The Russian twist is a great exercise to build core and shoulder strength. Athletes use it for rotational movement, which can be seen in sports. Though it seems easy, it takes a lot of effort and stability.

Not quite an advanced athlete? Or are you simply looking to tone the midsection and develop that all-important core strength? Skip the Russian twist and check out the additional abdominal exercises we included.

Below are directions for how to do a traditional Russian twist, along with variations and additional abdominal exercises.

The Russian twist is thought to be named after one of the exercises developed for Soviet soldiers during the Cold War, though its popularity today makes it a universal exercise.

Exercise pointers

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you get started:

  • For beginners, press your feet into the floor or extend them straight out as you get a feel for the movement.
  • Breathe steadily and deeply. Exhale with each twist, and inhale to return to the center.
  • As you twist, keep your arms parallel to the floor or reach down to tap the floor beside you.
  • Engage your abdominal and back muscles throughout the exercise.
  • For more stability, cross your lower legs.
  • Maintain a straight spine, and avoid slouching or rounding your spine.
  • Allow your gaze to follow the movement of your hands.

Exercise instructions

Here’s how to do a Russian twist:

  1. Root into your sit bones as you lift your feet from the floor, keeping your knees bent.
  2. Elongate and straighten your spine at a 45-degree angle from the floor, creating a V shape with your torso and thighs.
  3. Reach your arms straight out in front, interlacing your fingers or clasping your hands together.
  4. Use your abdominals to twist to the right, then back to center, and then to the left.
  5. This is 1 repetition. Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 repetitions.

Weighted twist

Hold a dumbbell, weight plate, or medicine ball between both hands. If you don’t have a weight, grab a compact household item. Choose a weight that allows you to maintain proper form.

Twist the same way as the original variation, keeping the weight at chest level or tapping it to the floor each time.

Leg-cross twists

  1. As you twist to the right, cross your right calf over your left.
  2. Uncross as you twist back to the center.
  3. Cross your left calf over your right as you twist to the left.

Punch twists

With this movement, do a punching motion with your fists instead of using a weight.

  1. Sit with bent knees and your feet pressing firmly into the floor, holding your hands next to your chest.
  2. Sit back slightly, keeping your spine straight.
  3. Exhale as you twist to the left, punching your right arm over to the left side.
  4. Inhale back to center, and then do the opposite side.
  5. This is 1 repetition.

Decline twists

  1. Sit on a decline bench with your hands together or holding a weight.
  2. Twist in the same way as the original version.

In general, the Russian twist is safe for most people. Talk with your doctor or personal trainer if you have any injuries or health conditions that may be affected by this exercise.

Use caution when starting this exercise if you have or develop any concerns about your neck, shoulders, or low back. This exercise has the potential to cause or exacerbate pain in these areas.

Don’t do this exercise if you’re pregnant

The Russian twist targets your midsection, so if you’re pregnant, consult with a doctor or fitness expert before trying on your own.

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Here are some exercises you can do in place of, or in addition to, the Russian twist. These options may be more gentle on your low back or simply feel better for your body.

Side plank

Variations of this exercise include placing your bottom knee on the floor, lifting your top leg, and lowering your hips to the floor and back up again.

  1. Lie on your left side with your feet stacked or with one foot in front of the other.
  2. Place your right forearm or hand on the floor in front of you and lift your hips off the ground.
  3. Keep your hips lifted to form a straight line from the feet to the head.
  4. Hold this position for up to 1 minute.
  5. Do each side 2 to 3 times.

Heel touches

To begin this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor near your hips.

  1. Extend your arms alongside your body.
  2. Engage your core as you lift your head and upper body slightly.
  3. Reach your right arm forward toward your toes.
  4. Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. Then do the left side.
  7. Continue for 1 minute.

Forearm plank twists

To do this exercise, start from a forearm plank position.

  1. Rotate and drop your hips over to the right side.
  2. Gently tap the floor with your hip before returning to the starting position.
  3. Then do the left side.
  4. This is 1 repetition.
  5. Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

Bird dog

Begin from a tabletop position.

  1. Engage your core as you extend your left arm and right leg.
  2. Gaze down toward the floor, keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position.
  3. Hold this position for 5 seconds, keeping your shoulders and hips square.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Then do the opposite side.
  6. This is 1 repetition.
  7. Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 repetitions.

Russian twists are a fantastic core exercise to add to your routine or to use as a base to build one.

Start slowly in the beginning, and allow yourself time to recover after each core workout. Be mindful of how your body reacts to the exercise and adjust accordingly, even if it means choosing an easier variation or taking a break from time to time.

For best results, do Russian twists in addition to cardio, stretching, and strengthening exercises.