TTwisting or rotational core exercises are great for strengthening your abs, especially the obliques, because they target those small stabilizing muscles located in the trunk. These types of exercises are considered transverse plane movements because they require you to rotate your muscles around your spine. Being able to move like this—as well as forward and backward, plus side to side—allows you to move about everyday life more easily. For example, every time you take a step forward, part of that momentum comes from the rotation of your torso.
Also, 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 range of motion in the body—they’re responsible for twisting and bending—and can be under-developed by traditional core exercises like sit-ups,” says Scarfo. Rotational core exercises also increase proprioception, which means you are more aware of how your body moves through space.
To be effective, however, form is important in twisting movements. Below, Scarfo shares simple modifications 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 for better form
The primary focus of strengthening stabilizer muscles is to increase muscular endurance, which is best accomplished through high reps at low weights. Especially when you first start doing rotational core exercises, “just using your body weight is enough of a challenge to warm up your body and give you a workout,” says Scarfo. Only add load when you are able to perform a movement consistently with proper form. “If you want to increase your twist, do it slowly, with a weight gain of about a pound or two,” he advises.
2. Keep your spine neutral
A rounded spine is common in today’s sedentary culture, especially if you sit at a desk all day. If you are lifting your shoulders or rounding them forward, dropping your chest to the ground or bending your hips forward, your spine is more likely to round as a result.
To increase efficiency and protect your back, keep your 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, including your shoulders, rib cage and pelvis, in line. “I like to use ‘proud chest’ to remember to keep the chest up,” she says. A neutral spine will also engage your core for greater muscle activation.
3. Be slow and deliberate with your movements
Slowing down your pace increases the tension time of your muscles and requires them to activate more. “Move too quickly, or without proper [core engagement]You may be neglecting certain muscles or you may be targeting others incorrectly,” explains Scarfo.
Furthermore, “being intentional prevents 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 useful for twisting exercises like Russian twists or Turkish get-ups, you should also include resistance bands and cable equipment. “These are best for lumberjack chops or banded core rotations, because the band helps you slow down and think about how your body is resisting the weight to improve form,” says Scarfo. Plus, they add instability in the way that free weights do, which requires you to activate your muscles more.
Put these new tweaks to good use with this 12-minute Pilates workout: