How to Do Oblique Twists: Proper Form, Variations, & Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Russian twist

Targets: Abdominals, obliques

Equipment Needed: Medicine ball

Level: Intermediate

The seated oblique twist exercise, sometimes called the Russian twist, is a very effective exercise for strengthening the abdominal muscles. Using a medicine ball in the exercise adds a challenge to the workout.

You can do this exercise as part of a core strengthening workout along with exercises such as the plank, crunch, and bridge. It can be also part of a total body strengthening workout and is especially good if you are in a sport where you throw a ball or swing a club.

How to Do Seated Oblique Twists With a Medicine Ball

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How to Use A Medicine Ball In a Seated Oblique Twist

  1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor (easier) or raised up off the floor (more difficult). If you have difficulty holding the position and your feet shift about, try tucking them beneath a stable object.
  2. Contract your abs and sit at about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Hold the medicine ball with both hands, directly in front of you.
  4. Contracting your abs, twist slowly from your torso to your right and touch the medicine ball to the floor beside you. Pause to hold the position a moment.
  5. Quickly, but smoothly, contract your abs and twist your torso back to the center position, and then proceed on to touch the medicine ball to the floor on the other side of you.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  7. To end, bring the ball in front of your body and sit up. Carefully place the ball on the ground without undue twisting.

Benefits of Oblique Twists

The oblique twist is a great exercise that works many muscles in your core. Not only does it exercise the rectus abdominis, but it also hits the external obliques and internal obliques. Using a weight, medicine ball or stability ball in the exercise adds tension to the core muscles, really giving them a workout.

Strengthening the core muscles is important to your health and fitness. A strong core protects the spine, promotes good posture, and helps with balance.

If you sit at a desk for work, for example, your strengthened core will help you sit with better posture. This can help you avoid lower back pain and lessen overall exhaustion and muscle soreness.

Athletes in sports that require rotational power (as in golf) or throwing may see improvement in their game from this exercise.

Other Variations of Seated Oblique Twists With a Medicine Ball

There are plenty of options you can use to make this exercise work for you or to elevate the burn.

Incorporate Different Weights

If you can't find a medicine ball to use at your gym, you can use other weights in a variation. For example, hold a weight plate firmly by the edges between your hands with arms extended outward in front of you and perform the exercise. Twist until your arms are parallel to the floor on each side.

Skip the Equipment

If beginning with a medicine ball is too challenging, perform the exercise with nothing your hands. Hold your arms extended out in front of you and follow the same motion as described above.

Twist to each side until your arms are parallel to the floor (since there's no ball to touch to the floor). This will help you become familiar with the exercise and build up your strength to the point that you can add the medicine ball to the exercise.

You can move up a step in intensity by holding a small stability ball during the exercise. Hold it between your hands with arms extended out away from the body. Twist to each side until your arms are parallel to the floor.

Stand Up

If you're recovering from a lower back injury or want to take extra precautions, try this exercise standing up. To alleviate some of the pressure on your back, do the standing oblique twist. In this move, you'll stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms at your sides (creating a T-shape) and slowly twist from right to left. You'll still feel the burn in your side abdominals.

Add in a Cable

If you have access to a cable machine, either at home or at the gym, try elevating this workout by performing cable oblique twists (also known as cable woodchops). Standing in front of the cable machine, grip the handle of the cable and pull it diagonally down across your body. Rotate at the core, feeling the extension in your side abdominals. Complete reps on each side.

Do it on a Decline

To further engage your core, head to a decline bench. While laying down on the bench, hold the medicine ball against your chest. Engage your core and slowly bring your body up, twisting when you reach a seated position. Return to starting position and switch sides. Complete reps on each side.

Slow Down

Performing this exercise slower gives it more challenge. Just be sure that you are not stopping between repetitions.

Raise Your Legs

The mason twist is a version done with the legs extended and off the floor, as in a V-sit.

Try Standing Oblique Twists

Common Mistakes

Below are common mistakes to avoid:

Sloppy Form

If your form is sloppy, you will be placing a lot of stress on your lumbar vertebrae. If you find you are getting a rounded back and a lot of twisting of your lower back, work on the move without using a weight until you get the form right.

Holding Your Breath

It can be tempting to hold your breath. Be sure to breathe in and out normally throughout the exercise.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise places a lot of stress on the lower back, so it should be avoided if you have a back injury. If you feel any pain in your back or shoulders, end the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health. 2013;5(6):514–522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200

  2. Kumar T, Kumar S, Nezamuddin M, Sharma VP. Efficacy of core muscle strengthening exercise in chronic low back pain patients. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2015;28(4):699-707. doi:10.3233/BMR-140572

  3. Effects of core and non-dominant arm strength training on drive distance in elite golfers. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2016;5(2):219-225. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2014.12.006

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.