The phrase "Russian twist" may sound like some sort of exotic dance move, but it's not quite. A simple ab exercise with serious results, it can be done with or without equipment — the only thing you need to get started is some floor space and core strength.
"This exercise can be super useful in developing localized muscular endurance with rotation before progressing to other exercises or adding load," says Christopher Balam, CSCS.
- What is the Russian twist exercise? It's a seated rotational (side to side) movement of the upper torso (thoracic spine) that engages the core.
- What muscles do Russian twists target? It primarily targets your core (abs, lower back, hip flexors and obliques — the muscles that help rotate your core) but also requires support and stabilization from your entire body.
- Who can do Russian twists? Anyone who can get to the floor safely and doesn't have a spinal injury should be OK to perform this exercise, Balam says.
How to Do Russian Twists
Step 1: Lie Down On the Floor With Your Knees Bent
- Contract your abs and engage your core to prepare for the upcoming effort.
- Your feet should be at shoulder-width distance, flat on the ground.
Step 2: Lift Your Upper Body Off the Ground
- Bring your hands together toward the center of your chest — clasp them together if that's your preference.
- Your torso and your thighs should form a V-shape at this point.
- To make this move advanced, you can also lift your legs off of the ground, bringing your shins up into a tabletop position.
Step 3: Twist Side to Side
- Keep your abs contracted and twist your torso to the right, bringing your arms out to the right as well.
- Rotate back through center, then twist to the left.
Step 4: Keep a Steady Pace
- Russian twists are usually done with a two-count cadence — 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 4-2, 5-2, and so on — to keep track of how many reps you do in a set.
- With every count, you're rotating sides. Add one to the count each time you return to the side you leaned toward first.
- Aim to do the same number of reps in each timed set.
How Long Should You Do Russian Twists For?
The amount of time you should spend doing this exercise can vary greatly depending on your level of fitness. Initially, an individual should aim for 3 to 5 sets of 10 reps with one-minute between sets, Balam says.
"Your goal is to increase localized muscular endurance before progressing to other core exercises that are strength or power based, like if you were to add a weight to this movement."
If you're more advanced, you can attempt to complete 3 to 5 sets of 20 reps with one-minute rest between sets, he says. And if you're able to get through that easily, you're ready for an extra challenge (like adding a dumbbell or medicine ball).
Read more: 3 Cardinal Rules of Six-Pack Abs
Benefits of Doing Russian Twists
Russian twists are a truly versatile exercise. If you lift your feet off they floor, they're a full-body exercise. When they're done at a high intensity, they can boost your heart rate and burn lots of calories. When performed slowly, they can be integrated into a warm-up. They're also a great movement to add into any body-weight routine.
They Burn Calories
Exactly how many calories are burned doing Russian twists? A 155-pound person will burn 334 calories during a moderate 60-minute session of calisthenics (like Russian twists), according to Harvard Health Publishing. That works out to be about 5 calories a minute.
Your exact calorie burn depends on your age, intensity, weight, and fitness level. To learn more about this, use an online calculator or an app like MyPlate for a more custom number.
They Work for All Fitness Levels
No matter what your current ability level is, you can lower or crank up the intensity to suit your needs by tweaking rest periods or duration and frequency. There are a slew of ways to modify this exercise, regardless of whether you're a beginner or ready to take things to the next level, Balam says. He recommends the following modification and variation:
- Beginners: Begin holding an isometric position, like a V-sit. "If this is still too difficult, the hands can be placed down on either side of the hips for stability and a slight deload for the target muscles," he says.
- Advanced: Add some weight! You can use any weighted object — dumbbell, weight plate, kettlebell, medicine ball or even a jug of water — to add load here. Try holding your choice weight out in front of you with your arms straight. Move your arms with the weight, just as you did in the beginner exercise. Keep your abs contracted and don't let your back round.
When using an external load, begin by holding the weight closer to the torso. The movement becomes increasingly more difficult the farther the arms are away from the torso.
Precautions When Doing Russian Twists
As you can see, the Russian Twist requires a lot of rotation near the spine. Although it's safe for most, it would be smart to check in with a physician or personal trainer before adding them to your routine if you've had neck, back or shoulder issues in the past.
And make sure not to hold your breath when you're crushing through reps and sets, Balam says. A smart way to keeping things moving? Time your inhales and exhales to the rhythm of the movement. For example, try inhaling and exhaling every other rep. Try to keep your breath pattern consistent throughout each set.
Incorporate Russian Twists Into Your Workout
Russian twists are super effective all on their own (your core will let you know). But if you want some suggestions on how to include them in your next sweat session, try one of these workouts: