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Russian Twists hurting your lower back? Here's what you might be doing wrong

a photo of a woman on an exercise mat doing a Russian twist
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Not all abdominal exercises were created equal; no amount of sit-ups will build you the core of your dreams. Instead, you need to find exercises that target all of the different abdominal muscles, and pair these with full-body exercises and good nutrition. 

But if you are short of time, what ab exercise do you do? The answer: Russian twists. Russian twists are great at targeting all of the muscles in your core. Even better, this move can help strengthen and stabilize your lower back and work on your balance. 

But how do you a Russian twist, and what are the best modifications to try? Read on to find everything you need to know about this power move. 

How to do a Russian twist 

To do a Russian twist, sit on an exercise mat (if you don’t have one, we’ve hand-picked the best yoga mats for home workouts), and engage your core as you lean backward, lifting your legs off the floor, so you are in a V-shape position. You can cross your legs if it helps, and knot your hands together in front of your body. Bracing your core, twist your torso from side to side, and think about lowering your hands to the side of you as you twist. Follow your hands with your eyeline. Continue to twist from side to side without dropping your legs to the floor. 

Remember to keep the movement slow and controlled. Don’t arch your back in the movement or lean back too far. It’s also worth noting that Russian twists are one of the abdominal exercises that put a bit of pressure on your lower back, so if you do struggle with back pain, it’s worth checking with your doctor before adding these to your regular workout routine. 

What are the common form mistakes? 

If you're experiencing pain in your lower back when doing a Russian Twist, the chances are, you're getting your form wrong. Dr Hazel Wallace took to TikTok to explain. In a video, she shows the incorrect technique, moving from side to side from the lower back, swinging her legs from side to side. She then demonstrates how to do the move correctly, keeping her hips and lower back locked in place, and the rotation comes from the rib cage, not the back. 

If the exercise is too difficult with your feet off the floor, lower them to the ground to ensure you're getting your form right before progressing.  

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What are the benefits of Russian twists? 

Russian twists target all of the abdominal muscles: the rectus abdominis — which are the abdominal muscles that run down the front of the stomach, and are the ones that are visible in a ‘six-pack’ — the transverse abdominis, which are the deepest abdominal muscles; and the obliques, which run along the side of the torso. 

The movement involved in a Russian twist forces you to really engage your core to stay sitting still, but it also works on your stability and targets the muscles in the lower back. These, in turn, can help with your posture. 

Far from being just an aesthetic goal, a strong core is important for a lot of sports, including running and weight training.

What are the best Russian twist modifications?

If you’re finding Russian twists too challenging, you can try the same exercise with your feet lowered to the floor. To do this, sit back on your seat bones and lean back so you feel your core engage. Keep your legs out in front of you, with a bend in your knees and your feet flat against the floor. Engaging your core, rotate from side to side. 

Alternatively, if the Russian twist is too much on your lower back or pelvis, you can try a modification where you kneel down instead of sitting on the mat. To do this, kneel on your mat and lean your upper body backward until you are at around a 60-degree angle. Engage your core and your glutes, and twist your torso from side to side. 

If you’re finding Russian twists too easy, why not add some weight to the movement? Perform the same twist, but hold an adjustable dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands and lower the weight to the floor on either side of the body as you twist. You’ll feel the burn in no time. 

Other exercises to try

Looking for more workout inspiration? We’ve hand-picked the best ab workouts to try for free here, as well as the exercise that’s better than squats at building your glutes, the ab exercise JLo swears by, and the exercise that targets your lower body and core at the same time.

Jane McGuire
Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.