It’s hard enough to do a torso twist standing up and holding a medicine ball. You can feel the muscles around your waist catch fire. Incorporating balance to the twist notches up the difficulty, as you’re not only working on power, but also stability. The exercise changes from an isolation exercise for your obliques to a total-body exercise. Add a stability ball to the mix for a double-ball exercise, and you'd better have a back-up towel on hand for the sweat.
A balanced torso twist performed while sitting and holding a medicine ball is called a Russian twist, and is considered a beginner to intermediate exercise. This variation of a torso twist focuses on your upper and lower abs, obliques and back. Begin by sitting with your trunk positioned at a 45- to 60-degree angle to the floor as if you’re midway through a sit-up. Hold a 3- to 8-pound medicine ball in your hands and extend your arms straight in front of you. Bend your knees at 90-degree angles and dig your heels into the floor, toes pointing up. While maintaining the angle of your trunk, turn as far as possible to your right. Move your arms in a synchronized movement with your body. Return to center and turn to the left in a continuous fluid motion, which completes one rep. Perform eight to 12 reps.
If you’re not in good shape, avoid rotating your trunk too far. Avoid straining to maintain a balanced position with your trunk at an angle. To make the exercise easier, hold your trunk upright with no angle and plant your feet flat on the floor. You can also lighten the weight by using a smaller medicine ball, or don’t use any weight at all. If you’re in excellent shape and find the exercise too easy, try it with your legs held up off the floor and feet crossed. Always keep a slightly curved spine to shield your lower back from hyperextension.
The double-ball exercise does a double whammy on your abs. Use both a stability ball and a medicine ball while performing a torso twist. Lie on your back on the stability ball with your feet hip-width apart and feet planted on the floor. Lift a 3- to 8-pound medicine ball up over your chest. Turning from your hips, rotate your upper body to the side as far as you can. Keep the ball on the same horizontal plane as your chest. Rotate your body and ball to the left to complete a rep. Perform 10 reps for three sets, resting for 30 seconds to a minute between sets.
Bracing the Abdominals
When you perform exercises with a medicine ball or a stability ball, you need to set your abdominals. Slightly suck in your navel toward your spine, which will cause your pelvis to tilt a little forward. This position captures the curve of your lower back. Because it activates the internal obliques and the transverse abdominis, which is the muscle that wraps around your trunk and also extends from your pelvis to the ribs, the contraction provides a support mechanism for your spine and trunk. It decreases the compression on your spine by as much as 40 percent, according to Lorne Goldenberg’s book “Strength Ball Training.”
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