10 Best Russian Twist Alternatives (That Work Better)

10 best russian twist alternatives (that work better)

The Russian twist is a very popular exercise for training the abdominal and oblique muscle groups. Most beginners will likely do Russian twists in their core workouts. However, this can get boring and cause lower back discomfort over time. 

So what are the best alternatives to the Russian twist exercise?

The 10 best Russian twist exercise alternatives are:

  1. Cable Wood Chop
  2. High to Low Cable Wood Chop
  3. Low to High Cable Wood Chop
  4. Landmine Wood Chop
  5. Half Kneeling Landmine Wood Chop
  6. Pallof Press
  7. Half Kneeling Pallof Press
  8. Deadbug
  9. Weighted Deadbug
  10. Cable Deadbug

In this article, I will go through each exercise, including what makes it a good alternative, how to do it, and some additional tips to help you master your exercise technique.

What Makes A Good Russian Twist Alternative?

A good Russian twist alternative will be able to accomplish 2 things:

  • Activate the abdominal and oblique muscle groups
  • Have a rotational or anti-rotational element to the execution

Let’s understand this in a bit more detail.

Muscles Used in a Russian Twist

The primary muscles trained in a Russian twist are:

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Transverse Abdominis
  • External Obliques
  • Internal Obliques

The rectus abdominis is the long strip of core muscle on the front of the torso below the ribcage and above the pelvis. It is commonly known as the six-pack muscle.

The transverse abdominis is a deeper layer of abdominal muscle that is underneath the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles.

The rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis both act to either bend through the spine or stop the spine from extending or arching. The Russian twist prevents the overextension and overarching of the spine.

The external and internal obliques, which run along the outside of your core, work to flex the spine sideways, help the spine to rotate, or help stop the spine from rotating the other way.

A good Russian twist alternative will target these same muscle groups, though each exercise will work them to varying extents.

Have a Rotational or Anti-Rotational Element to the Execution

Russian Twist

The movement of the Russian twist has a rotational element, and a good replacement for the Russian twist must also have either a rotational element or an anti-rotational element to it. 

An anti-rotational element means that both the abdominals and obliques work to stop the spine from rotating during the exercise.

The reason why you might use an anti-rotation exercise as a sub for a rotational exercise like the Russian twist is that you would train core stability and create postural stiffness. This is useful for improving your core strength for squats and deadlifts.

If you’re wondering how to increase your ab strength in more ways, check out my article on The 9 Best Ab Exercises For Powerlifters

Russian Twist Alternatives: 10 Exercises

1. Cable Wood Chop

The cable wood chop is a very popular alternative to the Russian twist that is suitable for beginners as you can choose very light weights to begin this exercise. 

This variation should be performed with a cable machine with a single-arm handle attachment.

How To Do It

  • Set up a cable column machine so that the cable handle starts at about chest level.
  • Make sure you are more than an arm’s reach away from the cable column handle.
  • Stand so you are perpendicular to the cable machine, and one of your arms is to the side of the machine.
  • Make sure that your feet are about shoulder-width apart.
  • Rotate your pelvis, so it faces toward the cable column, and hold onto the cable handle with both hands.
  • Make sure the foot furthest away from the cable column is on its toes and points in the direction of the cable column.
  • With straight arms, rotate away from the cable column along with the cable handle by rotating your pelvis and torso.
  • Stop until your arms now point directly away from the cable column.
  • When doing this, make sure the foot furthest away from the cable column is flat and pointed forward while the other foot has pivoted and points towards the other. The foot nearest the cable column is now on its toes.
  • Slowly return the cable handle to the start position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  • Face the opposite way and repeat the same process for the other side.

Pro Tip

To progress this exercise, you can either exclusively use a resistance band or attach a resistance band from the cable handle to the cable column’s fixed beam. This will increase the tension in the repetition when the cable handle is furthest away from the cable column.

This is useful for encouraging a more explosive execution, which can be helpful for rotational athletes such as golf players or tennis players.

2. High to Low Cable Wood Chop

The high-to-low cable wood chop is similar to the regular cable wood chop, but due to the direction that the cable is going, there is more emphasis on the abdominals and obliques.

This exercise can be used as a progression from the regular cable wood chop. It also makes a good progression from the Russian twist.

How To Do It

  • Set up a cable column machine so that the cable handle starts at head level or higher.
  • Make sure you are more than an arm’s reach away from the cable column handle.
  • Stand so you are perpendicular to the cable machine and one of your arms is to the side of the machine.
  • Make sure that your feet are about shoulder-width apart.
  • Rotate your pelvis to face the cable column, and hold onto the cable handle with both hands.
  • Make sure the foot furthest away from the cable column is on its toes and points in the direction of the cable column.
  • Make sure your abdominals are kept nice and tight, so you do not over-extend your lower back.
  • With straight arms, rotate away from the cable column along with the cable handle by rotating your pelvis and torso.
  • Stop until your arms now point directly away from the cable column and towards the floor.
  • When doing this, ensure the foot furthest away from the cable column is flat and pointed forward while the other foot has pivoted and points towards the other. The foot nearest the cable column is now on its toes.
  • Slowly return the cable handle to the start position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  • Face the opposite way and repeat the same process for the other side.

Pro Tip

If you want to isolate the abdominal and oblique muscles more, you can set yourself up in a half-kneeling position. You do this by setting the knee closest to the cable column on the floor and stepping forward with the foot furthest away from the cable column. This will reduce the movement at the hip and legs and maximize movement at the core.

3. Low to High Cable Wood Chop

The low-to-high cable wood chop is similar to the high-to-low cable wood chop and makes a good progression from the Russian twist. The difference with this exercise is that there is more tension in the lower back muscles.

How To Do It

  • Set up a cable column machine, so the cable handle starts from the bottom.
  • Make sure you are more than an arm’s reach away from the cable column handle.
  • Stand so you are perpendicular to the cable machine, and one of your arms is to the side of the machine.
  • Make sure your feet are about shoulder-width apart.
  • Rotate your pelvis to face the cable column, and hold onto the cable handle with both hands.
  • Make sure the foot furthest away from the cable column is on its toes and points in the direction of the cable column.
  • Make sure your back is flat, so you do not flex and slouch in your lower back.
  • With straight arms, rotate away from the cable column along with the cable handle by rotating your pelvis and torso.
  • Stop until your arms now point directly away from the cable column and towards the ceiling.
  • When doing this, ensure the foot furthest away from the cable column is flat and pointed forward while the other foot has pivoted and points towards the other. The foot nearest the cable column is now on its toes.
  • Slowly return the cable handle to the start position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  • Face the opposite way and repeat the same process for the other side.

Pro Tip

A good mental cue is to think about getting the cable handle as high as possible. This cue will help you keep your arms as straight as possible so you can maximize the tension going through your core muscles.

Thinking too much about rotating can encourage you to bend your arms and pull, increasing activation in your arm, shoulder, and upper back muscles. 

4. Landmine Wood Chop

The landmine wood chop is a great barbell alternative to the Russian twist. It is more similar to the Russian twist than the cable wood chop because you alternate from side to side as opposed to training one side for all the reps before moving on to the other side.

How To Do It

  • First, safely secure a barbell into a landmine station or a corner of a room.
  • Stand facing the barbell while holding it in the air at about head level. Your arms should be held at about 45 degrees and towards the ceiling.
  • While keeping your arms straight, rotate the barbell towards one side and rotate your pelvis and ribcage to face the barbell. Keep your head fixed and facing forward throughout.
  • Allow your feet to pivot and rotate toward the direction of where the barbell is.
  • Rotate the barbell towards the middle, and bring your feet back to point forward again.
  • Do the same thing towards the other side, and then rotate the barbell back towards the middle again.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

A helpful mental cue is to think about pointing your pelvis towards the barbell throughout. This will ensure that movement will rely more on your core muscles than your arms and shoulders to rotate the barbell.

5. Half-Kneeling Landmine Wood Chop

The half-kneeling landmine woodchop is more of an anti-rotation exercise than a rotation exercise. That means that the abdominals and obliques work to stop the torso from rotating rather than actually rotating the torso.

This variation improves core stability for large compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups, such as squats. This is suitable for intermediate exercisers and beyond.

How To Do It

  • To set up this exercise, insert a barbell into a landmine station or jam the barbell into a corner of a room.
  • Position yourself in a half-kneeling position with one knee down and the other foot forward with the knee bent.
  • Face the end of the barbell and hold the barbell up to above head level. Your arms should be about 45 degrees from horizontal.
  • While keeping your torso fixed and facing forward, allow your barbell to descend towards one side with straight arms.
  • Once you reach your maximum range of motion, bring the barbell back up towards the midline.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions
  • Alternate your leg positions to do the same process for the other side for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

It is very easy to get complacent and let the barbell go lower than it should. Or you may think that more range of motion is better. However, you should not let your spine bend sideways when the barbell is by the side if you are looking to focus on core stability.

For core stability, you want your core muscles to work in a way to make your posture as rigid as possible.

6. Pallof Press

The Pallof press is a beginner-friendly alternative that is easier when compared to the Russian twist because holding yourself in a sit-up position is harder than standing upright. The Pallof press is suitable for all levels because you can use extremely light resistance on the cable machine.

How To Do It

  • Set up a single-arm handle and attach it to a cable column that is set to about mid-torso height.
  • Grab onto the handle with both hands and stand to the side of the cable column with enough distance that the weight stack has lifted.
  • Make sure you are standing with a hip-width stance with slightly bent knees and hips.
  • Make sure that you are facing perpendicular to the direction of the cable.
  • Hold the cable handle by your mid-torso, press it out directly in front of you, and hold this position momentarily.
  • Slowly return the handle back towards your torso.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions and change sides. Repeat the same process once you have turned around.

Pro Tip

You can increase the activation in your abdominals and obliques by bringing the cable to start from higher up the cable column. The weight will try to pull you upward, which can cause you to arch through your back. To compensate, your abs will work hard to stop that.

7. Half-Kneeling Pallof Press

The half-kneeling Pallof press is a variation of the Pallof press that isolates the core muscles more than the regular standing one. This means you are likely going to use less weight than you’d use with the regular Pallof press.

How To Do It

  • Position yourself far enough away from the cable column that if you were to hold the cable handle in front of you, the weight stack would lift off.
  • Face perpendicular to the cable column in a half-kneeling stance with your foot of the knee nearest to the cable column on the floor.
  • Set up a single-arm handle and attach it to a cable column that is set to about lower chest height.
  • Grab onto the handle with both hands and hold it by your mid-torso.
  • Press it out directly in front of you and hold this position momentarily.
  • Slowly return the handle back towards your torso.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions and change sides. Repeat the same process once you have turned around.

Pro Tip

If you want to challenge your stability more and make it harder for you to balance while performing this movement, lift the kneeling leg off the floor, so you are in a split stance rather than a half-kneeling position. You will activate your hip and leg muscles more to help you maintain your balance.

8. Dead Bug

The dead bug is a bodyweight alternative to the Russian twist that can activate the obliques but focuses more on the abdominal muscles. This exercise is harder than a Russian twist, making it more suitable for intermediates than beginners. However, some beginners can perform this exercise as well.

How To Do It

  • Lay down on the floor facing up with your arms vertically in the air.
  • Bend your knees and hold them directly above your hips so that your hips and knees are at 90 degrees. Make sure that your shins are horizontal.
  • Make sure that your back is firmly flat on the floor throughout the execution.
  • Extend one leg and the opposite arm towards the floor or as low as you can go without your back lifting off the floor.
  • Return the arm and leg to the starting position, extend the other arm and leg towards the floor, and then bring them back to the starting position. This counts as one repetition.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

A good adjustment you can make if you find it hard to start with your lower back on the floor is to put a block underneath your head, so your ribcage does not lift as much, which is what causes your back to arch.

9. Weighted Dead Bug

The weighted dead bug can be a harder or easier variation of the regular dead bug, depending on whether you move your arms or not. The regular weighted dead bug has stationary arms with a single load held above your shoulders, while the harder variation has you move your arms over your head as you extend your legs.

How To Do It

  • Lay down on the floor facing up with your arms vertically in the air while holding onto a weight such as a weight plate or dumbbell.
  • Reach towards the sky enough that your shoulders round upward a bit. This encourages your ribcage to stay back and down to help activate the abdominals more.
  • Your knees should be bent and held directly above your hips so that your hips and knees are at 90 degrees. Make sure your shins are parallel to the floor.
  • Make sure your back is firmly flat on the floor throughout execution.
  • Extend one leg towards the floor or as low as you can go without your back lifting off the floor.
  • Return it towards the starting position and extend the other leg towards the floor, then bring it back towards the starting position. This counts as one repetition.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

If you find that the leg-only variation is too easy, you can progress by moving your arms above your head as you extend each leg down. This will make you activate your upper abdominals more as well.

10. Cable Dead Bug

The cable dead bug is a progression from the weighted dead bug. Rather than having resistance pushing down on you, you have resistance wanting to pull your arms and ribcage upward. This will challenge the abs more to help keep your ribcage down and your back flat against the floor.

How To Do It

  • Set up a cable machine to stem from near the bottom of the cable column.
  • Attach a straight bar handle or rope handle to the cable machine.
  • Lay down on the floor facing up with your arms vertically in the air while holding onto the cable handle above your shoulders.
  • Your knees need to be bent and held directly above your hips so that your hips and knees are at 90 degrees. Make sure your shins are horizontal.
  • Keep your back firmly flat on the floor throughout the execution.
  • Extend one leg towards the floor or as low as you can go without your back lifting off the floor.
  • Return it towards the starting position and extend the other leg towards the floor, then bring it back towards the starting position. This counts as one repetition.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip

If you struggle to keep your lower back flat, bring the arms closer to your legs. This will help keep your ribcage down more, making it easier to keep your lower back flat. If you want to make the movement harder, bring the arms above your head more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Russian Twists Give You A Small Waist?

Russian twists will not give you a small waist if what you mean by a small waist is less body fat. If anything, doing exercises that target your core muscles will increase muscle mass around that area. If you want a smaller waist, focus on an appropriate dietary intake that lets you lose body fat overall. 

Why Do My Thighs Hurt When Doing Russian Twists?

Your thighs may hurt when doing Russian twists because you activate your hip adductors and quads, which are your front and inner thigh muscles. These muscles help keep your legs together and shins above the ground as you execute the Russian twist.

Are Russian Twists Bad For Your Back?

Russian twists are not inherently bad for your back, but loading inappropriately or not having good posture when executing them can cause back pain and injury. If you feel discomfort or pain in the Russian twist, you should stop this exercise and speak to a qualified physical therapist or exercise professional.

Additional Core Training Resources


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com