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May 07, 2021 9 min read

Want a simple yet effective ab exercise or warm-up that fires up your core, improves flexibility, and promotes an overall healthier body? 

Then look no further than standing trunk twists. Trunk exercises require little to no equipment and can be used to train the entire body. Not only do they promote stronger muscles, but they’re also a healthy exercise for your back and spine.  You can both feel and look your best with standing trunk twists.

Sports Men Doing Abs Twisting Exercise With Weight Bar

What is a Trunk Twist/Trunk Rotation and What Are the Benefits?

A trunk twist is a body movement exercise that involves rotating from the center of your body so that your spine twists from left to right.  There are three primary benefits of trunk twists including:

  1. Improving your body’s range of motion
  2. Building strength in your entire core plus your upper body
  3. Creating more flexibility in your spine and core

Trunk twists are seen as a very effective way to promote an overall healthier body.

Improved Range of Motion

Whether you are an elite athlete, a regular gym-goer, or you’re trying to keep your body feeling young and fit, having a good range of motion in your spine is essential.

Range of motion refers to your body’s ability to move around its different axes.  Your body has three primary axes:

  1. Sagittal
  2. Vertical
  3. Frontal

Why is it important to have a good range of motion in your spine and core?  Imagine having a body that is so tight it cannot rotate, bend, or move around without pain.  Trunk twists help loosen up your body so that it has an easier time rotating around its different axes. 

While trunk twists help improve mobility in all of the different axes, it is especially helpful to the vertical one.  Also known as the transverse plane, the vertical axis divides your body into left and right halves. Twisting exercises such as trunk twists help improve mobility in this plane.

Other exercises that improve motion on the vertical axis include rotating your limbs in circles and doing push-ups.

Strength Building Benefits

Trunk twists are an easy way to fire up your entire core as well as your upper body.  You can do them as an exercise on their own or as a warm-up.

The muscles that twists are primarily going to activate include your:

  • Internal obliques and external obliques
  • Rectus and transverse abdominis
  • Spinal erectors and other back muscles
  • Quadratus lumborum
  • Hip flexors

Each of these muscles is either in your core including your abs, lower back, and obliques or your upper body including your shoulders and upper back.  If you keep doing them, over time you should see these areas of your body get stronger.

Flexibility Benefits

As you twist your spine around, you’re helping your body get more flexible.  In particular, you should see increased inflexibility in your:

  • Lower back
  • Shoulders
  • Hips

Having more flexibility in these has several benefits including:

  • Improved athletic performance
  • Fewer body aches and pains
  • Shorter recovery times

Increases Stability

Trunk twists help your body become more stable.  Stability primarily comes from your trunk, also known as your torso.  Your torso keeps your entire body more balanced by coordinating movements with your pelvis. Together, your torso and pelvis help you walk forward, backward, and generally move around. 

Movement in this way requires flexion and extension.  Flexion refers to bending your joints whereas extension refers to straightening your joints. Trunk twists help strengthen your torso.  The stronger your torso is, the more stable your body gets and the better it is at flexing and extending.

Improves Athletic Performance

Imagine a sports player, such as a soccer player, who always needs to be really quick on their feet and change directions in a split second.  Now imagine that that soccer player cannot easily rotate their body because they have a poor range of motion and flexibility in their torso. 

That would prove to be detrimental to their performance. If you are an athlete, doing trunk twists will help improve your athletic performance.  The benefits of doing them will help you be quicker on your feet and give you an easier time moving around on the field or court.

May Help With Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine between 10 and 45-degrees.  Trunk twists can actually help prevent scoliosis from getting worse.  In some cases, trunk twists have been shown to even improve the curvature of the spine.  If you suffer from moderate scoliosis, doing trunk twists could help ease some of the strain on your back.

Proper Trunk Twist Form

Although trunk twists are a simple exercise to perform, you still need to ensure that you’ve got the right form down.  Proper form ensures you get the maximum amount of benefits from the exercise while minimizing the possibility of injuries.

1. Control the Motion of Your Twists

One of the most common and worst mistakes you can make while doing trunk twists is throwing your body around its axis rather than controlling the movement.  Not only is this going to make it so that your abs aren’t working as they should, but it could also cause pain in your lower back.

Moreover, throwing yourself around in your twists undoes all of the good benefits that twists are supposed to have. When you are doing your twists, make sure that your abs are engaged. Tightening up your core will prevent this throwing motion and help build core strength as the exercise is meant to do. 

2. Create One Long Line With Your Body

Imagine that there is a rod that goes down through the crown of your head and through your torso that forces you to stand up straight and in line.  This rod helps keep your body’s vertical axis in line.

Imagining that long line running through your body helps you maintain good posture throughout the exercise. When you have good posture, you prevent injuries and get the full benefits that the exercise is intended to provide.

3. Move Everything Together

As you twist, your entire upper body should move in the same direction at the same time.  The rate and range at which your hips rotate should be the same as that of your torso, shoulders, neck, and head.  Do not rotate one body part in the opposite direction in order to avoid spinal injuries.

How to do a Standing Trunk Twist

The good news is that standing trunk twists are a very simple exercise that involves only a few steps to perform.  Here’s how to do them:

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart: To begin with, get into your starting position with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.  You don’t want your feet too close together otherwise you risk hurting your spine.  You also don’t want your feet too far apart or it’ll diminish the positive effects of the exercise.

2. Raise your arms to your shoulders and bend to 90-degrees:  Your arms don’t need to be right at your shoulders. They can be about midway between your waistline and shoulders at the lowest. Just go with what feels the most comfortable for you. Have your arms bent at your elbows to about 90-degrees.

3. Twist from your core and pivot your feet: Generate a twisting motion from your core by depressing and retracting your scapula.  Let your hips guide the direction that your body twists in. First, twist to the right side and then to the left side. Your arms should twist in the same direction as your core.

So your right hand should be in front of your body as you twist right and your left hand in front of your body as to twist left. Make sure that your core muscles are engaged and that you're not just throwing yourself into a twist. Also as you twist, your feet should pivot slightly. 

If you are twisting to the right, then your balance should be over your right foot and it should pivot slightly towards the right.  When you turn in the opposite direction, then your balance should be primarily over your left foot and it should pivot slightly.

Use a Barbell or Dumbbell to Increase Your Range of Motion

Once you’ve completed regular trunk twists, you can increase the range of motion in your twists by putting a light barbell over your shoulders or holding on to a dumbbell. As you twist your core, the extra weight from the barbell or dumbbell is going to generate more momentum. 

That extra momentum is going to cause your spin to generate more of a twist around its axis.  The extra twist will also force your oblique muscles to work a little bit harder and promote more flexibility in your spine.

Overall, adding either a barbell or dumbbell will enhance all of the regular benefits of trunk twists.  All of the same good form practices and steps to trunk twists apply when you’re using a barbell or dumbbell.

Muscular man doing twist abs exercise with raised legs

Challenging Trunk Twist Variations

Once you’ve got the form of the regular standing twist down including with a dumbbell or barbell, you can try leveling up with one of these variations.  These will challenge the stability of your body and add more resistance to your core so that you can get stronger faster.

Russian Twists

Russian twists are a popular trunk twist variation that particularly targets your oblique muscles. Start by sitting on the floor with your knees bent in front of you and your feet flat on the floor.  Then, lean back so that your upper body is at a 45-degree angle with the floor.

Pick your feet up so that they’re hovering slightly above the ground.  Fold your hands together and begin twisting your core from side to side.  Bring your hands from one side of your body to the other. Make sure that you’re twisting your core rather than just turning your head and moving your hands. 

And, most importantly, keep your back and neck straight in one long line.  Avoid hunching your shoulders. Once you get the hang of the movement, you can level them up by performing them while holding on to a medicine ball.

Lunging Twists

Lunging twists add a little cardio element to the regular twist plus an extra lower body challenge.  They are particularly helpful for weight loss. Take a step forward into a traditional lunge and then twist your core as you are low in your lunge. 

As you rise back up from the lunge, untwist your core and return to an upright starting position.  Then, lunge forward with your other foot and twist again.  Alternate doing lunges on each foot.

  • When you do a lunge on your right foot, twist to the right side of your body.
  • When you do a lunge on your left foot, twist to the left side of your body.

Torso Twist Machine

The torso twist machine is one of the most popular machines for working the core.  It doesn’t require the same kind of stability as regular standing twists but you can load extra weight on the machine for more strength-building benefits. Add the optimal amount of weight to the twisting machine.

Hop on the machine, hold on to the handles, and keep your chest pressed up against the machine to ensure stability.  Then, begin to twist in one direction.  Do 20 or so reps on one side then switch to twisting the other side. Make sure that you don’t have too much weight on the machine. 

When there’s more weight than you can handle, you’ll likely start using your hips to generate force when it should be coming from your torso.  It’s better to start with lower weight and use the right muscles than to load up on weight and use the incorrect muscles.

Young Adult Athlete Doing Push Ups As Part Of Bodybuilding Training

Push-Ups With a Torso Rotation

If you want to add an extra challenge to your upper body while still getting the benefits of trunk twists, try doing a push-up with a torso twist.  This exercise is generally fantastic for improving the range of motion in your vertical plane. Start by getting into a normal plank position on your toes and the palms of your hands. 

Then, drop down into a regular push-up.  Be sure to maintain proper form by keeping your spine neutral and your elbows in at your sides. Then, as you press back up into a plank, pick up your right hand and reach it straight up into the air. This should open up the right side of your body as you twist your torso open.

Hold in the air for one second and then close your torso and drop your right hand slowly back to the ground. Follow that up by doing another pushup, then pressing up by lifting your left hand off of the ground and opening up your torso on your left side. Drop that left hand back down and go back to your right side.

Each time you lift your hand up in the air and rotate your trunk, you can pivot your feet slightly towards the side of your body that’s opening up. Your spine should still be as straight as possible and make sure to avoid dropping your hips down so that your back doesn’t curve.

The Bottom Line on Trunk Twists

For a workout that is low impact yet really challenges your abdominal muscles, you can’t miss trunk twists.  They’re a super-effective way to not only get stronger but to also have an overall healthier body. Once you get the basics down, they’re easy to level up with more difficult variations.  On your next ab day, don’t miss trunk twists.

Bonus tip: Want to try more new core exercises?  Then check out our top picks for the best compound ab exercises!