Exercise Substitution: The Russian Twist
For whatever reason, the Russian Twist is an exercise that just won’t go away. Most people have seen it before, many people still perform this exercise in the gym, and you might even be performing it right now in your own program. What is the Russian Twist, well for those of you who haven’t seen this exercise it’s essentially sitting at the top of a “sit up position”, knees are bent and feet are off the ground, you hold a weight in front of your abs with bent elbows, and you proceed to twist from left to right (quickly), while maintaining the top of the “sit up” position.
Why? Because it’s though of as an exercise that effectively trains the obliques (the sides of your abs) as well as rotation throughout your core. While it does force the obliques to get a bit of a “burn” it’s doing a whole lot more of what you DON’T want.
What the Russian Twist actually does is place your spine (specifically your lower back) under a tremendous amount of flexion while the hip flexors to stay in a shortened position. Something most people are already doing too much through sitting all day long. Then, from there you’re putting your lower back through rotation, repeatedly, with a load (the weight in your hand) – this is a recipe for injury.
Your lower back has around (or less than) 5 degrees of rotational capability, you DO NOT want to rotate through your lower back. The areas that should be rotating during movements are your hips and thoracic spine. These areas save the lower back from having to rotate. When we rotate repeatedly through the lower back, we can begin to create tears in the discs that space the bones, or cause degeneration of the discs, which in many cases leads to serious pain.
Further more tight hip flexors and a rounded lower back, from sitting all day or training exercises like the Russian Twist, can lead to disc degeneration, disc bulges, or herniation of the discs in the lower back. Again, this leads to pain and possibly surgery – something you don’t want.
To top it all off, the Russian Twist doesn’t even train the core to do what it was designed to do – resist movement and protect the spine. The primary function of the core is to prevent movement through the spine (flexion, rotation, and extension) while allowing movement through the limbs, hips, and shoulders. Core stability allows for power and strength to be created through the limbs. We want to reduce movement through the spine if we want to create and generate force and strength through our movements – the Russian Twist does not train this.
So, what’s a safer and far more effective exercise for training your core?
The Pallof Press
The Pallof Press allows you to train the core the way it was designed to be used, to resist movement through the torso/spine. The Pallof Press specifically focuses on resisting rotation. It also avoids putting the spine in flexion, doesn’t shorten the hip flexors, and doesn’t force movement through the lower spine – all good things.
- Use a cable machine set at a suitable weight (start light) or a light resistance band for this exercises
- Stand with your side facing the band or cable, hold the band or cable handle in the hand that’s closest to the band/cable – place the other hand on top of that hand
- Walk a few feet away from the weight or band, this will increase the tension on the band or raise the weights off of their stack
- Standing tall, stiffen your core, keep the eyes forward, head tall, spine long, feet rooted into the ground
- Begin with the hands in the centre of your chest, elbows tight to your ribs,
- Breath out, and begin to press the band/cable away from your chest by straightening the arms
- It should feel as though the band/cable is trying to twist your body
- Maintain a tight core, resist any movement throughout the torso, hips, feet, and shoulders – the only movement should be the arms extending out
- Stop just before the elbows would lock out, keep a slight bend in the elbows
- Maintain core tension, and begin to “pull” the weight back to the starting position
- Repeat for as many reps as necissary
The Pallof Press is a fantastic way to train your core, if you know how to perform it correctly. As always, perfect form is a must if you want to train the exercise effectively and reduce the risk of injury. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, and you need some help, please set up a meeting with anyone of our great Wynn Fitness Personal Trainers. They’ll be more than happy to help you train your core to a high degree!