Russian Twists have long been touted as one of the best ways to achieve a well-defined core – especially the oblique muscles.

As a personal trainer, I don't recommend it to my clients because it places excess compression on the lumbar spine along with the movement of disc fluid.

In this article I share the top modifications for Russian Twist so you too can get defined core muscles without placing your spine at risk.

good Russian Twist substitute will be one that engages the oblique muscles effectively without placing your back in a compromising position. 

There are plenty of other excellent alternatives that we're going to cover so you can still achieve a tapered waist and strong core muscles, let's dive in.

1. Swiss Ball Side Crunch 

Man Doing Swiss Ball Side Crunch

If you have a swiss ball at home or at the gym, this is a fantastic alternative if you already have a solid amount of balance. Keep the ball against a wall or something that will not move. 


  • Using the swiss ball allows for greater range of movement.[1
  • The unstable surface challenges the core muscles to a greater extent.
  • Challenges your deep abdominal muscles.

How To Do It:

  1. First, sit on the ball and move forward until the middle of your back is resting on it while your shoulders hang off the side. 
  2. Bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. 
  3. Cross your arms, touching your shoulders. 
  4. Move onto your left side, with your left ribs making contact with the ball. 
  5. Flex your right obliques, pulling in your ribs towards your hips.
  6. Lower back down, and repeat until failure on both sides.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't lean the torso forward or back, try to only move up and down to get most of work into the oblique muscles. 

2. Oblique Crunches 

Woman Doing Oblique Crunches

We love oblique crunches because they’re easy to do and yield great results. You don’t need any equipment, either making it a great modification for a Russian twist. 


  • No equipment required.
  • Suitable for anyone, regardless of fitness level.
  • Improves lateral stability.
  • Strengthens the core muscles which helps protect you from lower back injuries.

How To Do It:

  1. Lie flat on your back, and get into the position as if you were about to do sit-ups. Hands will be behind your head, but don’t let your chin touch your chest. 
  2. Cross your left foot over your right, lowering your left thigh while still keeping your knee bent. You really want your thigh stuck to the ground. 
  3. Keep your torso rigid, and perform a crunch as high up as possible. 
  4. Lift shoulder blades and upper torso off the ground. 
  5. Lower back to your starting position, keeping it controlled. 
  6. Perform 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps on each side.

Tips From A Trainer!

To properly activate your oblique muscles, initiate the rotation of your torso from your core muscles, not using your arms and shoulders. Perform this Russian twist exercise alternative with slow and controlled movement to use the core muscles rather than momentum.  

Related Article - Best Wood Chop Substitutes

3. Dumbbell Side Bend 

Man Doing Dumbbell Side Bend Exercise

If you're looking for an exercise that works not only the obliques but also the glutes and hammies, this is an all-in-one.

You’ll need at least one dumbbell for this exercise. This is a fantastic standing Russian Twist alternative exercise that uses the same muscles.


  • Helps strengthen same way as a Russian twist but will improve flexibility of the spine and not compress it.
  • Improves functional movement that requires twisting.
  • Stretches the opposite side of the body.

How To Do It:

  1. With a dumbbell in your right hand at your side, keep your other hand on your hip. Keep feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Slowly lean over to your right side by bending at the waist. The dumbbell should lower down to about your knee. 
  3. Keep your core tight, and pull yourself back to the starting position. Make sure to keep the spine neutral, never letting your hips move forward or backward. 
  4. Repeat, working both sides for 3 sets each until failure.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep your torso tall and avoid leaning forwards or backwards, if you're unable to hold positioning then shorten the range by not going as deep into the side bend. 

Related Article - How Much Do Dumbbells Cost?

4. Ab Wheel V Rollouts 

Woman Doing Ab Wheel V Rollouts

This is a more advanced exercise and requires an ab wheel and is for people with a good amount of core strength. This exercise will strengthen just about your entire upper body and core while boosting flexibility.[2]  

However, if you're can't perform the ab wheel rollout due to a lack of equipment or wrist discomfort, there are ab wheel alternative exercises that can effectively target and engage your abdominal muscles. 


  • Transfers over to squats and deadlifts by helping you keep your spine in good alignment.
  • Helps reduce body fat around the mid-section.
  • Helps build strength in your back which can improve posture.

How To Do It:

  1. Start by kneeling on the ground, with your hands on the handles of your roller on the ground. 
  2. Keeping arms extended and core tight, begin rolling out slowly to your right at approximately 45 degrees. 
  3. Roll back to your starting position, and repeat on the left side.
  4. Remember to breathe and keep your core engaged the entire time. Stay controlled, and don't let the wheel slide around aimlessly.

Tips From A Trainer!

Form is very important because this exercise can put too much stress on the lower back when performed poorly. Many people start this exercise with anterior pelvic tilt which arches the back. Avoid this mistake by tucking your pelvis and pull your belly button to your spine. If your still have an arched back drop onto your knees to regress.  

5. 45-Degree Side Bend 

Man Doing 45-Degree Side Bends

This exercise is ideal if you’re looking for a more advanced oblique exercise and have access to an extension machine.  

This is one of my favorite Russian Twist alternative exercises that will target those deep core muscles. 


  • This exercise can be easily progressed by adding a dumbbell in the hand closest to the floor.
  • Effectively targets the erector spinae for added strength in the back.
  • Lengthens the abdominal muscles, hips and thigh muscles.

How To Do It:

  1. First, adjust the height of the machine so that the top of the pad is at hip level. 
  2. Get on the platform sideways so that your right upper leg is against the pad, and make sure your feet are secured against the lower leg pads. 
  3. Keep your hands behind your head or crossing your chest. Bend at the waist/hips towards the floor until you get a bit of a stretch. 
  4. Keep your core tight, lifting your torso back and flexing at your waist, engaging the obliques. The entire motion and contraction should be one smooth, controlled movement.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

Tips From A Trainer!

Take care to not lean forwards or backwards, you only want to move your torso laterally to target the oblique muscles effectively. 

6. Reverse Crunches 

Man Doing Reverse Crunches At Home

With no equipment necessary, most people should be able to do reverse crunches anywhere!

If you would like to make them more challenging, you could add ankle weights.  


  • Improved balance and coordination. 
  • Suitable for people of all fitness levels. 
  • Can easily make variations to increase or decrease the difficulty.

How To Do It:

  1. Lie flat on your back, keeping a 90-degree angle with your hips and knees so that your lower legs are parallel with the floor. Arms should be resting on the ground at a 90-degree angle from the shoulders. 
  2. In one controlled movement, bring your knees towards your chest, keeping hips and knees at this 90-degree angle. 
  3. Your hips and lower back will come off the ground. Never go so far that your mid-back lifts off the ground, however. 
  4. Keeping controlled, lower your lower back, hips, and legs to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

It can be tempting to do reverse crunches fast, using momentum. To get more out of this exercise, go slow and controlled to utilise all the core muscles throughout the entire exercise.  

7. Bodyweight Side Crunch 

Man Doing Bodyweight Side Crunches

If you’re just starting out or don’t have a lot of core strength yet, this is a fantastic Russian Twist substitute.

It doesn’t require much coordination or any equipment, either, and are the perfect Russian Twist alternatives for pregnant women.  


  • No equipment necessary. 
  • Suitable for people of all fitness levels and great for those without much core strength. 
  • Easy to do anywhere.

How To Do It:

  1. Lie flat on the ground (or ideally on an exercise mat), with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Cross your ankles and lift them slightly off the mat. 
  2. Place your hands across your chest and lift your upper back off of the mat. 
  3. Pull a bit upward, flexing your obliques so that your ribs move towards your hips. 
  4. Lower back down to a neutral position, and repeat on the other side.

Tips From A Trainer!

Avoid using your neck or head to initiate the movement, use your abdominal muscles to lift yourself into the twisted position.  

8. Bicycle Crunches 

Woman Doing Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle crunches are another great alternative to Russian twists that require no additional equipment and they are slightly harder than a bodyweight side crunch.


  • Uses all core muscles, including transverse abdominis. 
  • Will help maintain good posture. 
  • Will also work your quads and hamstrings.

How To Do It:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor or preferably on a mat. 
  2. Press lower back into the floor, bending the knees while keeping your feet flat on the floor. 
  3. Bring knees up, keeping your lower legs parallel to the floor while lifting your shoulders off the floor.
  4. Make sure you're not straining your neck. 
  5. Straighten your right leg at a 45-degree angle, rotating your body to the left as you bring the right elbow toward your left knee. Make sure you’re rotating at your ribs rather than just moving your elbows. 
  6. Return to the center position, keeping both knees bent. 
  7. Do the same on the other side.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't pull your head forwards as this will put a strain on your neck. If you find you keep straining your neck to get your elbow and knee to touch, only rotate slightly whilst keeping your neck in a neutral position. 

Related Article: Best Gym Mats

9. Cable Woodchoppers 

Man Doing Cable Woodchoppers

For this exercise, you’ll need a cable machine. Cable Woodchoppers are excellent for really building the obliques and adding serious definition.  

This is a popular core exercise and more effective than a Russian twist.


  •  The cable machine offers constant load on your core muscles throughout the whole movement.
  • The cable chop will increase core stability and help stabalize the low back muscles.
  • You can vary the position of the body and angle of the cable to target various areas of the core.
  • Helps increase strength, muscle hypertrophy of the oblique muscles in a safe and efficient way.

How To Do It:

  1. Set cable machine to highest pulley position. Stand with the cable at your side, grabbing it with one hand and stepping away from the tower. 
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Reach with your free hand to grab the same handle. 
  3. Keeping arms fully extended, pull the handle downward and across your body toward your front knee as you simultaneously rotate your torso. 
  4. As you rotate, turn your back foot and bend your knees to avoid straining any joints or muscles. 
  5. Return to start position.

Tips From A Trainer!

The cable machine is a great choice for oblique training. To get the most out of this modification for Russian twist, hold the handle for a couple of seconds halfway through some reps to encourage your body to resist the force. Working against the force will work the oblique muscles much harder, it's a good Russian twist alternative. You can also do this from a half kneeling position.  

10. Kneeling Pelvic Tilt 

Woman Doing Kneeling Pelvic Tilt

This is an excellent beginner exercise and very beneficial to anyone with lower back pain.

While it's not quite as intense as the other core exercises, it will strengthen the deep abdominal muscles, which can be a bit more challenging to train.  


  •  Great for helping to alleviate back pain.
  • Stretches out the lumbar spine.
  • Strengthens the abdominal muscles and achieves a more toned core.

How To Do It:

  1. Get on all fours – ideally on an exercise mat. Keep wrists aligned under shoulders and knees under hips. 
  2. Exhale with purpose, pulling the navel in towards the spine.
  3. In one smooth movement, reverse the curve in the lower spine, tilting your hips downward. 
  4. Hold for a few seconds, and release.

Tips From A Trainer!

Try to isolate this movement to only your pelvis tilting and not your spine. If you have movement in the spine this turns it into a cat cow movement.  

11. Side Plank Dips 

Man Doing Side Plank Dips

Side Plank Dips are an excellent way to tone not only the obliques but also the upper body and glutes, giving you more bang for your buck than the Russian twist.

If you spend a good portion of the day sitting, this is an effective way to "elongate" those tight muscles.  

If you find yourself unable to perform the side plank due to wrist pain or a shoulder injury, there are side plank alternatives that can still help you target and strengthen your core.


  • Improves sense of balance and coordination.
  • Helps build the inner corse muscles and tightens your mid-section.
  • Suitable for anyone, regardless of fitness levels.

How To Do It:

  1. Start by lying on your side, and prop up onto your forearm (still on your side). Keep your top arm with your hand on your hip. 
  2. Feet should be “stacked” if you can balance yourself, or place one a bit in front of the bottom foot for extra stability. 
  3. Now, inhale and tighten your core, lifting your body off the floor to get into a side plank position. 
  4. Once you’re in a side plank, lower your hips toward the floor, keeping all movements controlled. 
  5. Raise back up in a controlled manner, coming to the starting position of a side plank.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep you abdominals switched on and breath regularly throughout the exercise. Don't let your body rotate forwards or backwards throughout this exercise.  

Do You Need To Do Russian Twist Substitute Exercises?

You may be wondering, "Are these kinds of exercises even necessary?" Well, if you want defined abs and a lowered risk of injury, the answer is "yes"! Focusing specifically on the obliques is necessary for everyone, from the casual gymgoer to pro athlete!  

Did you know that by strengthening your obliques, you not only move around easier but help reduce lower back pain while improving posture and balance? These benefits not only make everyday life easier but in the gym, as well. Not to mention, they just make your abs look better, and who doesn't want that?! 

You don’t have to do these core workouts at home – in fact, some of them require equipment or space you may not have at home.

However, some people do prefer doing ab work at home just because they can take their time and some gyms’ stretching areas seem to always be full.  

Frequently Asked Russian Twist Questions

Do Russian Twists burn belly fat? 

Spot reducing is pretty much impossible, so no one exercise will burn just belly fat. However, working your muscles burn fat in general and help develop the muscles underneath for a leaner appearance.  

Why does my back hurt during Russian Twists? 

Russian Twists are effective in strengthening the abdominals, but the risk of irritating the spine or doing them wrong is just too great for some. You may be swinging your legs from side to side, moving side to side from your lumbar spine, or simply not keeping your core "locked in." If you already have back issues, Russian Twists aren't recommended.  

What muscles do Russian Twist alternatives work? 

All of them work the obliques; however, there are some that are going to work additional parts of the body, as well. They can help you achieve that complete "defined ab" look, as many people tend to leave out the obliques when working the abdominals.  

Are Russian twists harmful? 

If you have lower back injuries or conditions, Russian twists could be harmful! Not only that, but due to the excessive rotations the exercise demands, they can also damage the disks in the spine over time.


Now that you’re practically an expert in the best Russian Twist alternatives, which exercises are you going to incorporate into your routine? 

Try out a few that sound like they’d work best for you, and we’re sure you’re going to enjoy the results. Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll see you again soon! 




Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website