Head to Head: Russian Twist vs Sit Ups

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Last updated on February 7, 2023

In the never ending quest to develop six pack muscles, people perform all manner of exercises. Two of the most popular are the Russian Twist and the Sit Up, both of which have been around for a long time. In this article, we put these two perennial favorites head to head to see which one deserves to take pride of place in your core workout program.

The Russian Twist

The Russian Twist is seen in every gym around the world yet it did not derive from Russia. It was, apparently, first used by British army trainers to get their troops into shape during the First World War. It simply involves sitting on a bench and leaning back to a 45 degree angle with a weight or medicine ball in your hands and alternating your shoulders, upper body and the weight, to the left and then the right.


Russian Twists are done by a lot of people in the mistaken belief that it is good for weight loss and will allow them to get rid of their ‘love handles.’ These people are still operating under the mistaken belief that you can spot reduce body fat. They clearly do not understand that the only way to get rid of love handles is to restrict caloric consumption and perform exercises that burn more calories.


The real benefit of doing the Russian Twist is that it will enhance rotational power for throwing and punching. It does this by emphasizing the external obliques. There is, however, a major problem with the Russian Twist . . .


It puts too much stress on your lower back.


When you lean back with your upper body unsupported you place way too much pressure on your lower vertebrae. This is made infinitely worse when you do the exercise with a heavy weight.


For these reasons, the RussianTwist is not an exercise that we recommend.

The Sit Up

The Sit Up is the most recognized and fundamental exercise for your abdominal muscles. It is probably the very first exercise that many of us ever did. Unlike the Russian Twist, the Sit Up works a number of different muscles, including:


  • The rectus abdominis
  • The transverse abdominis
  • The obliques


The Sit Up has stood the test of time because it is effective. Let’s take a look at the key benefits of this exercise.


The sit up will strengthen and tighten your entire core with an emphasis on the rectus abdominis muscles. This will take a lot of the pressure off your lower back as you go about your daily activities. The stronger the muscles of your core, the more functional you will be. People with a strong core will have a better posture, form and stability. You will be better able to throw, jump, kick and punch when your core is strong.


Sit Ups will also help you to breathe diaphragmatically. Every time you perform a sit up, you compress your abdomen. This will help you to breathe properly and, as a result, to release stress. There is even some evidence that doing sit ups can make you smarter. In a 2019 study, high school students who achieved the highest marks on a sit up test also had higher academic achievement levels.

How to Perform Proper Sit Ups

To perform the traditional sit up, lie on your back with your feet together and knees bent. Either anchor your feet under a fixed object or have a partner hold down your feet. Lengthen the back of your neck by tucking your chin into your chest. Now place your hands above your ears. We do not recommend interlacing your hands behind your head as you may inadvertently pull up too much on the upper lumbar spine.


Now breathe out as you lift your upper body to your knees. Without rounding your back, come all the way up until your lower back is off the floor and your elbows make contact with your knees.

Sit Up Alternatives

Another benefit of the sit up as a good core exercise is that there are a number of alternatives that can make it even more effective.

Swiss Ball Sit Ups

Performing the sit up on a Swiss Ball adds the element of instability. This makes you work harder to stabilize your core. Performing the exercise on the ball also better ergonomically supports the spine and puts less pressure on the lower spine.


To perform the Swiss Ball Sit Up, sit on a Swiss Ball, planting your feet firmly on the floor. The correct height of the ball will see your thighs being parallel to the floor. Place your hands above your ears and lean back to bring your torso all the way back to contact with the ball. Your mid back should be resting on the ball.


From this starting position, push your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Now breathe out as you sit up to bring your upper body up toward your thighs. Be sure to keep your back neutral. Pause in the top position before slowly returning to the start position.

Elbow to Knee Sit Up

The Elbow to Knee Sit Up is a harder variation of the standard sit up that provides the benefits of the Russian Twist without putting undue stress on the lower back. To perform this exercise, lie down on the floor on your back with your knee bent and your hands by your ears. Now twist at your waist as you bring your right elbow toward your left knee. At the same time straighten out your right leg. Return to the start position and then repeat on the other side. Keep alternating sides to complete your set.


The Sit Up is a far better exercise than the Russian Twist as a part of your abs workout plan. In fact, because of the stress that it puts on the spine, we do not recommend performing the Russian Twist at all. You can get all of the benefits of the Russian Twist, without the back strain, by performing the Elbow to Knee version of the Sit Up. That is the movement that we recommend – it should rank at the top of your list of ab exercises!


All our articles are written by qualified fitness instructors, like Les Mills, so you get personal trainer based content to further your fitness goals.

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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