How to Do a Russian Twist

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on June 30, 2022
5 min read

Russian twists are a great beginner exercise. They’re straightforward, and after a few repetitions, you’ll really feel them working your core. The best part about the Russian twist is that it is an easy exercise to modify. You can make it more challenging or easier depending on where you are in your fitness journey. 

Russian twists are a great core exercise. This move works your obliques while also targeting your shoulders and hips. To do a Russian twist, you’ll rotate your torso from side to side while sitting in an upright position with your feet lifted off the ground. 

This movement brings great rotation into your core. It’s an exercise widely used by athletes. This exercise got its name because it was used in the Cold War by Russian soldiers.   

Russian twists primarily target three main muscles: 

  • Core
  • Obliques
  • Glutes

The Russian twist is an isolation exercise. Its primary purpose is to activate your abdominal muscle group located over the lower portion of your torso. Your obliques work as secondary stabilizers and movers. 

The activated muscles are mostly layered over top of each other in your general stomach and intestinal area. 

Secondary muscles that are activated by the Russian twist include: 

  • Hip flexors
  • Shoulders
  • Muscles along your spine
  • Lower back muscles

You will start by lying on top of a stability ball to do a standard Russian twist. You’ll want your upper back on the ball with your hips held out straight in front of your body. Make sure your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. 

Hold your arms straight in front of your chest, keeping your palms together. Then, twist, using your stomach and shoulders to rotate onto one shoulder. Keep your feet flat on the ground and your back straight while turning to the opposite side. 

It’s important to maintain your posture throughout the entire exercise. You’ll want to focus on your balance, posture, and stability ball control. Avoid letting your hips drop, turning your feet, or using the momentum of your body.

There are many adaptations of the Russian twist. 

Weighted Russian twists. This is a great progression from the standard bodyweight Russian twist. The same technique is used, but you’ll add a heavy object like a dumbbell, medicine ball, or large water bottle if you don’t have exercise equipment nearby. 

The added weight increases resistance in your core, helping you feel it working in your obliques more.

Heel touches. This is a variation that focuses on your abdominals and obliques. To do this adaptation, you’ll lie down and reach alternating hands to touch your heels. This contracts your core muscles with less strain on your neck, which Russian twists can cause.

Side plank. This is an isometric variation. For this exercise, you won’t be moving your body. Instead, you’ll stay in a static position. A side plank targets your obliques and abdominal muscles but can add extra stress to your neck. Focus on keeping your hips off the mat in a straight line while keeping your neck in a neutral position.

Kettlebell Russian twist. This is a weighted adaptation of the standard Russian twist. The kettlebell Russian twist feels best if done on a padded mat on the ground. You’ll sit with your glutes set squarely on a mat, and then you’ll lift your feet off the ground with your back straight. Then, you’ll move the kettlebell from one side of your body to the other, activating your core muscles. 

This type of variation is considered a non-calisthenic option. This exercise is good for muscular hypertrophy and neurological strength adaptation. The kettlebell Russian twist isn’t as explosive and incorporates controlled movement.  

There are many core benefits of adding Russian twists to your upper body regimen.

First, you’ll strengthen your core. Since Russian twists target all the muscles in your core, you can expect a solid workout if you incorporate this exercise. The more you do, the stronger your core will become, which helps improve your balance, stability, and overall spine function. A stronger core also helps improve your posture, potentially reducing back pain. 

This exercise is also great for burning calories. The higher the intensity of your exercise, the more calories you’ll burn. With Russian twists incorporated, you can get a good workout and a sore core with just a ten to fifteen-minute core workout.

Another benefit to this exercise is that no equipment is necessary. You can do a variation of the Russian twist with just your body weight and a comfortable surface to sit on. That means you can start doing this exercise anywhere, and as you build muscle, you can start incorporating heavier objects in your home, on vacation, or at the gym. 

Russian twists are also good for injury prevention. You'll work on your stabilizing muscles by strengthening your abdominal muscles and obliques. This can strengthen your bones and connective tissue, reinforcing your balance and making you less prone to falling or other injuries.

There are cardiovascular benefits as well. Russian twists are typically done with a large number of repetitions, which means you're working at a faster pace and moving your entire body. With proper diet and rest, combined with Russian twists, you may be able to improve your general cardiovascular endurance.

Russian twists are all about twisting your body. This means that this exercise can improve your flexibility. Even if it may seem hard initially, your body will start to release its natural tension over time. Then, you’ll notice the potential flexibility of your body improving. 

It’s essential to focus on your form and make sure you aren’t overextending your back. You should be engaging your core and not your upper back when doing Russian twists. If you start to feel pain in your upper back, you may be doing the exercise incorrectly. 

Posture and hip placement are essential to making sure you’re safely doing a Russian twist. Maintaining the proper form during this exercise will have long-term benefits.