How to do Russian crunches to strengthen your abs without hurting your back

How to do Russian crunches to strengthen your abs without hurting your back

How to do Russian crunches to strengthen your abs without hurting your back

September 12, 2021

Likbez Sport and fitness

The exercise can be safe, but you have to carefully monitor the technique.
Photo by Iya Zorina

Iya Zorina

Author of Lifehacker, athlete, CCM

How to do Russian crunches to strengthen your abs without hurting your back


What are Russian twists and why do them

Russian crunches are a torso pumping exercise with an emphasis on the oblique muscles of the abdomen, during which a person sits on the floor and alternately turns the body to the left and right.

In Russian crunches, the rectus abdominis, hip flexors, and back extensors work isometrically to keep the body and legs in position. And the internal and external obliques of the abdomen contract to rotate the body from side to side and stabilize it.

Thus, the exercise well pumps almost all the muscles of the core. In addition, it is easily scaled for any level of training and can be performed both with and without additional weights in the form of a medicine ball, dumbbell or kettlebell.

Can Russian crunches really hurt your back?

Some doctors and trainers consider Russian crunches to be a dangerous exercise.

For example, physical therapist Bryce Hastings from Les Milles online training resource explainsthat the semi-sitting position paired with the rounding of the back squeezes the anterior part of the intervertebral discs in the lower back, shifting the liquid contents (nucleus pulposus) from the center back.

In the long run, this can lead to damage to the connective tissue of the disc (annulus fibrosus) and result in back pain.

However, we were unable to find studies confirming the harm of Russian twists for the spine. It can be assumed that if you do the exercise technically correctly, without rounding the back and rotating the lower back, there will be no more harm from it than from a stooped position at the computer all day long.

And yet, if you have lower back pain or have already had problems with intervertebral discs, you should not perform Russian twists. It is better to replace them with a side bar – it also pumps the oblique muscles of the abdomen well, but at the same time does not squeeze the intervertebral discs.

How to do Russian crunches

If you have never tried this exercise, start with the simplest option – with your feet on the floor.

Sit on a mat, bend your knees at an angle of about 90-100 degrees and place your heels on the floor. Tilt the body back so that there is a right angle between the hips and the body, straighten your back, tighten your abs and stretch your arms in front of your chest.

Keeping your back straight, turn your arms to the right. You don’t need to turn around much – make sure that the navel remains in place, and only the shoulders, chest and upper back rotate. Return to starting position and repeat on the other side.

If you can manage not to slouch in this position, try a more difficult version with legs raised.

Keeping your back straight and your legs bent at the knees, lift your heels off the floor and keep them in the air. Rotate your body to the left and right, trying not to lower your legs until the end of the exercise.

Also, Russian crunches are often performed with a medicine ball, a small, heavy ball that is comfortable to hold. Instead of this projectile, you can use one dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a bottle of water or sand.

Sit on the floor, grab a medicine ball, bend your elbows and hold the weight near your lower chest.

Depending on your level of fitness, you can do crunches with your feet on the floor or on weights.

What mistakes should be avoided

These technique flaws can make the exercise dangerous for your lower back. Therefore, take the time to learn the correct technique before taking weights.

Back rounding

Make sure your lower back stays in a neutral position throughout the exercise. This will protect the intervertebral discs from squeezing and reduce the load on the lower back.

Lumbar rotation

During crunches, the shoulders, arms, and upper back rotate, while the lower back remains more or less stable.

Make sure that the navel is always directed forward and does not move from side to side during turns.

Leg movement from side to side

Turning the legs takes some of the load off the abdominal muscles. Make sure that the hips remain in one place, and do not move in the opposite direction from the hands.

How else can you do Russian twists

There are many variations of Russian crunches that you can incorporate into your workouts for variety and added challenge.

With hands behind your head

Leave your feet on the floor, put your hands behind your head and perform body turns, trying to keep your back straight.

If you want to make the exercise even more difficult, try extending your straight arms above your head and crossing them together.

Alternate knee bend

Frame: 4 Russian twist variations for core strength / Runner’s World

Stretch your arms out in front of you and put your palms together, straighten your back and lift your legs. Turn the body to the right, while bending the left leg at the knee, and leaving the right leg straight. Then turn to the left, reversing the position of the legs to the opposite.

With mini rubber band

Frame: 4 Russian twist variations for core strength / Runner’s World

Place the band around your wrists, drop your shoulders and shoulder blades, and spread your straight arms against the resistance of the band. Perform Russian crunches with your feet on the floor without loosening…






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