There are all sorts of unique exercises designed to workout different areas of your body. Russian twists have become a popular way for individuals to strengthen their obliques, especially since they can help to trim your waistline and reduce those pesky love handles. That all sounds too good to be true, right?
Believe it or not, numerous experts disagree with the benefits the Russian Twist can provide, warning people about how dangerous this exercise can be for your body. Is this interestingly named move as bad as they make it sound, or is it the ultimate way to shape up those obliques?
What is the Russian Twist?
The Russian Twist is an exercise performed with your thighs lifted, creating the shape of a V while seated on the floor. The knees are bent, and your upper body is also elevated. Perpendicular to your torso, your arms are held out in a fully extended position.
From there, you twist your torso from side to side, making your arms parallel with the floor as you move. This exercise requires you to breathe in each time you return to the starting position, exhaling as you bend to either side. You might see some individuals hold a weight while they do this, but it isn’t a necessary step to take so long as you do the recommended amount of reps per your workout regimen.
The belief is that this exercise works your core as you hold your legs and torso in the V position, and shapes your sides as you move back and forth. It is designed to work your entire waistline as well as your abdominal muscles.
What Problems Does It Pose?
Numerous physiotherapists and workout gurus list some problems posed by the Russian Twist. While it might be able to trim your waistline, you may want to take the following into consideration.
Holding your body in that V formation, which is essentially a half sit-up, requires your abdominal muscles to contract more so than they do during other exercises. Your hip flexors have to do the same in order for you to hold this position, which is where the workout is effective.
However, this position also puts immense strain on the lumbar section of your spine. Whether you have pre-existing back conditions or not, you run the risk of injuring your lower spine over time without properly supporting it.
Without support for your lumbar spine, you enter what is referred to as full flexion. In other words, your spine is fully rounded. In combination with the increased compression mentioned above, flexion puts immense pressure on your spinal discs.
While your spine is rounded, the back of each vertebra opens up. This causes spinal fluid to move towards the back, leaving little cushion on the other side. At the same time, this increases the pressure on the back end, which can cause the spinal discs to tear.
This won’t happen the first, second, or hundredth time you try the Russian Twist, but it can cause a serious problem as time goes on. Leaking disc fluid and a lack of cushioning can eventually cause your vertebrae to rub together, which may require surgery or the help of a walker just to get around.
The last issue that the Russian Twist poses is rotation in combination with compression and flexion. Once you add in the twisting of your vertebrae on top of everything else, this exercise has a similar effect to juicing a lemon in a squeezer on your spine.
Your spine is only meant to bed so far, with each vertebra doing its part to help you move in a given direction. Rapidly rotating your spine to its fullest extension on either side, especially given the increased pressure, is a recipe for permanent spinal injury.
What Are the Risks?
While understanding what goes on inside of your body during this exercise is important, it doesn’t mean too much without knowing what risks those problems can pose. Short-term complications are limited to just one issue. You might feel some pain in your lower back while performing the exercise.
That doesn’t sound so bad since plenty of exercises can be excruciating when trying them out for the first time. However, the cause of this pain is something that can become a serious issue for you down the road.
We already discussed permanent damage, using a walker, and possible surgery, but those all seem a little extreme from just performing a Russian Twist. The real risk this exercise poses is the slow degradation of your spinal discs, which can lead to those complications later in life.
Your vertebra work in a similar way to couch cushions. They keep the bones in your hip from grinding against a hard-wooden frame, offering a much more comfortable place to sit. In the same way, spinal discs provide a cushion between your vertebra as they move about.
Over time, the pressure and movements placed on these discs can cause them to wear down or lose fluid just like the cushions on a couch become deflated. This happens naturally to some degree, but the Russian Twist can speed the process up exponentially.
The walls of the discs begin to wear down, eventually leaking their cushioning fluid. The ligaments holding everything in place begin to lose their elasticity, too. Together, these end up causing two major spinal issues.
The first is a bulging disc, which occurs when fluid swells up on one side of the disc. If you’re unfamiliar with this issue, it is excruciatingly painful and requires surgery to fix. A bulging disc can make it near impossible to stand up or sit down, and will ultimately complicate daily tasks.
The second issue is your vertebra rubbing against one another. The sheer thought of bone scraping bone is enough to make most people cringe, but the pain that comes with this issue is equally unbearable as a bulging disc. Unfortunately, it is too late for surgery by the time this happens.
Avoiding both is as easy as stretching, but you’ll also need to watch out for exercises and habits that can increase their chances of happening. For these two reasons, many experts warn exercisers against the Russian Twist.
What Are the Benefits?
Despite these warnings and possible life-altering complications, several choose to continue doing the Russian Twist for the benefits it provides. The same tension that harms your spine is an intense workout for both your abs and your hips, effectively toning those areas up while trimming down the fat.
The rotating motion ensures that every area of your waist receives a full workout, while the starting position alone demands intense core work from your body. Whether it’s staying in shape or losing weight, the Russian Twist can certainly get the job done.
However, the effectiveness of the exercise is a matter of benefits versus the risks. When you look at the ability to trim your waist versus the spinal complications it can cause, this one simply isn’t worth it. There are plenty of other exercises out there that can help you achieve the same results in a much safer way.
What Other Oblique Exercises Can You Do?
We’ve gathered two unique exercises that professionals use to keep their waists slim and muscular, both of which are gentle on your spine. Try these out if you want to see the same results without any dangerous risks involved.
The Cross Crawl
This exercise is performed while laying on the floor, preferably on a carpet or a mat. Keep your legs and arms outstretched, with your arms laying back past your head. From there, you alternate moving both as one hand meets one knee.
For this workout, you would raise your right arm straight off the ground and bring your left leg inward while bending your knee. Once your palm touches your knee, bring them both back to the starting position and do the same with your left arm and right leg.
The cross crawl effectively works your abdominals and hip flexors much like the Russian Twist would, but your spine is supported and cannot extend into a dangerous position. At the same time, this workout helps to improve cognitive function.
For this exercise, lay sideways on the floor while supporting yourself with your arm, keeping your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle while aligning it with your shoulder. Your legs can be overlapped, or you can use both feet to support your body further.
From there, extend your top arm out as straight as can be and hold this position as long as possible. If you want to go the extra mile, work on raising and lowering your hips slightly while holding the position. Make sure to do an equal amount of reps on each side.
Either of these exercises provides a safe alternative to the Russian Twist that works out the same muscle groups and provides the waist slimming results you’re looking for. Best of all, they won’t leave you with a severely injured spine!