Imagine a vertical line that runs through the body, neatly dividing it into halves. Any movement you make parallel with this line is done in the sagittal plane. Now consider the movements you make during your workouts and how many of them are parallel to this line. It’s probably most of them – from classic bodyweight moves like lunges and squats to free weight exercises like presses and curls. Then, when you do mix it up, the chances are you’ll start moving laterally, with side lunges or skater jumps. These are movements done in the frontal plane.
All of these are excellent exercises that will do you a world of good, but they do not prepare your body for another kind of movement you do regularly, especially if you play a lot of sport – twisting. Consider another imaginary line that cuts your body in half at the waist. Movements where you twist your upper or lower body parallel to this line are said to be done in the transverse plane, and the chances are you don’t do so many of them during your workouts.
Rectify that by doing the Russian twist, which works in the transverse plane and strengthens muscles that you might be missing with your straight-up-and-down crunches and sit-ups, such as the obliques. Regular Russian twisting can also help improve your posture and if you’re about to take up kayaking or canoeing with a vengeance, there is no better core exercise to prepare for life with a paddle.
How To Do The Russian Twist
Start by sitting on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Then lean back so your upper body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keep your back straight at this angle throughout the exercise, as it will be tempting to hunch your shoulders forward. Link your hands together in front of your chest, then brace your core and raise your legs up off the ground. Rotate your arms all the way over to one side, then do the same in the other direction. Count that as one rep and aim for 20 in total, or set a timer for a minute and keep twisting till the beep goes off.
Russian Twist Variations
Grounded Russian twist
If the standard version of the Russian twist is proving too tricky, then you can rest your feet on the ground to make it substantially easier. Ideally you should start with your feet off the ground, knowing that you can always put them down during the set if you’re struggling to complete your reps with good form.
Weighted Russian twist
This progression is probably the most common form of the Russian twist done in gyms, and can be done with any kind of weight you have to hand: a dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, weight plate, sandbag – anything that you can hold in two hands as you twist from side to side. The extra weight increases the challenge to your core, especially when you try to twist back from taking the weight over to the side. For extra credit, try to gently tap your weight on the floor on each side as you twist.
Whatever weight you’re using, it’s important to ensure your body isn’t being dragged out of position during the exercise. Only your torso should be twisting, so if you’re struggling to maintain good form then reduce the weight or go back to the unweighted exercise.
Gym ball Russian twist
As the old saying goes, if you want to make a core exercise harder, introduce a huge inflatable ball. Supporting your upper body on an unstable surface during the Russian twist means that your core has to work all the harder to keep your form and balance. Lie with your upper back on the ball and your feet flat on the ground. Hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell above you with your arms straight. Twist your torso to one side until your arms are parallel to the ground, then twist to the other side.
Lower-body Russian twist
This variation shifts the emphasis of the exercise to your lower abdominals and obliques. Lie with your back and arms flat on the ground forming a T-shape, with your legs held straight up. Keeping your shoulders on the ground, twist your legs over to one side, keeping them straight. When your feet are close to the floor, but not touching, twist them back up and over to the other side.
Standing cable Russian twist
Using the cable machine to resist your twist provides a constant challenge to your core throughout the movement. Set up a handle at chest height on the machine. Stand side-on to the machine and hold the handle in both hands with your arms straight. Keep them straight and twist your torso to move the handle to the other side. Look forwards throughout – this will help ensure you move just your torso, rather than twisting your entire body.