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Russian Twists: How To, Risks, Benefits,…

There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing Russian twists, what will the effects be?

Russian twists are an exercise where you start sitting on your butt with your feet elevated. After that you twist your body to the left and the right, often with some form of weight in your hands.

This exercise is mainly good for growing and strengthening oblique and ab muscles. For other fitness goals, there are many better exercise options than Russian twists.

Before you give this core exercise a try, keep in mind that you generally can’t target fat loss in specific body parts.

Russian twists can be helpful for building oblique and ab muscles but relatively bad for losing belly fat. If that is your goal you want to look for exercises that help you burn a lot of calories.

One downside of Russian twists is that they are relatively easy to do the wrong way. For this reason, you may want to choose other oblique exercises.

Whether you should add Russian twists or other alternatives to your routine depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and training goals.

How to do a Russian twist

For Russian twists you preferably want a yoga mat or other soft surface to lie on. To do a Russian twist take the following steps:

  1. Sit down on the ground with your legs bent at the knees and your feet hovering above the ground. Make sure your spine is straight and at about a 45-degree angle with the ground throughout the exercise.
  2. Slightly twist your upper body to one side and then the other in a controlled motion.
  3. Return to starting position.
How to do a Russian twist

Keep your movements slow and controlled to make your core muscles really work hard and to avoid bad technique. Let your neck and head follow your upper body, if needed you can focus your gaze on your hands.

You generally want to do around 2 to 6 sets of 6 to 25 Russian twists if growing and strengthening your oblique muscles are your main goals.

Make sure you don’t twist too far and keep your back straight to avoid any injuries. Even with the right technique Russian twists are not for everyone.

If you have any back, neck, hip, or shoulder issues you likely want to pass on this exercise.

Regular Russian twist variations

Russian twists with just your body weight and your arms against your chest are the standard version of the exercise. There are also a few variations that can make the exercise easier or harder.

Some people are not ready yet for full Russian twists. To work up to the full version you can consider doing Russian twists with your feet on the ground, also known as sitting twists.

Another thing you can do is only twist your upper body to a very small extent.

Lastly, you can also do Russian twists on your knees and bent back. This can make it easier to keep your spine straight. All of these will help you train similar muscles but at a less challenging level.

On the other hand, bodyweight Russian twists can become too easy. At this point, you may need to turn to other exercises or make Russian twists harder to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.

Working to 100 Russian twists a day is usually not the best idea.

Making Russian twists harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up progress compared to doing the regular bodyweight variation over and over. Keep in mind that the twist becomes harder to control too.

A simple no-equipment way to make Russian twists harder is to stretch out your arms in front of you. The laws of physics make it so that the movement becomes harder that way.

Besides that, the main way to make this exercise harder is to do weighted Russian twists. This is basically doing the same exercise but with extra weights in your hands to make it harder.

You can hold weights like a medicine ball, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, grocery bags, etc. in your hands or against your chest.

Muscles worked with Russian twists

Some of the primary muscles worked with Russian twists include:

  • Obliques
  • Abs
  • Hip flexors
  • Erector spinae

Some of the secondary muscles worked with Russian twists, mainly if you hold a weight, include:

  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Traps
  • Forearms
  • Biceps

The way you build muscle in places like your core is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough.

This may sound counterintuitive but this damage makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.

If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.

By adding extra resistance to exercises like Russian twists you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more core muscle gain.

Depending on your personal situation, workout plan, and training goals, Russian twists may be a good or bad addition.

Russian twists benefits

Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding Russian twists to your routine can offer you some helpful benefits. Some of the most important ones include:

  1. Stronger muscles: Russian twists are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your core muscles and make them stand out more.
  2. Can help with losing weight: Doing Russian twists likely requires more energy than your regular daily activities. Extra muscle mass also helps with burning more calories. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss. Keep in mind that there are better exercise choices if weight loss is your goal.
  3. Improves mood: Exercise like Russian twists promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
  4. No equipment or location required: Since Russian twists are a bodyweight exercise you don’t have to invest in equipment or be in a specific location. That being said, a soft surface like a yoga mat can make the exercise more comfortable.
  5. Improves sleep: Exercise like Russian twists can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
  6. Slows down aging: Russian twists won’t influence how many days have passed since you were born. However, exercise can slow down the progress of certain aging markers that are correlated with negative health effects.
  7. May reduce or prevent back pain: Core strengthening exercises like Russian twists can reduce or prevent back pain (1, 2). If you currently have back pain you do want to be careful and talk to an expert before implementing this exercise.

While inevitably many workouts are better for some of these benefits than Russian twists, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.

Potential risks

The main thing to keep in mind is that Russian twists can be hard on body parts like your back, neck, hip, or shoulders even if you implement the right technique.

On top of that, it is easy to get the technique of Russian twists wrong which increases injury risk more.

If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that Russian twists are not (yet) for you.

Russian twist alternatives

While Russian twists can definitely be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your core muscles. Some of these Russian twist alternatives include:

  • Lying leg raise twists
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Side planks
  • Sideways leg raises on the captain’s chair
  • Compound core exercises
  • Ab wheel V-rolls
  • Side bends
  • Plank exercises

Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.


Many people will benefit from adding Russian twists with the right technique to their routine. You may need to make the regular version more challenging soon to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress.

That being said, for goals besides strengthening your core muscles and making them stand out more, there are many better exercise options.

There are also other oblique exercises where the injury risk is lower than in Russian twists.

Remember that Russian twists can be hard on body parts like your back, neck, hip, or shoulders even if you implement the right technique.

If you are sensitive or weak in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently.

If doing Russian twists is a workout you love, great. If not, Russian twist alternatives and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

If you do decide to implement more Russian twists make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.


Matt Claes

Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.