The Russian Twist is a great way to increase your obliques. Although it’s often referred to as the best way to reduce waistline and remove love handles, the risks are far greater than the benefits.
You can make the Russian Twist worse by lifting your trunk and thighs off the ground to form a V-shape, with your back fully round. Then you twist your torso side to side using a heavy weight in each hand. Bryce Hastings is a physiotherapist and Les Mills Head Of Research. He explains why.
What are the main issues with the Russian Twist exercise
Compression is the first problem. To remain in the half-sit-up position, you must contract your abdominals and hips. This causes excessive compression to the lumbar spine.
The second problem is flexion. Your back is not supported by the ground, so you may find yourself in full extension, which is where your spine is round. Combining compression and end-rangeflexion puts a lot pressure on the discs. This position causes the vertebrae’s front to compress. The disc fluid then moves backwards, opening up the back of our lumbar spine. An analogy would be that the discs between the vertebrae are made up of a series fibrous rings and fluid in the middle. Imagine the rings of an onion. The inside is removed and toothpaste injected in the middle. The toothpaste will move in the opposite direction of the compression if you compress the disc at its front. The rounded back position causes a lot of pressure. This drives the disc fluid backwards and eventually the pressure and stretching the fibers at back cause the onion rings to rip. The disc fluid can leak from the middle of your disc and the onion rings will begin to leak.
> While performing an exercise such as the Russian Twist with full flexion, you are actually juicing your discs. However, the fluid is supposed to remain in the middle of your disc.
The last issue is that compression and flexion are combined with rotation. The Russian Twist is like juicing lemons in a squeezer. The lumbar spine only has three degrees of rotation per vertebra. If you attempt to create a lot of rotation you will actually be causing the joint to go to the end-range. This is similar to bouncing into a full-crouch position – your knees are not designed to move that far under that level of joint stress.
What are the potential risks associated with this Russian Twist?
The short-term risk is that you might experience pain while performing the fully flexed Russian twist. Long-term consequences could be worse. This exercise is similar to juicing discs. However, the fluid is supposed to remain in the middle of your disc. Your discs are like shock absorbers for a car. The fluid in the disc buffers the vertebrae and keeps them under tension, so long as it is filled with fluid. You will notice a decrease in fluid integrity and your vertebrae will become closer together. All the ligamentous tissues involved in maintaining the spine’s position become loose and buckled. You may feel back pain when you sit down. An even more severe problem could mean you are unable to exercise. The worst case scenario is a disc bulge, which could require surgery.
What are the Russian Twist’s benefits?
You can evaluate the effectiveness of any exercise by considering the risks and the benefits. Half-sitting up will cause strain on your abdominal muscles. If they become fatigued, you’ll get a training effect.
Rotation adds stress to the disc, which can also have a training effect on your obliques. Although you may feel some abdominal tension, the disc is also being compressed, flexion, and rotated. This effectively just eats the disc.
> While you may be producing abdominal tension, you are also creating compression, flexion, and rotation on your disc. It is just too risky.
Which oblique exercises offer better results?
The Cross Crawl is a great option for targeting your obliques. It is perfect for anyone with lower back sensitivities or any previous injury. Cross Crawl puts your lower back in contact the floor so it can’t move and flex. Your back is at greatest risk if it’s not supported. By keeping your lumbar spine in contact with the floor, the Cross Crawl will ensure that it doesn’t drift into dangerous territory of end-rangeflexion.
“Stuart McGill is a well-known authority on spine biomechanics and does not like Sit-Ups, crunches or similar variations. He recommends that the spine be kept in neutral while training the core and that abdominal tension is generated with moves like Side Planks or Hovers. These exercises create stress in the muscles, but not the same amount of joint stress as the lumbar spine. They are an excellent alternative to the Russian Twist if you need to decrease disc loading.
Do you plank or hover?
Find out the subtle differences between Hover and Plank and why Hover is the best integrated core training move to activate your core. Learn all about it.
“Those who are able to perform at their best must be aware of the cause and effect relationship between low back pain and Crunches/Sit Ups. A 2009 U.S. Army study swapped Sit-Ups for core stabilization exercises like Planks. Planks were found to be significantly more effective than the Sit-Up tests for soldiers.
Hovers, planks, and crunches don’t have to be the only options for core training. Research has shown that BODYCOMBAT(tm), one workout, can offer the same core training benefits as 1,700 crunches. A workout like CXWORX ™, or LES MILLS CORE ™, will expose you to a dynamic range integrated exercises that strengthen all your trunk muscles.
On demand, find a gym that offers a workout
Do you still love the Russian Twist?
These simple tips will help you reduce the risk of getting a Russian Twist.
* Keep your feet grounded. This will decrease the compression from the hip flexors
* Keep a neutral lumbar spine. This means keeping your chest elevated and an inward curve in your lower back.
Stabilize the trunk and legs in this position and then rotate your chest through the middle. Avoid rotating around the waist as this can cause rotation in the lumbar spine.
The Russian Twist: Bryce’s last word…
“A physiotherapist can spend an entire day at the clinic and not see anything other than lumbar or lower back pain. Russian Twists that are not performed correctly can cause this kind of pain. It is therefore not a good idea to include them in your exercise program.
This comprehensive guide will help you learn more about core exercises.