The kettlebell Russian twist is a popular exercise seen in gyms all over the world but is it really all that effective? Could the kettlebell Russian twist even be counterproductive or damaging for your back?
In this article I’ll present why I don’t recommend the Russian twist and why I think there are safer and more effective alternatives.
Here are 5 reasons why I recommend you avoid the Kettlebell Russian Twist:
1Lower Back Problems
The kettlebell Russian twist can unfortunately produce or exacerbate lower back problems.
The kettlebell Russian twist is performed by holding a 45 degree sit up position while at the same time rotating through the spine from one side to the other.
The russian twist has been used for years with medicine balls and weight plates but now with the increase of kettlebells in gyms, with a kettlebell too.
The problem is, ask any osteopath or chiropractor and they’ll tell you that flexion of the spine together with rotation is one of the greatest causes of disc and lower back pain issues. Add to this rotation the extra load of a kettlebell and you are just asking for trouble.
Young healthy spines can often get away with this movement for a while but over time problems can develop. Those with a preexisting lower back pain issues are really chancing their luck by performing this movement.
You could argue that the spine is meant to stay straight and not flexed during this exercise but this rarely happens. With the majority of people suffering from weak core muscles and then the addition of an extra load, like a kettlebell, the spine does become flexed very quickly.
2 Develops a Hunching Posture
I do not recommend the kettlebell Russian twist because it forces you into an already poor postural position.
Think about how you spend many hours of the day and you realise that most of us sit hunched over at a desk, watching TV on the sofa, or bent over looking at phones or screens.
The more time you spend in a forward flexed position the weaker your back extensors become and the tighter your forward flexors. It is common place now to see forward head postures and bad kyphosis in the upper back.
It makes no sense to move from the office where you have been sitting hunched over all day to only go and repeat the same movement in a local gym with a kettlebell.
If anything more people should be using exercises to strengthen the back of the body and correct poor forward leaning postures.
Discover more: 11 Kettlebell exercises to improve your posture
3Inefficient for Fat Loss
If like many people you are performing the kettlebell Russian twist to reduce your waistline then you may want to choose a more efficient exercise.
Many wrongfully believe that the Russian twist is good for losing weight around the waist due to the localisation of the movement.
Unfortunately fat loss doesn’t work in the way you may think. Focusing in on an area with a specific exercise does not increase the fat burning in that area. Arm exercises don’t give ladies skinny arms just as ab exercises don’t reduce your belly fat.
In fact the best way to lose fat from your waist is by improving your diet and performing full body workouts that burn more calories and increase your metabolic rate.
One of the consequences of too many Russian twists is the fact that your obliques will increase in size actually making your waistline look even wider than before.
4Poor Core Exercise
Aside from all else the kettlebell Russian twist isn’t even that great a core or abs exercise.
Scientific research has now shown that the core muscles act to protect the spine against rotation so as to avoid injury.
To exercise the core muscles more effectively you need to brace your core while being forced into rotation. Quite the opposite of the Russian twist.
A great example of an anti rotational exercise is the kettlebell renegade row and its variations.
If you consider the exercise above you can see that posting with one arm and holding a kettlebell with the other forces a rotation through the spine.
As you brace your core muscles you feel an enormous amount of core activation both from preventing rotation and from your hips collapsing.
When you consider this kettlebell exercise you can see how much more effective it would be to develop your core muscles from all directions.
Beginners can practice this exercise without even using a kettlebell and just simulating the movement from a push up position.
Learn more: 5 Progressions of the renegade row
5 No Practical Carry Over into Daily Life
One final reason why there are better exercises than the kettlebell Russian twist is because it doesn’t offer any functional carry over into daily life.
Never in daily life do you need to hold a weight and rotate it side to side from a seated position. Getting great at the Russian twist only really means that you are great at doing Russian twists.
Consider instead the kettlebell farmers carry below:
You can see how getting great at the farmers carry would increase your ability to carry heavier loads for longer and with less fatigue. Plus, the kettlebell farmers carry works deep into the oblique and core muscles by preventing your body from falling sideways.
All of the exercises listed above have great carry over into daily life whether it’s squatting, used every time you sit down and stand up, or bracing your spine from a pushing and pulling position.
Discover more: 5 bodyweight core exercises every beginner should master
Conclusion to the Kettlebell Russian Twist
Kettlebells are a highly effective training tool but using the kettlebell Russian twist is not the best use of the kettlebell.
There are many more effective kettlebell exercises for the core muscles that will not damage your lower back or degrade your posture.
If fat loss is your goal then Russian twists may even be counterproductive to your cause, full body kettlebell exercises would be a better choice.
I hope you found this useful and continue to enjoy the benefits of kettlebell training.
Do you still love the Kettlebell Russian Twist? Let me know more below….
The kettlebell Russian twist can unfortunately produce or exacerbate lower back problems. Using both flexion and rotation while under load are not recommend for spinal health.
Not only are Russian twists bad for your back but they also do not help with fat loss and reducing your midsection. To reduce your waist use full body exercises to burn calories and a well balanced diet.
The risks that come with doing Russian twists far outweigh the touted benefits.
Rob Davie says
Thanks for that Greg on the Russian twist. I was doing this exercise in a gym class the other day and I have a slight twinge in my back. After reading this article I will not do it again.
Greg Brookes says
Yes some people can get away with it Rob but ultimately there are much more effective and safer exercise choices.
Janet Spreiter says
Couldn’t agree more. My back is already in bad shape and Russian twists are no help!