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Twisting Sit-ups: How To Do, Alternatives,…

There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing twisting sit-ups, what will the effects be?

Twisting sit-ups are a sit-up exercise variation where you move one shoulder towards the knee of the other side at the top of the movement. This makes it so twisting sit-ups focus more on your oblique muscles compared to regular sit-ups.

Twisting sit-ups are mainly good for growing and strengthening oblique and ab muscles. For other fitness goals, there are many better exercise options than twisting sit-ups.

One downside of twisting sit-ups is that this movement is not great for everyone, especially if you have lower back issues. For this reason, you may want to choose other oblique exercises.

Whether you should add twisting sit-ups or other alternatives to your routine depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and training goals.

How to do a twisting sit-up

For twisting sit-ups you preferably want a yoga mat or other soft surface to lie on. To do a twisting sit-up take the following steps:

  1. Lie down on your back with your legs folded and feet on the ground. You can hold your arms against your chest if you are relatively new to ab training, stretched above your head if you are more experienced.
  2. Curl up your body until your chest is close to your knees. Start with your shoulders and as you get closer to your knees more and more of your upper body gets off the ground. Make sure your abs and not the momentum of your arms power the movement.
  3. Once your lower back is off the ground straighten your spine and move one shoulder to the knee of the other side as far as comfortable.
  4. Return the shoulder to the position of step 2.
  5. Slowly curl down your body again. Your lower back goes first and gradually more and more of your upper body touches the ground again.
  6. Repeat the same movement but with your other shoulder.

Keep your movements slow and controlled to make your oblique and ab muscles really work hard and to avoid bad technique. Let your neck and head follow your upper body.

Make sure you do the same number of repetitions with each side to avoid muscle imbalances.

How to do a twisting sit-up

Twisting sit-ups variations

Twisting sit-ups with just your body weight and your hands on the side of your head 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 twisting sit-ups. To work up to the full version you can consider only raising your shoulders a small amount or holding your arms against your chest. You can prepare your oblique muscles with something like a sitting twist.

All of these will help you train similar muscles but at a less challenging level.

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

Making twisting sit-ups harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up progress compared to doing the regular bodyweight variation over and over.

A simple no-equipment way to make twisting sit-ups harder is to stretch out your arms above your head. The laws of physics make it so that the exercise becomes harder that way.

Besides that, the main way to make this exercise harder is to do weighted twisting sit-ups. This is basically doing the same exercise but with extra weights held against your chest or in your hands.

Some examples of suited sit-up equipment for this are a medicine ball, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, grocery bags, etc. in your hands or against your chest.

Twisting sit-ups muscles worked

Twisting sit-ups are mainly an oblique and ab muscle isolation exercise.

The way you build muscle in places like your obliques and abs is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging 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 twisting sit-ups 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, twisting sit-ups may be a good or bad addition.

Twisting sit-up benefits

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

  1. Stronger muscles: Twisting sit-ups are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your oblique muscles and make them stand out more.
  2. Can help with losing weight: Doing twisting sit-ups 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 twisting sit-ups promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
  4. No equipment or location required: Since twisting sit-ups 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 twisting sit-ups can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
  6. Slows down aging: Twisting sit-ups 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. Helps you avoid muscle asymmetries: By training one side at a time you reduce the risk of using one side more than the other. This helps you avoid muscle asymmetries.
  8. May reduce or prevent back pain: Core strengthening exercises like twisting sit-ups 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 twisting sit-ups, 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 twisting sit-ups can be hard on body parts like your back, neck, hip, or shoulders, even if you implement the right technique. A twisting exercise like twisting sit-ups is not for everyone.

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 implementing twisting sit-ups into your 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 twisting sit-ups are not (yet) for you.

Twisting sit-up alternatives

While twisting sit-ups can be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your core muscles. Some of these twisting sit-up alternatives include:

  • Bicycle crunches
  • Side bends
  • Sitting twists
  • Crunches
  • Sidways leg raises on the captain’s chair
  • Compound core exercises
  • Ab wheel V-rolls
  • Russian twists

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 twisting sit-ups 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 oblique and ab 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 twisting sit-ups.

Remember that twisting sit-ups 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 doing more twisting sit-ups.

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 twisting sit-ups is a workout you love, great. If not other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

If you do decide to implement more twisting sit-ups make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.