Although it may sound like an exotic beverage, the Russian twist is an effective core-strengthening exercise that is easy to learn and modifiable and can be performed with or without fitness equipment. The exercise strengthens and tones your abdominals, including the rectus abdominis, which contracts to support you as you sit and lean back to do the exercise. In this "lean-back" position, your belly flattens when your powerful transverse abdominis pulls your navel toward your spine to protect your back. As you perform the twist, you flex your obliques, which run along your sides.
The Russian twist is a seated exercise. After a five-minute warm-up of rhythmic activities, such as walking or light cycling, sit on the floor or on a mat with your knees bent, your heels on the floor and your toes pointing up. Balance on your sit-bones as you lift your chest and straighten your spine to maintain good posture. Position your hands in front of your chest and then rotate your hands, arms and chest to the right as far as you can comfortably twist while maintaining a straight back. Exhale, return to the center and then repeat the twist to your left. Aim to complete two or three sets of eight to 12 twists to each side.
Once you are able to complete three sets of the Russian twist without weights, add resistance in the form of a medicine ball or kettlebell. Hold the weight between your hands in front of your chest. Begin with a light weight, such as 6 pounds, and increase the resistance as your core strength improves. Keep the weight close to your torso to reduce the challenge or extend your arms to increase it. Perform Russian twists two or three times a week during your abdominal training routine. Allow for a day of rest in between weighted twist workouts. Add the twist to your current list of exercises or substitute abdominal crunches or sit-ups with the twist for workout variety.
When you can perform three sets of Russian twists while holding a medicine ball or kettlebell, further increase the difficulty of the exercise with a change in your leg position. Instead of resting your heels on the floor while you twist, flatten your abdominals by pulling your navel toward your spine and raise your feet off the floor. Keep your knees bent as a beginner or straighten your legs into a "V" position for the advanced option. Perform the exercise without resistance first to practice form and then hold a medicine ball, kettlebell or dumbbell as you twist. Add more intensity by increasing your range of motion and gently tapping the medicine ball or kettlebell to the ground as you twist to the side. Always keep your hips in a stable position.
The American Council on Exercise suggests a Russian twist alternative that supports your back with a stability ball. This is a comfortable option if the seated Russian twist causes or aggravates back pain. Lie face up on a large stability ball, with the ball behind your upper back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor at hip-distance apart. Extend your arms toward the sky and place your palms together. Look up toward your hands and follow your hands as you lower your arms to the right. Lift your left shoulder blade off the ball. Return your arms to the starting position. Lower your arms to the left and lift your right shoulder blade off the ball. Keep your lower body still as you rotate to target your obliques. Aim to perform two or three sets of 10 to 12 twists to each side. Add resistance and hold onto a lightweight medicine ball once you can complete three sets of 12 twists without weights. The medicine ball is a sturdy, easy-to-hold resistance that shouldn't dramatically shift your position or cause you to fall off the stability ball.