Including the Russian twist in your workout can unlock better core strength, stability, and posture.

For those who understand the importance of core muscles in daily life, classic old planks, and sit-ups can quickly get stale. The Russian twist targets the same muscles while leaving wiggle room for plenty of variants and further progressions. Here’s how to get started.

Doing the standard Russian twist safely demands control and focus. Take it slow, concentrate on the form of each move, and work through every step at a steady pace:

  1. Begin sitting on the floor, use a mat if your booty needs a little extra cushioning.
  2. Stick your legs out in front of you, heels against the floor with knees bent.
  3. Lean back, bringing your feet off the ground and creating a V-shape with your thighs and torso.
  4. Engage your glutes to stabilize.
  5. Clasp your hands together and raise your arms out in front of you.
  6. Moving slowly, rotate your arms and torso fully to the left, hold for a beat, then repeat to the right.
  7. Return to position 5.
  8. Repeat for 2–3 sets of 8–16 reps.

Such a simple move hides a bunch of potential pitfalls. Some of these might only cheat you out of some physical benefit, others put you at greater risk of injury. Here’s how to dodge them:

  • Move slowly and steadily, rotating through your obliques, upper back, and shoulders. This ensures every muscle gets time to work.
  • Keep your glutes and core engaged, this steadies you and protects your lower back from excess strain
  • Regulate your breathing. Exhale as you twist and inhale as you return to the start position
  • Keep your arms as fully extended as you can, with your gaze fixed on your hands. This helps you naturally learn the proper form.
  • Make sure your spine is kept straight, don’t slouch or round it.
  • Cross your lower legs over one another to make them easier to keep lifted for longer.

Lots of people graduate to Russian twists once they’ve perfected basic ab exercises like sit-ups and planks. But once you’re doing the twist with the best of them… then what?

These variations could be what you’re looking for.

Kneeling Russian twists

Is the standard move too much for your back or hips? Try this kneeling variant and work your way up to the genuine article. You’ll still work your glutes and core, even with a slightly reduced range of motion:

  1. Begin by kneeling on the floor or mat.
  2. Carefully lean backward until you feel stable, your body should be at about 60 degrees.
  3. Exhale as you twist to your left and hold for a beat.
  4. Inhale as you return to the center position, then repeat as you twist to the right.

Weighted Russian twists

This variant calls for a weight, medicine ball, or any compact item that won’t get in the way of smooth, controlled movement:

  1. Start as normal, sat on the floor with your heels together touching the ground in front of you.
  2. Engage your glutes and core, and make a V-shape against the floor with your torso and thighs.
  3. Grip your weight in both hands and keep it extended at chest height out in front of you.
  4. Steadily rotate your torso to the left until you can tap your weight on the ground.
  5. Return to center and rotate fully to your right.
  6. Repeat.

Cross-leg Russian twists

Lots of people cross one leg over the other for added stability when doing this move. But did you know this can also be done to add a bit of extra complexity? Try it for yourself:

  1. Begin your Russian twist as normal, with your left calf crossed over your right.
  2. Twist to the left, hold for a beat, then return to center.
  3. Without lowering your feet to the floor, cross your right calf over your left.
  4. Twist to the right, hold, return to center, and repeat.

Punching Russian twists

A solid variation on weighted twists, pay special attention to the interplay between the upper and lower body when you’re practicing these:

  1. Begin your Russian twist as normal, but with your hands held against your chest.
  2. When it’s time to twist, exhale and punch your right arm over to the left.
  3. As you return to the starting position, inhale.
  4. Twist to the right, punching your left arm over to your right side as you exhale.
  5. Inhale, return to center, and repeat.

Decline bench Russian twists

When we say decline here, we don’t mean your bank card after a busy weekend. This variant uses a decline bench, common gym equipment which can ease the strain on your lower back:

  1. Start sitting on your bench with your feet tucked beneath its rests and your knees resting against the upward-facing V pads.
  2. Keep your torso straight, at a right angle to your thighs.
  3. Pull your hands into your chest.
  4. Exhale as you steadily twist to the right, then inhale as you return to the center.
  5. Repeat to the left, then go for a full set.

Heel touches

This exercise works the same muscle areas as a Russian twist, but it’s likely to be easier on your back:

  1. Begin lying on your back. Bend your knees, so that your feet rest on the floor near your hips.
  2. Stretch your arms down beside your body.
  3. Lift your head and upper body off the floor a few inches, keeping your core engaged.
  4. Lift your right arm and reach it across your body towards your left foot.
  5. At full extension, hold for a couple of beats before lowering back to the start position.
  6. Repeat with your left arm, reaching over to your right foot.

Bird dog

Let’s round off our alternatives with a bit of yoga. Bird dog gets you really focusing on controlled, steady movements, ideal for building the proper core strength for Russian twists:

  1. Start on your hands and knees, facing down in the tabletop pose.
  2. Lift your left arm and right leg, extending both outwards as you engage your core.
  3. Hold for a few beats, making sure your spine and neck are aligned.
  4. Steadily lower your arm and leg to the starting position, don’t drop them.
  5. Repeat with your right arm and left leg.

If you’ve taken the time to focus on perfect form, Russian twists will work your:

  • Mid-back muscles (erector spinae)
  • Hip flexors
  • Side-back muscles (latissimus dorsi)
  • Side-front muscles (obliques)
  • Core muscles (rectus abdominis)
  • Shoulder (scapular) muscles
  • Deep core muscles (transverse abdominis)

Most conversations about this move focus on how good it is for your core. Having a strong core isn’t only good for exercise and sports. It’s also one of the best ways to prepare yourself for everyday life.

As well as improved rotational and isometric core strength, Russian twists also encourage naturally good posture. At a time when more people than ever are living sedentary lifestyles, this helps redress some of that imbalance.

Finally, this move requires no gym equipment. Anyone can do it in any workout setting on any budget. Even if you’re going for a weighted variant, you can easily swap a random household item for a medicine ball or weight. That makes Russian twists easy to weave into your existing workout.

Russian twists need a decent amount of core strength to maintain the starting V-shape position. Beginners might want to spend time developing that strength before committing to this intermediate-level move.

If you’re adding twists into a standard workout, doing so two or three times weekly is a good start. But if you regularly engage in activities that require rotational strength, aim for four times weekly.

For what amounts to a fairly small step up from core exercises like the plank, Russian twists give you plenty of options. Just be sure to take things slow, especially if you’re new to this type of workout. You can also try a variation to make it easier or more challenging.