Twisting, or rotational core exercises, are great for strengthening your abs, especially the obliques, as they target those small stabilizing muscles located in the trunk. These types of exercises are considered transverse plane movements because they require you to revolve your muscles around your spine. Being able to move this way—as well as forward and backward, plus side to side—allows you to move with more ease through everyday life. For example, every time you take a step forward, part of that momentum comes from the rotation of your torso.
In addition, it’s the deep abdominal and back stabilizer muscles that are responsible for keeping us upright, says Matthew Scarfo, CPT. And the stronger these small muscles are, the easier it is to maintain your balance on unstable surfaces, he adds. “The obliques tend to be muscles of particular concern, since they cover a wide area of body mobility—they’re responsible for twisting and bending—and can be under-developed by traditional core exercises like sit-ups,” Scarfo says. Rotational core exercises also increase proprioception, which means you’re more aware of how your body moves through space.
In order to be effective, however, form is key when it comes to twisting movements. Below, Scarfo shares easy corrections you can make to ensure you’re getting the most out of rotational core exercises while reducing your risk of injury.
1. Lighten or ditch the weights in favor of better form
The primary focus of strengthening stabilizer muscles is increasing muscular endurance, which is best done through high reps at a low weight. Especially when you’re first starting to do rotational core exercises, “simply using your bodyweight is enough of a challenge to heat your body up and give you a workout,” Scarfo says. Only add load once you’re able to consistently do a movement with proper form. “If you’re looking to scale up your twists, do so slowly, with weight increases of about a pound or two,” he suggests.
2. Keep your spine neutral
Rounding the spine is common in today’s sedentary culture, especially if you sit at a desk all day. If you’re lifting your shoulders or rounding them forward, dropping your chest to the ground, or flexing your hips forward, you’re more likely to round your spine, as a result.
To boost efficiency and protect your back, keep the chest open and shoulders down and back to help maintain a neutral spine, which means keeping the natural curvature of your upper and lower back with your shoulders, rib cage, and pelvis all in one line. “I like to use ‘proud chest’ as a cue to remember to keep the chest lifted,” he says. A neutral spine will also fire up your core for greater muscle activation.
3. Be slow and intentional with your movements
Reducing your speed increases the time your muscles stay under tension and requires them to activate more. “Moving too quickly, or without proper [core engagement], can cause you to neglect certain muscles or you may incorrectly target others,” Scarfo explains.
Furthermore, “being intentional stops you from using other muscle systems, like your lats, back, or shoulders,” he says.
4. Swap free weights for cables or resistance bands
While dumbbells and kettlebells are still effective for twisting exercises, like Russian twists or Turkish get-ups, you should also incorporate resistance bands and cable equipment, too. “They’re best for lumberjack chops, or banded core rotations, as the band helps you slow down and think about how your body is resisting the weight to improve form,” Scarfo says. Plus, they add instability in ways that free weights, which requires your muscles to activate more.