“But why are they called Russian twists?” Everybody always asks, as if I know the history of every exercise ever invented, so I make up random answers like, “Russian gymnasts in the 1970’s had to perform 5000 of these in a row for their warm-up.” The story is that this exercise actually did come from the USSR during the Cold War, so at least something good came out of that. This is a great exercise for your internal and external obliques, which rotate and sidebend your trunk, support your back and hips, and give you better posture. They are important in sports such as swimming, baseball, and golf, which use a lot of explosive trunk rotation. They also look fabulous when toned. So here is the idea:
The basic position is that you sit on the floor, knees bent, feet on the floor, and lean back, keeping your back straight. If you are bony like me you may need to roll up a towel or yoga mat to sit on to prevent the excruciating sensation of your sacrum grinding into the floor. You can use a ball or small weight if you like for a little added challenge. Turn at the waist and touch the ball, weight, or just your hands to the floor on one side, then turn and touch the floor on the other side. Keep your back straight. Repeat as quickly as you can, keeping good form, starting for 20 seconds and work up to one minute. Rock stars can lift both feet off the floor, keeping your back straight, and perform the exercise. Serious rock stars can perform a variation known as “Crazy Ivans,” in which you move the ball or weight in a diagonal pattern, first up over your head to the left, then down to the right to the floor, up and down for 30 seconds, then up to the right and down to the left for 30 seconds.
–Kathleen Doehla, M.S. P.T.