the ground, twist them back up and over to the other side. Make sure that you keep your legs straight throughout the exercise.

Other exercises that work the same muscles as the Russian twist

Side plank

Begin by bringing one hand to the center from a plank pose then open the front of your body to the side as you put the other hand on your hip. Place one foot on the floor and the other just in front of it then raise your right arm while keeping your elbow slightly bent. Stay in this position for at least one minute then do the other side.

Heel touch

Begin by placing your arms at the sides and slightly lifting your head and shoulders while engaging your core as you do so. Extend your right arm forward to reach your toes then return to the starting position before doing the other side.

Forearm plank twist

Start from a forearm plank position then rotate your hips to one side until it touches the ground. Then slowly return to the starting position before doing the other side.

Bird dog

Start from a tabletop position then engage your core as you extend your left arm and right leg. Keep your eyes on the floor, your spine and neck neutral, and your shoulders and hips square as you stay in this position for a few seconds. Return to the starting position, then do the other side.