While there are a number of more effective alternatives to crunches1Escamilla, R. F., Lewis, C., Bell, D., Bramblet, G., Daffron, J., Lambert, S., Pecson, A., Imamura, R., Paulos, L., & Andrews, J. R. (2010). Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball and Traditional Abdominal Exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(5), 265–276. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2010.3073 and sit-ups that I recommend for beginners and advanced athletes looking to improve functional core strength, the Russian twist is one of my top picks for the best ab exercises.
But, how do you do Russian twists properly? And when planning your workouts, you may wonder, how many Russian twists should I do in terms of reps and sets?
In this guide, we will discuss how to perform Russian twists, how to modify Russian twist exercises to add variety to your ab workout routine, and ultimately answer your question, how many Russian twists should I do in my workouts?
Let’s jump in!
How Do You Do Russian Twists?
Before we look at how many Russian twists reps you should do, let’s cover how to perform Russian twists and what the muscles worked are.
This will help you ensure that you are not only doing the exercise properly but also provide some information about how many reps of Russian twists you should do so that you balance the ab exercises across all core muscles.
The Russian twist is a classic ab exercise that primarily targets your obliques (the muscles on the sides of your abs).2Oliva-Lozano, J. M., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(12), 4306. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124306
The muscles worked by Russian twists also include the other abdominal muscles, namely the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” ab muscle that is down the center of your stomach), but also the deep transversus abdominis,3Hlaing, S. S., Puntumetakul, R., Khine, E. E., & Boucaut, R. (2021). Effects of core stabilization exercise and strengthening exercise on proprioception, balance, muscle thickness and pain related outcomes in patients with subacute nonspecific low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 22(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-021-04858-6 the erector spinae in the lower back, pelvic floor muscles, and hip flexors.
One of the benefits of Russian twists for abs is that it trains your abs to work together across several planes of motion, which replicates real-life activities.
Essentially, this ab exercise incorporates some transverse plane motion, frontal plane motion, and sagittal plane motion and stability, ultimately making the Russian twist a great functional core exercise.You can perform Russian twists as a bodyweight ab exercise if you are a beginner.
Then, you can advance the Russian twist exercise as you get stronger by holding a dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, or other weight.
Here are the steps for how to do medicine ball Russian twists:
How To Perform A Russian Twist
- Sit up holding a medicine ball in front of your chest with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Engage your core muscles as you lean back with your entire trunk so that you are angled about 45° back and lift your feet off of the ground so that your heels are hovering while you hold your legs out in front of you with your knees bent like a tuck position. Make sure that you do not round your back.
- Keeping your core tight, bring the medicine ball from chest level hovering over your lap to the right side of your body so that it hovers just above the floor next to your right thigh. Do not twist your trunk as you do this, try to keep your abs engaged so that only your upper body is moving. Your hips and legs should stay square and facing forward.
- Then lift the medicine ball and bring it past neutral over to the left side of your body.
- Continue alternating sides. One rep involves bringing the ball to both sides of your body and back.
Modifying Russian Twists
There are several ways to modify Russian twists based on your fitness level and training goals.
Here are some beginner Russian twist modifications:
Put Your Feet Down
Aside from doing bodyweight Russian twists without holding onto a medicine ball or other weighted implement, the simplest way you can make Russian twists easier for beginners is to allow your heels to stay down on the ground while you perform the exercise.
This reduces the workload on your lower abs and hip flexors and will allow you to focus on controlling your core and building the mind-muscle connection with your obliques before layering on the need to hold a V-sit position.
You should still lean your trunk back and keep your knees tucked, but allow the back of your heels to touch lightly on the floor.
Much like getting rid of training wheels when you are learning to ride a two-wheeler bike as a kid, you can gradually wean off of having your heels down by lifting your feet just a little bit off the ground or start with one foot at a time per set of Russian twists.
Eventually, you will be able to hold the tuck position while performing Russian twists.
Practice V-Sits and Tucks
The other helpful tip to get better at Russian twist exercises is to practice modified V-sits and tuck-up crunches.
The modified v-sit exercise is basically just holding the position of a Russian twist with your knees tucked and your feet hovering over the floor.
Like an abdominal plank, you will just hold the exercise in this static position, building course debility and muscle endurance. Start with just 5 to 10 seconds and try to build up to 20 to 30 seconds without putting your feet down.
Make sure that your back stays straight; do not round your lower back. Think about keeping your body in a plank from your butt to your head rather than forming a letter C.
You can also do tuck crunches.
This is basically like double crunches so that you will lift your upper body while simultaneously drawing your knees up and towards your chest.
This is a great ab exercise for core workouts intended to progress you towards Russian twists because you will develop the strength in the rectus abdominis, lower back extensors, and deep core muscles that you need to hold the Russian twist body position.
Advanced Russian Twists
To progress Russian twists as you get stronger, you can straighten your legs so that you are in a true V sit position with your feet pointing to the ceiling rather than keeping your knees bent.
The longer lever arm of straight legs causes your abs to work harder as you perform the exercise.
Then, to increase abdominal strength and build muscle in your abs and obliques, use heavier weights as long as you can maintain proper form.
How Many Russian Twists Should I Do for Abs Workouts?
As with any strength training exercise, the number of Russian twists you should do depends on your fitness level, training goals, and the other workouts and exercises you are performing for the muscles worked by Russian twists.
Here are a couple of guidelines for how many Russian twists you should do:
How Many Russian Twists Should I Do If I’m A Beginner?
The Russian twist is a pretty challenging ab exercise, so beginners should start with bodyweight Russian twists.
Once you have mastered the V sit position and you can perform Russian twists without weight, you can add a light medicine ball or dumbbell to progress the exercise.
A good starting place for the number of Russian twists for beginners is two sets of 6 to 10 reps. Build up to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
One rep of the Russian twist involves twisting to the right side and the left side, so if you prefer to count your Russian twist reps on each side, double these recommendations for how many reps of Russian twists you should do.
If you prefer to do Russian twists for time instead of counting reps, beginners should aim for two sets of 20 seconds.
Then, build up to three sets of 30 seconds of Russian twists.
How Many Russian Twists Should I Do to Build Strength and Muscle?
If you are advanced and have strong abdominal muscles, add resistance with increasingly heavier medicine balls, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
Perform 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps of Russian twists to increase strength and build muscle.
It’s better to add more resistance and perform fewer reps per set to increase ab strength and build muscle.
However, make sure you can safely handle the weight and you’re not straining your abs, hip flexors, or spine.
How Many Russian Twists Should I Do to Increase Muscle Endurance?
The number of Russian twists you should do for muscle endurance depends on numerous factors, but a good general recommendation is to perform 3-5 sets of 15 or more reps.
With any strength goal or fitness level, try to perform a variety of core exercises so that you have a well-rounded core strengthening routine.
For more great workout ideas, check out some stability ball exercises here.
- 1Escamilla, R. F., Lewis, C., Bell, D., Bramblet, G., Daffron, J., Lambert, S., Pecson, A., Imamura, R., Paulos, L., & Andrews, J. R. (2010). Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball and Traditional Abdominal Exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(5), 265–276. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2010.3073
- 2Oliva-Lozano, J. M., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(12), 4306. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124306
- 3Hlaing, S. S., Puntumetakul, R., Khine, E. E., & Boucaut, R. (2021). Effects of core stabilization exercise and strengthening exercise on proprioception, balance, muscle thickness and pain related outcomes in patients with subacute nonspecific low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 22(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-021-04858-6