Russian twists are one of the best ways to work your obliques, the muscles that help rotate your torso. The obliques are often neglected by bodybuilders seeking a tapered torso, women who want a smaller waist and fitness fanatics obsessed with the "8-pack." However, without strong obliques, all the support of the core falls to the abdomen and lower back. Use Russian twists to give your waist a strong, healthy shape, fighting off the "love handles."
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There are two sets of obliques, internal and external. The internal obliques originate on the lower ribs and insert on the pubic bone. The external obliques are a layer of muscle over the internal obliques, which also originate on the lower ribs but insert on the hip bones. The external obliques are the ones that appear on lean torsos, giving the appearance of a "V"-shape.
The obliques are connected to the abdominal muscles, so any type of ab exercise that includes a rotational movement will strengthen the obliques. The best movements that focus on the obliques include Russian twists. Russian twists are easy to perform -- sit on the ground, bend your knees, lift both feet off the ground and move the knees together from one side to the other while turning the shoulders the other direction. As you perform this exercise, don't bend your spine and keep your core strong and stable.
Variations on Russian Twists
It's important to keep the lumbar and cervical spine sections "neutral," or straight, during the twist. People who have weak lower backs should start performing Russian twists while sitting on a chair or bench, keeping the hands gripped on the sides of the chair. This aids keeping the back straight. Advanced exercisers can make Russian twists more difficult by holding a weight in both hands, keeping the arms straight out in front during the twist.
Perform Russian twists as you would other resistance exercises. For example, perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, or one set to failure. Russian twists make up a superset with lower-back movements such as bridges and hyperextensions, or a giant set by adding a rectus abdominis movement such as a crunch to the superset.