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Tip: Strengthen Your Core, Save Your Spine

What's better than great looking abs? Building them without wrecking your back. Try this simple but effective modification to the Russian Twist to build your abs, the right way.

Depending on who you talk to, the Russian Twist is either a great ab builder, or an enemy of the spine to be avoided at all costs. As usual the truth lies somewhere in between. Performed correctly, these can be a great way of building your abs (particularly the oft-neglected obliques). Lets dive a little deeper.

First the bad stuff. The problem with the Russian Twist is twofold. Firstly, there is plenty of research showing that repeated or sustained flexion of the spine, particularly when combined with rotation, can damage the inter-vertebral discs. Unfortunately this position is all too common in a poorly performed twist. Secondly, it is an exercise where people tend to go too fast and too heavy. Anyone who has ever watched these being performed in most commercial gyms will know what I'm talking about. We've all seen that person that looks like a fish flailing about on the floor, slamming a medicine ball from side to side with a look somewhere between pain and terror on their face. Perform these for a few years, and its little wonder they have gained a reputation as spine destroyers.

However, before we throw the baby out with the bath water, lets see if there is some merit to performing these (the right way of course). Well first off they do a pretty good job of targeting not just the rectus abdominus, but the obliques also, which often tend to get ignored in a lot of core training. Secondly if performed correctly, they do a great job of enhancing inter-muscular coordination, particularly if performed with a few tweaks. In the video below, we will look at one of my favourite variations.


Its best to put these in as one of the first exercises in your core routine. They can be performed as part of a superset or circuit, but if the core is already fatigued, it makes it tricky to hold the correct spinal position. For this reason these are best performed when your core is still relatively fresh. For intensity, keep the weights low and focus on the quality of movement. Because they can be so challenging, I personally like to keep the weights pretty light and focus more on higher reps. Believe me, after a few sets of 30 reps, 5kg will feel like plenty!

Easy Beginners Program

Perform 1x or 2x per week

Use between 2.5-5kg to start (lighter if necessary)

Week 1: 3 sets of 6

Week 2: 4 sets of 6

Week 3: 3 sets of 10

Week 4: 4 sets of 10

Week 5: 3 sets of 14

Week 6: 4 sets of 14

At this point, you can add a small amount of weight, or my personal preference is to just keep on pushing the reps higher. If you can perform 5 sets of 30 reps with great form, you'll have gone a long way to achieving a bulletproof midsection. Again, these can be performed as a stand alone core routine, or as a part of your other core training.

Remember, focus on the quality of the movement, start off very light and stay slow and controlled until you have earned the right to speed up.

Give these a shot next time you want to try something new (or at least a new twist on an old..... um, twist). Then go ahead and realise that 5kg can actually make you hate your own face. That's right. Take it.

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