NO to Russian Twist !

The Russian Twist exercise is one of the most used exercises for the work of obliques but we must know that many studies discourage their practice because of the high risk of injury that entails for our spine.

While many sports professionals consider that vertebral rotation exercises should be totally avoided, others believe it can be done but the rotation should be made in the thoracic spine and hips if the lumbar spine is blocked during exercise. There are also professionals claim that if the biomechanics of the body allows this movement is because there is no problem.

Many athletes believe that vertebral rotation in this particular exercise should occur especially in the lumbar spine and that, therefore, we must try to actively rotate until the end of the range of lumbar rotation. This leads to a high risk of injury.

The thoracic spine (T1-T12), not the lumbar spine (L1-L5, where the great majority of protrusions and hernias occur) should be the site with the highest amount of trunk rotation in this exercise, basing this instruction on that the axial rotation in the lumbar area is only 5º, while in the thoracic region it reaches 35º.

Aspects that support the risk of injury

  • Compression of the spine. This sitting position requires a strong contraction of the hip flexors and the abdominals exerting excessive compression on the lumbar spine.
  • Flexion of the spine. This sitting position is almost impossible to maintain a neutral spine. This forces the lumbar spine to reach full flexion. Combine this with compression and add a ton of extra tension to your lumbar spine and push the fluid from your disc (nucleus pulposus) towards the back. Increasing the risk of a herniated disc.
  • Flexion and compression combined with rotation. The torsion causes the rings of the spinal discs to separate slowly (creating larger openings for the disc fluid to pass through), reduces the load capacity of the spine and simultaneously adds more compression. This is a risky combination that can cause injuries to the back and spine.

Conclusion

This exercise is risky and can damage your spine.

This type of abdominal exercises (core) are simply not necessary. And there are many other exercises that will generate the same resistance or the same training effect without risk.

Alternative exercises

As we said at the beginning, the problem is not so much the rotation as the vertebral region where it is emphasized. Therefore, far from prohibiting any exercise, it should be noted that the Russian turns are not the most suitable for the work of the obliques because there is a high risk-benefit ratio.

The lateral plates are considered as the optimal and most efficient exercise to maximize the activation of the abdominal muscles and the lumbar quadratus, while minimizing the load on the lumbar spine. Without forgetting another important aspect of this exercise as the requirement of scapulo-humeral stability through the outstanding activity of serratus anterior, trapezius and latissimus dorsi.

Although the lateral plates can be worked with dynamic contractions (eg, isometric contractions + rest + concentric to isometric position + repetition of the cycle), other more dynamic exercises and with transfer even to some sports would be the turns with a standing bar, in those that the movement of lumbar flexion is eliminated and the stability required is much greater.

In any case when practicing any rotation exercise, whatever it is, you must focus the movement in the chest area (thoracic region) maintaining a higher and erect posture, appropriately distributing the stress through a wide range of joint structures that minimize tissue damage and the likelihood of injury

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