Hi guys,  Kris from Custom Fitness here, your personal trainer in Amarillo. I am Enjoying the gorgeous outdoors today and wanted to go over a few techniques for the Russian Twist to help get you some great obliques.  A lot of people seem to have issues performing this exercise correctly, especially if they have low back, shoulder, or hip flexor issues.  I’m going to give you some great tips today on how to make this movement a little easier, work the abs, and take out the stress in the joints.If you have questions about modifying this workout or creating a new program that includes this movement, give us a call 806-322-3188.

Without further ado, we will begin. We begin in a seated position on our mat (or blanket in my case) with our feet planted on the floor. The first thing to watch out for is most people will round their back, right away, in order to pick their feet off the ground.  The moment you rounded your back, you just took away what I like to call your “brick wall”.  These are your abs pressing against your spine. When you no longer have your brick wall you are not able to tighten in the same way in the seated position and are not getting as much as you could out of this movement if you were to use a flat back.

Sit up really tall and straight. Engage your core as if you were sneezing or coughing.  If you only suck in (like you do in a fitting room trying on this year’s swimsuit), you are only displacing organs. If you actually engage the core (the same feeling you get when your muscle contract to sneeze or cough), your ribs push down to your hips and you have just built your brick wall against your spine. and are actively participating in the movement.

We have two ways to do Russian Twists, many people don’t realize that because they are always trying to go bigger, better, or make it harder.  In order to be effective however, we can’t always go with what is bigger or better. We have to find what works for our body in the moment. As a personal trainer in Amarillo, I find it imperative to meet people where they are and help build the body from there.  

Base Form

In order to find our sweet spot for either of these movements we are going to begin by sitting tall and leaning back with a flat back.  Next we lift our toes upward, but leave our heels on the ground for a modification. This takes out the excess stress on the hip flexors and the back.  If you have a little more balance, core strength, or if you’re ready for it, you can lift your heels up while your toes point to the sky.  Feet together or apart is up to your comfort preference.  If you lift the feet, remember to keep leaning back. If you are sitting up straight with your feet off the ground you are losing your core work. So keep leaning back and create an almost 45 degree angle at our hips.  We want to make sure our body is a long flat line and we aren’t starting to melt inward.

Our shoulders are lifted, we are engaging the core, and our feet are lifted.  Now you have 2 more options. You can use weight or no weight. I’ll show you both.

Bodyweight Twist

For a weightless version of this exercise, I am going to cross my arms over my chest. Touching my hands to my opposite shoulders. To take the strain off the back,  I am going to use the effort of my abs to turn me. If I squeeze my abs by envisioning my ribs touching my hips, my muscles will actually turn me, rather than my brain telling my spine to twist through the motion.

Regardless of if your feet are up or down, you want to use your abs as the catalyst for the movement.  You want the motion to be purposeful and intentional that you are squeezing to get to that side, release back to center, squeeze to the other side, release back to center, and repeat for the length of your set. You’ll notice it’s not a huge rotation.

If I use my spine to twist rather than my abs, I’m going to be able to twist much further and my hands are going to come off my center line. My hands should always be in front of my sternum to protect our shoulders and back.  You won’t get any more ab work if you are overextend using the spine.  

If you really focus on using your abs, you are going to get more of a workout than if you have our arms flying to the side, your spine throwing you into a twist.

Bodyweight Lever

Putting your palms together and holding your arms straight out. Your arms will create more of a resistance causing your body to work a bit harder. The motion is the same: stemming from your abs, squeezing ribs to hips, be pulled to one side with your arms staying in front of your sternum, release to center, and repeat to the opposite side. Feet up or down, the motion is the same.

So maybe you’ve made it beyond those and you are ready to up your workout a bit.

You see all these people in the gym doing this exercise with medicine balls or kettlebells. Once you add weight to this, external resistance, you really need to have great form because you can easily become injured without it.  I will show you what it looks like with the feet up and with the feet down, so you can see both and perform it either way.  So, again, form should look like:

  • Spine is flat
  • Core is engaged
  • 45 degree angle at the hips
  • Hands/arms stay directly in front of our sternum

Grab our weight, holding it at the ends, positioned in front of our sternum.  Sit up nice and tall, lean back with your spine flat.  Heels are down to modify or off the ground to intensify, either way toes are pointed up.  Squeeze through the core and with intention, twist, release, twist, release, and repeat. Notice that the weight stays at my center. I am not trying to fling it to the side each time. It stays in nice and tight.

Extend the Lever

To make it harder, move your weight out away from your body.  I would not bring your arms out further than a 90 degree angle at the elbow, otherwise you are causing undo shoulder stress.  Repeat the movement.

Twist and Tap

This version will deepen the oblique response, which is fine. Just remember we want to keep our shoulders safe. They are so delicate and it is too easy to injure them. Sit nice and tall with the weight close to our bodies, lean back, twist with the same engaged abs as before pulling ribs to hips, then we bring the weight down and tap it beside or right behind our hip.  If we twist too far and are tapping the weight in line with our shoulder, then the shoulder will be the only thing that can lug it back to center. Defeats the purpose. So twist and tap by the hip, we have more muscle to help pull that weight back up and we are driving a bit deeper into those ab muscles.

If you want to have some great looking obliques this summer, work on your form. Feel free to do it outside if you want. Start with your feet down and gradually build up from there. Get the most out of what you are doing. If you have any questions about our personal training, nutrition counseling, or group classes and programs, please contact us at: info@customfitness.biz or 806-322-3188. We can even set up a personalized program for you to get to looking your best. At Custom Fitness we are YOUR personal trainers in Amarillo, Texas. Have a great day everybody. I’ll see you tomorrow.