Resistance training exercises like Russian twists work a few different muscles. Find out which ones and how to actually grow and strengthen these.
If you look at how to do a Russian twist you will notice that there are two main things going on.
First of all, you need to keep your feet off the ground and your upper body at a tilted angle with your spine straight.
This will mainly be challenging for your ab muscles and to some extent hip flexors.
Secondly, there is the typical Russian twist movement where you rotate your upper body to each side which works your obliques.
Russian twists will mainly be effective for growing and strengthening your oblique muscles because the movement works these muscles in a dynamic way.
As a first weight, rep, and set recommendation, you want to do about 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 25 (weighted) Russian twists with a resistance where you are barely able to complete these to grow your oblique muscles.
Primary muscles worked with Russian twists
Resistance training exercises often engage a variety of muscles. However, that does not mean all of these muscles have to work to the same extent.
You can describe the primary muscles as the ones that have to work the hardest compared to their relative strengths.
In Russian twists, the primary muscles worked are the obliques and abs.
The external and internal obliques, together just called obliques, are muscles that run along the sides of your upper body.
These muscles are responsible for tilting your upper body sideways and rotating it.
Russian twists will mainly work the muscle fibers responsible for rotating your upper body.
Ab muscles also known as rectus abdominis
Next, to stay in the position required to be able to rotate your upper body, your ab muscles, also known as rectus abdominis, will also have to work a good amount during Russian twists.
These muscles help you bring your chest toward your hips or your hips toward your chest.
In Russian twists, your ab muscles prevent your chest/shoulders from falling backward.
One important thing to note is that Russian twists work your ab muscles in an isometric (static) way. They have to stay at more or less the same length.
This is important to note because isometric exercises tend to be less effective for growing and strengthening muscles.
So if you really want to grow and strengthen your ab muscles, you likely want to turn to certain Russian twist alternatives.
Secondary muscles worked with Russian twists
Russian twists also require a bit of engagement from certain other muscles.
More specifically, your hip flexors between your thighs and hips have to work to a small extent to your legs raised off the ground.
Additionally, if you do Russian twists with weights, a few muscles will have to work to a small extent to keep the weight in position.
The hip flexors are a group of muscles that include the iliacus, psoas, pectineus, sartorius, and rectus femoris.
These are responsible for moving your thighs toward your hips or the opposite movement.
Russian twists require you to raise your feet off the ground which means raising your thighs too.
Even if you would do the exercise with your feet on the ground, your hip flexors would have to work to prevent your hips from falling backward.
Similar to the abs, Russian twists work your hip flexors in an isometric way.
Potentially muscles do hold weights
People who are more experienced with core resistance training may need to do Russian twists with extra weights to see their desired results.
To keep the weight in front of you or against your chest, your biceps, deltoids (shoulders), trapezius (upper shoulders/back), and forearm grip muscles will have to work to a small extent in an isometric way.
That being said, you should not expect too much training for these muscles.
The obliques and abs are relatively weak so you won’t have to hold that much weight to make Russian twists hard enough.
How to do Russian twists to grow and strengthen muscles
To grow and strengthen muscles like the obliques and abs Russian twists work, you have to challenge the muscles with enough weight, repetitions, and sets.
The stronger you are, the more you will need to increase these variables to see results.
Luckily, there are some general guidelines for how many Russian twists you should do for certain training goals that apply to basically everyone.
One of the interesting benefits of Russian twists and in turn, the set and rep ranges is you can choose whether you want to grow and strengthen your obliques or abs.
Grow and strengthen your oblique muscles
To grow your oblique muscles, you want to do about 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 25 (weighted) Russian twists with a resistance where your oblique muscles are barely able to complete these ranges.
If you want to improve strength in these same muscles, you want to do about 4 to 8 sets of 5 Russian twists. Again, with a weight where these sets and reps are barely possible.
Grow and strengthen your ab muscles
People who want to grow their rectus abdominis muscles with Russian twists want to do the exercise around 3 to 30 seconds per set and more than 80 to 150 seconds per workout at 70-75% of their maximum voluntary contraction (MVC).
To improve muscle strength in your abs with Russian twists, you want to do the exercise for 1 to 5 seconds per set and more than 30 to 90 seconds per workout at 80-100% of your MVC to strengthen these muscles.
One big downside of these guidelines is that you need specific devices to measure MVC. A suboptimal alternative is using a weight where you can barely complete the durations above.
Do Russian twists work abs or obliques?
Russian twists work both your abs and obliques but they are generally more effective for growing and strengthening the obliques.
Do Russian twists train muscular strength?
With the right resistance, repetitions, and sets, Russian twists can help you train muscular strength in your ab and oblique muscles.