How to do Russian Twists

What are Russian Twists?

The training montages from the Rocky Balboa films are more energizing than most pre-workout energy supplements. Watching Rocky train for his boxing matches still gives me chills and shots of adrenaline, and I would argue that the training scene in Rocky IV tops the series’ montage list.

In the Rocky IV training scene, Rocky prepares to fight the deadly and intimidating Russian, Ivan Drago. The training scene records both Rocky’s and Ivan’s preparation for the US/Russian boxing bout. Ivan’s training method utilizes machines and measurements, and his scientific and exact approach is contrasted to Rocky’s brutish bodyweight exercises, where Rocky trains in barns, mountains and the freezing cold.

*Spoiler – Rocky defeats Drago, even though he uses more rudimentary exercises. This fact is my 7th reason for why bodyweight exercises are extraordinarily effective

At the 5:23 mark of this scene, both Rocky and Ivan perform an advanced Russian Twist movement. Rocky does the movement with what looks like a yoke for an ox, and Ivan does the movement upright with a machine. The Russian Twist that we will do is several steps down from these men’s training exercises, but the same muscles are engaged and strengthened.  

Russian Twists are a core exercises that blasts your entire midsection, with a particular emphasis on your obliques. Your obliques are a group of muscles on the front sides of your stomach, and they support the twisting and turning motion for your torso. It is a challenging movement that requires flexibility in your lower back and hips, and there are easier exercises that I’d recommend you start with (see regression at the end of the post). But this exercise is useful to strengthen your obliques, and oblique training should be a part of any core training program.


The following muscle group is engaged by Russian Twists:

  • Core

How to Do Russian Twists (Instructions):

Start while sitting on the floor. Raise your legs of the ground with your knees bent and put your hands together in front of your chest. Rotate your torso with your arms to the right, until your hands are just above the floor. Rotate your torso to the left, until your hands are just above the floor. Repeat.

Trainer Tips for Russian Twists: 

  • Progression (make harder)
    • Perform the movement slowly. While rotating to the right, count to two, and while rotating to the left, count to two. 
    • Perform the movement while holding something. This can be a textbook, a gallon of milk, a medicine ball, a dumbbell, or a baby. 
  • Regression (make easier)
    • Perform side-planks. This exercise works the same muscles as the Russian Twists without the torque.
  • Application:
    • Do 3 sets of 12-20 repetitions (each side) of Russian Twists as a part of your core workout.
    • Hold the regular Plank movement for 20 seconds, then rotate your body and support yourself on your right arm for a side plank for 20 seconds, then rotate your body and support yourself on your left arm for a side plank for 20 seconds. Rest for 1-2 minutes, and repeat 3x. 

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