Hot To Squat: Twists Deconstructed

Twisting time is here. Coming in at number four, the twist is one functional movement that is oftentimes overlooked. Maybe that’s because the definition of the word itself is so subjective. I’d wager to say that if you were to interview every trainer at one gym on the topic, you’d get just as many answers as respondents.

What is a twist?

Merriam-Webster defines a twist as: to bend or turn (something) in order to change its shape. Question is, with regards to our physical body, when are we not changing its shape?

Yes, even we non-dancers of the world repetitively rotate our body, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Interpretive as they may be, the twist seems to sneak up on us at every – ahem – turn. Take driving, for example. When you get into (and out of) your car, your body twists and contorts to do so. Putting on your seatbelt is also a twist. Checking your blind spot. Reaching into the back seat to retrieve your dropped-but-not-forgotten snack or water bottle that rolled under your seat. Once you get to the office, do you ever reach sideways to answer your phone? Crane your neck to find out what new gossip your coworker is trying to speed-whisper from your doorway?

And in any of these scenarios, are you properly engaging your core muscles to support such movement? Probably not.

303 twist IWhat muscles are being used?

Primarily twists work our:

  • External Obliques (muscles on the sides of your core)
  • Internal Obliques (muscles found beneath external obliques)
  • Rectus Abdominus (abs, or “six-pack”)

Secondary muscles can include:

  • Transversus Abdominis (TVA, deep abdominal muscles)
  • Adductors (inner thighs)
  • Deltoids (shoulder muscles)

Why are twists important?

The importance lies in the subtlety of daily twisting movements. Consciously we may not even be aware that what our body is doing could be considered a twist or rotation. Perfecting twist-like exercises in the gym or yoga studio will allow us to move with integrity and intention. We’ve all heard by now that a strong core is essential to a strong body. Not only will rotational (and anti-rotational) exercises increase your strength and support, but they will help in the longterm prevention of injury as well. Think about the actual function of our core. Its job is to stabilize the spine and hold the torso erect so that we can move away from it safely. Maybe they’re not the most exciting or impressive exercises out there, but they will give your body a better chance at longevity.

What could possibly go wrong?

As with everything we do in the physical realm of life, there are always complications. How many times have you heard of someone who, while simply reaching for a pen/phone/book from their desk, slipped or bulged a disk in their spine? All it takes sometimes is an unexpected movement from an awkward angle to cause irreversible damage.

Twists are complicated in that there are so many possibilities for degree of the twist, plane of motion, weight load and ground support. If, for example, you were to stand on a Bosu on one foot and chop an anchored band laterally out in front of you, you would have far less of a foundation for balance than had you performed the same exercise with both feet on the floor. In yoga class, there are gentle twists that usually involve a smaller portion of your spine — for instance, Bharadvaja’s Twist. Then there are other, more intense twisting poses that fully represent the unfortunate stereotypes (commonly associated with pretzels) that come along with the practice.

Okay, these are getting boring. What else can I do?

So you’ve mastered the Russian twist, the cable chop and the supine crisscross. Have you tried implementing a new piece of equipment to the same exercises? Have you altered the tempo of your crisscross to a slow count of three? Thrown a Swiss ball between your ankles? Performed a chop while standing on one foot? Added a squat?

Then you have all of the anti-rotational options. My favorite, the Pallof Press, will challenge you indefinitely. Add small circles or even the alphabet to feel an even more intense burn. Alternate between using a cable and a resistance band to switch things up.

While you give some of these a try, I’ll be doing my best to get Chubby Checker out of my head. Enjoy.

PT-color-headshot-I3Jodilyn Stuart is the Health & Sports Senior Staff Writer for 303 Magazine, owner of ModaBody Fitness, and has been a professional fitness geek since 1997. If you have questions, feel free to email at:

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