Do Russian Twists Make Your Waist Smaller Or Bigger?


Abdominal exercises, such as Russian twists, are often prescribed by coaches and trainers as an “effective” strategy to trim the waistline and get washboard abs. Today I will explain do Russian twists make your waist smaller, and if so, how to do them the right way.

As a whole, Russian twists do not make your waist smaller because doing abdominal exercises alone is not enough to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat and reduce waist size. On the other hand, doing Russian twists with high training volume can increase abdominal muscle thickness and muscular function.

Do Russian Twists Make Your Waist Smaller?

Overall, ab exercises like Russian twists or plank hip twists help to preserve lean mass and metabolic rate, however, they cannot make your waist smaller. To reduce waist size you need to create a negative energy balance and maintain it for several weeks or months.

I won’t be covering here the mechanisms behind calorie deficit and abs. I’ve already covered that in my article “getting abs without calorie deficit“, which I recommend you read.

In short, you cannot alter your waist with training alone. Pushing yourself from the plate and reducing food intake is the most important component of making your waist smaller.

Here’s why.

Dr. Willemijn A. van Gemert from the University Medical Center Utrecht documented the effect of diet with or without exercise on abdominal fat in 243 healthy overweight to obese people for 16 weeks.

The results have shown that people from the “diet alone” group have lost  4.9 kg of total body fat, whereas people from the “diet and exercise” group have lost   5.5 kg of total body fat (van Gemert, 2015).

Take a look at the graph below.

As you can see above, there is not a large difference between the two groups.

The training volume and exercise selection for the “diet and exercise” group included:

  • Resistance training with weights (2 days per week).
  • Cardio training with Nordic walking poles at the intensity of 60–65% of maximum heart rate (2 days per week).

Diet alone group has lost 6.1% of total body fat, whereas the diet and exercise group lost 6.9% of total body fat.

This means that exercise (as a weight loss factor) only contributed to a 0.9% reduction in total body fat (nothing to write home about).

GroupsTotal Body Fat BeforeTotal Body Fat After
Diet alone group33.9 kg29 kg
Diet and exercise group34 kg28.5 kg

This shows that abdominal exercises and Russian twists not only cannot slim your waist alone but also do not contribute to the weight loss results either.

Can Russian twists reduce belly fat? As a whole, Russian twists cannot reduce belly fat or make the waist slimmer without creating a consistent energy deficit. The most effective way to decrease abdominal subcutaneous and visceral fat is by applying progressive resistance training and negative energy balance.

Advertisements, magazines, and internet gurus continue to push the idea that exercising abdominal muscles will help spot reduce belly fat and make the waist smaller. The idea that you can choose where fat can be lost in your body is a myth (although, many people still believe that).

Spot reduction is referred to as the claim that by doing a single exercise (e.g. Russian twists) you can target the area and lose weight around the midsection alone.

Of course, going rouge and doing Russian twists every day will improve the strength and endurance of abdominal muscles, but it won’t make them slimmer.

Can Russian Twists Help With Love Handles?

Overall, doing Russian twists, as a part of the well-designed high-intensity interval training, can be an effective strategy to tighten the core muscles, reduce abdominal body fat, and help to get rid of love handles.

Here’s how it works.

Studies have shown that a combination of HIIT and abdominal exercise like Russian twists help to increase heart rate, and elevate catecholamines, cortisol, and growth hormone levels, which all lead to a smaller waistline (Boutcher, 2011).

How Can You Get A Smaller Waist With Russian Twists?

  • Add Russian twists to your HIIT routine. This won’t make your waist smaller right away but can increase metabolic rate during and after a workout.
  • Elevation in metabolism increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is a big component of the thermic effect of activity.
  • Elevated catecholamines, which are the groups of hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (also adrenalin or adrenaline) in your adrenal glands, have been shown to increase lipolysis.
  • Of all catecholamines, norepinephrine is the most interesting because it activates beta-adrenergic receptors.

Now watch this!

Studies have shown that abdominal fat contains significantly more β-adrenergic receptors, compared to subcutaneous fat.

This means that doing Russian twists (as long as they are part of the HIIT program) has the potential to lower abdominal fat stores, especially around your waist (Rebuffé-Scrive et al. 1989).

Do Russian Twists Make The Waist Bigger?

I see a lot of confusion about core exercises, especially Russian twists, and their impact on waist size. Many people are questioning do Russian twists make your waist bigger?

As a whole, doing Russian twists does increase abdominal muscle thickness but it doesn’t make your waist bigger. Abdominal muscles are made of 55-58% slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are known for higher muscle protein degradation, therefore, they have a lower biological potential for hypertrophy.

Let me explain.

Thanks to the advanced research methods and technology (e.g. ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, and computed tomography), we can now measure muscle activity not only as a whole unit but also look at the individual muscle fibers.

This means we can not only see the proportion of muscle fibers in the muscles but also measure their response to a variety of training protocols.

In general, there are two main types of muscle fibers.

  • Fast-twitch muscle fibers (also called type 2 or fast oxidative fibers) support quick and powerful movements like sprinting or weightlifting. They also have a greater hypertrophic potential (meaning it’s easier to stimulate growth).
  • Slow-twitch muscle fibers (also called type 1 or slow oxidative fibers) support mainly long-distance activities.

Oxidative fibers muscle fibers (type 1) have a higher oxidative capacity and a higher fatigue threshold (which is good news for endurance runners). However, at the same time, higher oxidative capacity means they will accumulate more metabolites.

(Metabolites are the substances or by-products of metabolic reactions. A prolonged aerobic exercise accumulates metabolites in the muscles).

Studies have shown that a higher accumulation of reactive oxygen species and metabolites accelerates muscle protein breakdown, which leads to a lower potential for hypertrophy (Grgic et al. 2018).

Going further…

Abdominal muscles are mainly made of type 1 muscle fibers (55–58%) and only 15–23% of type 2 muscle fibers. This means that even when you do Russian twists every day with a high volume, the increase in muscle thickness won’t be significant enough to make your waist bigger.

Another reason why Russian twists cannot increase your waist size is that you don’t use heavyweight during trunk rotation exercises.

Russian Twists And Waist Size

In general, Russian twists cannot increase your waist size because this exercise cannot be performed with a load high enough to stimulate muscle growth.

Current ACSM guidelines on muscle growth state that you need to train the muscle under a load of around 70–85% of 1 repetition maximum to achieve optimal hypertrophy effect (ACSM, 2009).

As you can imagine, it would be irresponsible to perform Russian twists with a load as high as 80% of 1 rep max.

Do Russian twists build muscle? As a whole, doing Russian twists can build muscle endurance, but they are not optimal exercises to increase muscle size. Russian twists is an isometric lumbar rotation movement, which means it should be done with a lower load (15-30% of 1 repetition maximum) but a longer time under load (e.g. 60 seconds).

Of course, you can still build muscle even with lower weights and high reps, as long as you reach muscular failure. However, the effects are not as you may think.

Here’s why.

Dr. Abigail L. Mackey from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark documented 12 weeks of resistance training at light loading intensity and the impact on the muscle size. They compared two groups.

  • Group one (high load low volume) performed high load training (4–10 RM).
  • Group two (low load high volume) performed ten sets of 36 repetitions at 15% of 1RM.

The results have shown that “12 weeks of training skeletal muscle even with very light loads can induce an increase in the number of satellite cells, but the protocol was insufficient to induce significant hypertrophic effects” (source).

This means that doing Russian twists, even with ultra-high reps for many weeks, is not enough to increase muscle size around your waist.

Conclusion

Russian twists is a core exercise that targets obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae. This exercise is perfect to strengthen muscles surrounding the lumbar spine, which is important for injury prevention.

However, doing Russian twists is not ideal to stimulate hypertrophy in abdominal muscles for a couple of reasons. Firstly, abdominal muscles are mainly made of oxidative muscle fibers, which have a lower hypertrophic response.

Secondly, it is not recommended to use heavy weights during the trunk rotational movements and heavyweights are the key component to building muscle.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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